MANILA, Philippines—And then there were three—all leading lights in local politics who have joined hands to preach good governance in the hope this would be replicated elsewhere.
In their first much-awaited meeting, Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo, Isabela Gov. Grace Padaca and Pampanga Gov. Eddie “Among Ed” Panlilio plotted on Tuesday night their future, and the country’s.
Over dinner of sinampalukang manok, pancit molo and bistek Tagalog at Club Filipino in San Juan City, the three officials agreed to tackle together problems, and more importantly, share their “best practices” in governance with other local chief executives.
“We are a fragmented nation and what we want is to group together, make a commitment and advocate the same advocacy,” Panlilio said in an interview. “The country deserves better governance.”
One quick way to reach out is through cyberspace. The three officials are planning to set up a “group blog,” where they can write down their thoughts, in the hope of luring others to their cause, according to Robredo, who keeps a blog like Panlilio.
There have been calls for the three officials to get together and talk about what’s good for the country, but it was only last week that they got around to doing it. After all, they are the new breed of reform-driven public servants.
Harvey Keh, director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship of Ateneo de Manila University School of Government, arranged and joined the meeting of the three, whom he calls the “hope of the country.”
“If bad people in our government can join forces to wreak havoc in our country, then why can’t the good people join forces as well and promote good governance in our country?” he said.
In their two-hour meeting, the two governors and the mayor made an amusing, but otherwise not surprising discovery about themselves: They’re advocating the same reforms.
These are ensuring greater transparency and accountability in government dealings, curbing the pervasive illegal numbers game “jueteng” and illegal logging, and fighting for more local autonomy in the maintenance of law and order.
And with less than two years to go before the 2010 national elections, the three officials are now pushing for computerized elections and voters’ education.
After the dinner, Padaca, 44, went home feeling a certain “lightness of heart.”
“I thought to myself. ‘I’m not alone anymore,’” she said by phone on her way to a remote village on a mountainside in San Agustin town in Isabela province for a regular dialogue with her constituents on Friday morning.
Robredo, 50, winner of the 2000 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service and one of Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World for efficient, good governance, said the main consensus was cooperation.
“Since we’re not getting any help from the national government, we agreed to cooperate in solving our common problems,” he said by phone from a domestic airport in Naga. For one, they could share strategies, he added.
Choice of police chiefs
One of their more pressing concerns now, especially in Panlilio’s case, is getting regional police officials to respect their choice of police chiefs, which is crucial in the campaign against jueteng.
The mayor was happy to note that Panlilio employed the same tack he took when faced with the same problem in the past: Call the senators’ attention.
If a solution entails getting a law amended, the three officials said they would write lawmakers to file a bill to this effect.
But over and above their local concerns, the three agreed to share “best practices” on how transparency and accountability work in their respective turf with other like-minded officials.
“Good governance starts with simple lifestyle, low-cost expenses in the capitol, transparency and accountability, efficient delivery of services,” Panlilio, 54, said in a phone interview before giving a talk on good governance at Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro City on Friday morning.
The priest shot to national prominence following his crushing victory over the popular Gov. Mark Lapid and moneyed Lilia Pineda in last year’s gubernatorial elections in Pampanga province.
Among the best practices that can be replicated elsewhere are Naga’s practice of allowing NGOs to sit at deliberations of special bodies and the city council, and in effect, help run the city, and posting the disposition of its funds and results of its bidding processes on its website; Pampanga’s efficient collection of quarry taxes; and Isabela’s efforts at food sufficiency.
The three plan to meet again, hoping to see other “like-minded” officials next time around.
“We’re very sure there are a lot of others out there who have their own success stories, but have yet to be discovered,” said Padaca, who thrashed the heirs of the Dy family in the 2004 and 2007 gubernatorial elections in Isabela.
Panlilio agreed: “If we put more emphasis on those who really work for good governance to change the political system, and we work together, it will have a big impact on our country.”
The idea of bringing the three officials together was to create a “coalition” of local government officials who are committed “to promoting good governance, transparency and accountability,” Ateneo’s Keh, 29, said.
“I want to make the organization grow, to include other local government leaders who want to see genuine change in our country,” he said.