A year of change for local governance

THE LOCAL government underwent major changes this year by improving major facilities, instituting reforms, and booting out wayward employees.

However, the most noise for local governance involved Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, or more specifically, the campaign of some groups to persuade him into gunning for the presidency by launching a signature campaign.

Duterte for president

A movement to push for the mayor in the 2016 presidential race was spearheaded by Barangay R. Castillo captain Mario Masanguid.

Since its launch in February, the signature campaign has allegedly gathered more than 11 million signatures, with the campaign heads, mostly barangay captains, going on a national run to gather more support last October.

 “Our purpose really [in pushing for campaign] is because I believe Mayor Duterte is the best candidate,” he said. “My point is that he has the integrity, he is confident… He can minimize the nation’s problems.”

However, Duterte has repeatedly dismissed talks he would run for president ever since online calls circulated around October of last year.

“You’ll regret it if I become president,” he said, but in several appearances has said that if he indeed were to take the highest national government post, he would establish a revolutionary government and appoint businessmen to take care of the nation’s coffers.

He has also said whoever becomes president should be able to talk to the different sectors, such as the leftists, communist groups, and the poor.

“My advice to whoever becomes president is that they talk [with the groups], because the bottomline would be peace,” said Duterte.

Federalism: “The time is now.”

The mayor, along with Mindanao leaders including Bukidnon Governor Jose Maria Zubiri, former Cagayan de Oro Mayors Reuben Canoy and Vicente Emano, former Congressman Romeo Jalosjos from Zamboanga del Norte and former Davao del Norte Representative Pantaleon Alvarez first met in September to revive calls for federalism in the country.

Since then, Duterte has been active in what he deemed his advocacy, going to different parts of the country to talk about how federalism was best for the Philippines, owing to its different cultures.

In December, the city held a summit for federalism, gathering close to 500 different academicians, politicians, and non-government representatives from in and outside of Mindanao to hear them talk about their opinions on federalism.

Among those present included former North Cotabato governor Emmanuel Pinol, who led the program, as well as Davao del Sur Governor Claude Bautista, and 1BAP Representative Silvestre Bello III.

Duterte has said the current movement is timely with the looming passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, as a clamor for equal rights would be heard around the country.

“The catalyst is the BBL, because if you do not give to other regions the same, there will be a clamor,” said Duterte.

Under the BBL, regions included in the measure are entitled to a 75%- 25% sharing scheme in terms of payment to national taxes, with the regions keeping majority of the revenue generated.

The mayor denied he was using federalism as a political platform for running as president in 2016, and instead said he was going to support a candidate that was “federalism- oriented.”

“Shut up!”

Duterte engaged in a word war with Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Commission of Human Rights head Loretta Ann Rosales over his pledge to kill rice smugglers in the city.

The issue stemmed from the statement of Rosales to file a case before the Ombudsman against Duterte over his threats to kill rice smugglers in the city if they won’t stop their illegal activities, as the city’s attention was called by Bureau of Internal Revenue chief Kim Henares last Dec. 18, 2013 that the city look into what she said were “massive” smuggling operations in Davao that in turn made it the “weakest link” in tax collections.

Rosales said the mayor’s comments can send wrong signals and encourage vigilantism, which he has since denied.

 “What is she saying that I am creating an atmosphere for vigilantism? I am creating fear in the minds of criminals,” said Duterte.

Calling de Lima a “publicity seeker” with an “itchy tongue” in the “Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa” program, Duterte said that De Lima did not have to involve herself on his tiff with Rosales.

The DOJ with the senate in late December named a certain David Tan as the country’s top operator of rice smuggling in the country; spending about P6 billion in the last two years to facilitate payoffs to officials and employees of BOC.

The mayor expressed his disappointment at de Lima for failing to build a case against Davidson Bangayan, whom he believes is the same David Tan reported to be the big-time smuggler operating in the country.

In a senate hearing, Duterte insisted that Davidson Bangayan and David Tan are the same person, based on info he gathered from the intelligence community.

He called the Justice Secretary’s investigation into the rice smuggling operations  too slow, and even speculated that big-time smugglers are enjoying protection from people in influential positions at the DOJ and Bureau of Customs.

“It is he who should shut up. Everybody is aware he’s got a lousy mouth,” De Lima said in an interview on national television.

City Treasurer’s employees kicked out

This year also saw city hall being serious in its fight against corruption after five employees of the City Treasurer’s Office were dismissed on Jan. 17 after an investigation that stretched for more than six months.

The case was spearheaded first by the CTO under its department head Rodrigo Riola in June 2013, then was later handled by the City Legal Office under Atty. Marissa Torentera who found probable cause against those involved.

The matter was later forwarded for more “thorough” investigation to the panel commissioned by Duterte through Executive Order No. 37 signed in October 2013.

The investigative panel composed of chair Osmundo Villanueva of the City Legal Office, assistant City Administrator Tristan Dwight Domingo, and City Assessor Jhopee Avancena- Agustin.

A total of eight City Treasurer’s Office employees are involved, with the remaining three still under investigation

Atty. Enrique Bonocan of the CLO added that the prosecution has found enough administrative guilt against those tried but the case they are facing is only to determine if they can continue with their employment.

According to documents from Bonocan, the eight erring employees individually face cases of grave misconduct, serious dishonesty, and conduct prejudicial to the nature of public service by allegedly failing to remit P14, 325,374.87 in receipts.

The five workers face administrative charges of serious dishonesty, grave misconduct, falsification of public documents and serious neglect of duty, inefficiency and incompetence in the performance of official duties, as well as conduct prejudicial to the interest of public service.

City Administrator Melchor Quitain personally presented the signed document approving the recommended dismissal of the five tried employees, namely Jane Paguidopon, Brenda Nirza, Rosalie Remon, Paul Justen Almonte, and Analiza Mesa.

Apart from dismissal, Quitain said they will also suffer accessory penalties that include cancellation of eligibility for retirement benefits, perpetual disqualification from holding public office, and barred from taking civil service examinations.

Infrastructure projects

Also in 2014, several infrastructure projects were implemented and completed.

The city opened two child-minding centers for the public, one in Calinan District and the other located beside Museo Dabawenyo along Magallanes street.

Ma. Luisa Bermudo, head of the City Social Services and Development Office (CSSDO), said the centers were a priority project of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and is intended to serve working mothers with children aged three and below.

“We are giving parents especially who are in the disadvantaged sector opportunity to have their children provided with early childhood care,” she said.

Bermudo said the program was brought about after their office recognized the public also needed a safe facility where children can be looked after while parents are at work if the same care is not available at home.

CSDDO is especially targeting parents who are vendors, or single parents who need to work.

Before the opening of the centers for the public, the child minding centers were only available to parents working as employees of the city government.

In February, the Governor Generoso Bridge II was announced by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for urgent rehabilitation, after officials said its foundations were severely affected by scouring, which is the removal of soil or rock in a structure due to the forceful flow of water.

Mayor Rodrigo Duterte however presented his hesitations the bridge rehabilitation project might cause, which included concerns to how it would affect the flow of traffic.

The bridge project officially began in late April, and opened to the public last Nov. 17 but not after months of being besieged with several problems which contributed to the opening delay.

Largest blaze of the year

Last April 4, a blaze gutted about 1,000 homes in three barangays; 23- C, 22-C, and 21-C at Quezon Boulevard, and left more than 3,000 families homeless.

Since then, more than P60 million has been distributed to aid the families affected, which also included funding to build back of their homes and development of roads and streets in the area by the Task Force Isla Verde.

Several foreign businesses however, have signified their interest to develop Isla Verde as a commercial- residential area, but the plan was shelved owing to a presidential decree has designated Isla Verde as a human settlement site.

No kid gloves on late councilors

Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte adjourned the council immediately after a lack of quorum was recorded at regular session last May 20, and again in Sept. 9.

The vice mayor implemented the immediate cancellation of session on both occasions because some councilors were late; as opposed to waiting for them as session was ongoing and just changing their status.

Based on the majority house rules of the city council, the regular session should start every 10 a.m. with a quorum, or minimum attendance, of at least 14 councilors out of the current 26.

According to Duterte, he chose not to “get mad” as before when calling the attention of the tardy councilors.

“Let this serve as a lesson. Some of them have been councilors long before I was in council,” he said.

Gun toting tanods

Five tanods or barangay auxiliary were authorized this year to carry firearms, as Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said these barangay watchmen were “always at a disadvantage” when it came to fighting hardened criminals.

Every barangay has at least 20 barangay police and out of that number, the barangay captains should select five persons to undergo 15-day training with the Davao City Police Office.

Arming the barangay tanods has been a long issue with Duterte.

The mayor in several talks with barangay tanods and captains said if they hurt lawless elements through the use of their firearms, or even bystanders in the course of their duty, he was more than willing to aid them in court.

Active health sector

The city’s health officers were also in continuous motion this year, establishing closer ties with the barangays especially after incidences involving medical waste were found at a swimming area, and preparations for the Ebola virus were not taken lightly.

Last July 31, barangay captains as well as other actors in the health sector were briefed on the proper disposal of medical waste after syringes, medicine bottles, and other medical equipment were found buried or afloat along a beach at Talomo District on July 14.

Councilor Mary Joselle Villafuerte, chair for the committee on health at city council, said it was an avenue to see whether there would be a need to re-evaluate waste disposal management practices.

Mayor Rodrigo Duterte added that he has ordered the police to investigate the case as the dumping of the waste materials violated several national and local laws on environmental protection and solid waste management.

The city also became alarmed at the spike in dengue cases over a relatively short period of time this year, prompting a gathering of the barangay leaders for reeducation on dengue-preventive measures.

There were 147 cases of dengue incidents, including one death, recorded from Jan. 5-11 this year.

“A single death is alarming because this is a preventable death,” she said.

Data from the Department of Health showed that from the period of January- November 2013, a total of 6,866 cases were recorded in Davao, with 85 deaths recorded in that year.

While last year’s data is lower from the 7,429 recorded in 2012, the councilor said the dengue-related death monitored early this year was still alarming as it could have been prevented.

Additionally, only 50 deaths were recorded in 2012.

The mayor also called for a summit on the city’s preparation measures for the Ebola virus, a disease that began in West African countries early in the year and has since spread to other continents.

So far, the city has implemented thermal scanners at the Francisco Bangoy International Airport to screen for any incoming passengers with fever, as well as at Sasa wharf.

Duterte has pledged to obtain ambulances, facilities, and other needed equipment in the preparation versus ebola.

Dakudao Avenue trees in focus

The trees lining the drainage canals along Dakudao Avenue were placed in focus this year after plans to cut them down were bared by environmental group Interface Development Interventions (IDIS).

However, according to drainage management head Yusop Jimlani, the trees were becoming an impediment to the canal and even caused damage to some parts of the rip-rapping because of the growth of roots.

The City ENRO meanwhile in a report did not attribute the damage to the trees, but rather, shoddy construction and the age of the canal.

Government and non-government representatives met to discuss a win-win situation on the trees last October.

However, in an interview with Jimlani he said there was no choice but to cut down some of trees, but clarified that the trees to be cut down specifically were those diseased, already rotted, or were creeping out onto the roads or electric wires overhead.

IDIS, CENRO, and other volunteers conducted tagging of the trees, planted in the early 90s in protest of cutting them down.

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