I was several days ago in Tandag, the capital of the province of Surigao del Sur,and while there was eager to try to gauge the prevailing sentiments of the local population with regards to the recent Supreme Court ruling that, with finality, stripped it of its classification as a new city of the province and which forced it to revert to its old status as a municipality.
The final high court ruling was a reversal of an earlier December 21, 2009 judgment which had declared the constitutionality of the 16 laws creating Tandag City and 15 other new cities all over the country. It also served to reinstate an even earlier November 18, 2008 ruling that had originally struck down (as unconstitutional)) the same city-hood laws upon the petition of the League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP) which had elevated the case originally to the Supreme Court. In a rare and stunning legal reversal, the same court had overturned that particular decision (as already mentioned in 2009) upon a submitted motion for reconsideration by the then 16 supposedly new cities including Tandag. The LCP then asked for a reversal again of the 2009 ruling which the high court granted with finality just weeks ago.
Setting aside the legal calisthenics and uncharacteristic flip flopping from the Supreme Court, most Tandag residents I talked to seemed resigned if not perplexed at the rather unusual if not embarrassing turn of events their town (or city if you must) had to recently go through. And most of them cannot seem to understand or fathom the reasons why their political leaders had put them through the roller-coaster ride that saw them rejoicing, celebrating and reveling in the euphoria of believing that their town's long sought after dream of city-hood was finally theirs only to be brought down crashing to earth with the embarrassing news that they had just been taken for a fool's ride.
On some dark street corners there are whispered talks of hundreds of millions of pesos changing hands at the Supreme Court and how a better funded "bid" for the favor of certain high court justices from the LCP led to the recent decision that favored its motion for reconsideration and trashed Tandag's bid for the much coveted city status. Such allegations can, of course, be considered classical sour graping except for the obvious fact that the high court's unusual case of reversing itself twice in this case is providing enough fuel for such dark allegations and speculations to persist. That the highest legal authority in the land did not acquit itself well in resolving this particular issue is beyond doubt.
The legalities and technicalities aside, it is obvious to any frequent visitor to the provincial capital like me that Tandag may be a town on the up and up, a municipality that has seen respectable growth and progress over the years but certainly it is not yet the city it so desperately wants to be. It may get there in time with the right political leadership and the implementation of sound economic and development policies. I, personally, am confident it will become a true city in time but it has much growing and expansion to do first.
Foisting the status of city-hood on this town through legislative fiat is not enough and clearly not the same as truly achieving the level of growth and economic momentum that defines the distinction between trying-hard, would-be cities and true cities in the making. The legal requirements outlined in the local government code are clear and unequivocal aside from merely formally codifying what is obvious legal and economic common sense.
That same common sense tells us that as a city, Tandag is clearly not, at present, really there yet and no amount of legal hocus-pocus or well orchestrated hype will change that, at least for the present.