Thursday, November 20, 2008

Slapped Down

What can I say? Even an "I told you so" might be inappropriate since it might be construed as unseemly gloating over what has been rather an embarrassing turn of events for many residents of Surigao del Sur.

I am, of course, referring here to the recent Supreme Court decision ruling that 16 newly declared cities all over the country revert back to their previous status as municipalities because they have essentially violated the provisions and intent of the Local Government Code regarding mandated income requirements for prospective cities.

Tandag, the provincial capital, happens to be on that list together with 6 other new cities in Mindanao including Bayugan in Agusan del Sur, Cabadbaran in Agusan del Norte, Lamitan in Basilan, El Salvador in Misamis Oriental, and Mati in Davao Oriental. Most of these new cities gain citihood status only in the past year or so.

Let us not gloss over the facts. The truth of the matter is, and many of the local folks in Tandag know this, the town was simply never ready for citihood when it became one by law last year. And sad to say, it may not be ready to be one for some time yet.

It is not just the question of locally generated income revenues as mandated and required by the Local Government Code although this is exactly where the Supreme Court has drawn the line. Anyone who has been to Tandag and to many other "real" cities elsewhere all over the country will immediately know that it is not exactly "there" yet. It may be city in the process of becoming one, a city in waiting but a city now it certainly isn't.

One cannot simply make a town a city by legal fiat and hope that it will eventually turn out to be exactly what you hope it will become. A city is like a living organism that must have a reason, incentive and cause for being what it is. Either local government leaders must first create the conditions that will give rise and impetus towards urban growth and watch a city grow into existence or otherwise they have to accept the fact that one simply cannot make even a bustling town a metropolis by the simple expediency of legal and legislative mumbo jumbo.

Local leaders cannot also hope that by gaining legal citihood status for Tandag now they can use the bigger IRA or internal revenue allotment (the revenue share given to local governments from tax income) given to cities for urban development purposes. That is just like putting the cart before the horse. A city much too heavily dependent on its IRA for operating and development costs does not deserve to be a city in the first place. Like mammals which generate their own body heat separate from that of their environment, true cities generate their own income far and beyond any financial assistance from outside sources.

In many ways, Tandag is a beautiful place to live in. It is already a bustling town with an expanding economy, a provincial capital with a unique character of its own. It is ideally located by the sea and boasts of many scenic local attractions. It is also fast becoming an important marketing and trading center in Surigao del Sur.

How soon it can finally become a true city in every sense of the word in the near future is up for its people and its political leadership. The probability is high that it will soon become what it seeks to be. But it will have to be at the right time, under the right circumstances and for the right reasons.

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