Erle Frayne D. Argonza
[Writ 04 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]
Good afternoon! Food be with you! (Hmmm that’s to borrow from Christian’s ‘peace’ maxim…)
You may wonder how we stakeholders of development do our coordination here in the Philippines, and I’d say coordination is practically the same everywhere. It involves ‘partnering’, an unraveling of distrust and a sincere effort to cooperate and collaborate. Partnering eventually creates strong institutions, thus catalyzing development further.
I was just a 23-year old enterprise supervisor in the defunct Ministry of Human Settlements (MHS) in 1982, when news came out that development councils will be constituted at the regional level. It used to be part of partnering mechanisms at the regional level, with the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) serving as secretariat, till it floundered and slept in the late 1970s.
When the regional development council or RDC woke up again, circa 1982, the MHS was already making waves in the development arena. This agency was eventually mandated to revive the council, in collaboration with the NEDA and all provincial governors. I remember then that the charismatic and management-savvy Governor Faustino Dy of Isabela was elected 1st chair of the revived RDC, with Area Manager (regional director) Tito Osias of MHS serving as convenor.
Down the hierarchy of power and influence the provincial development councils or PDCs were also constituted. I had the luck then of representing the MHS to begin building the PDC core in Batanes, the same core being the members of the KKK Secretariat (KKK = Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran or National Livelihood Movement, a major state funding program for enterprise) then emerging. My provincial and deputy bosses, who was almost always out of the region (their families were in Manila), mandated me to be the lead convenor for the core building of both bodies.
It was a fruitful work to begin with, the task in Batanes. State and business representatives were invited to comprise the core, down the mayor’s level. Civil society was weak here then, there were no developmental NGOs to invite here then, so it was purely a state-market synergy we had there in Basco (capital town). Within just three (3) months of consultations, our coordination outputs were simply enormous, the targets could overwhelm a single agency if it were left alone to implement them. But with many partners to achieve the goals, including modernizing the pier and acquiring a ship dedicated for Batanes alone (the islands were practically isolated from the ‘mainland’ Luzon), development goals are optimistically achievable.
Acquiring the experience I needed for my next task, Cagayan, I then moved to add inputs to a PDC core plan that was already begun then before I occupied my Tuguegarao office (capital town). Because there was a provincial manager-designate, and my post was just recently upped to deputy provincial manager, my first tasks were to travel to different towns and subtly convince the mayors and line agency partners at that level about the need for development coordination at the provincial level. That ‘massaging’ had to be done, because mayors were reportedly luke warm about the idea of a PDC.
After three (3) months on the job, my provincial manager was sadly sacked from duty, and so I had to take over as Acting Provincial Manager. Then did I do the convenor tasks at its core, with Governor Cortez role-playing PDC chair. Mr. Bagasao, provincial head of the Ministry of Local Governments (MLG), was co-convenor. There was no NEDA office at the provincial level, so the MHS-MLG-Governor’s Office served as lead implementers of the council. I myself prepared the agenda for all succeeding meetings.
It was quite tough a work there, I recall. Cagayan was quite large a territory to navigate, state officials and business groups too many to manage, but we did make headway in forming the active core. State officials could hardly see each other eye to eye at local levels, but there they were in the council, forging inter-agency linkages as semblances of ‘committee work’ of a gigantic cooperative. Sadly, the mayors were absentee, and this almost piqued me at some point to the extent that, warlord-like, I would challenge those pretentiously all-knowing absent mayors to some war games to show them I was serious in the job.
But again, like the Batanes narrative, the Cagayan experience was largely a state-market synergy, with nary a developmental NGO to invite. What we did then was to invite peasant and fisherfolk groups, which were largely enterprise-group types, but that was the best remedy then for the absence of NGOs there. (Contrast this to today’s Cagayan where dozens of developmental NGOs are in operation.) We set the rules of engagement, built interagency teams, ironed out convergences among state agencies’ plans, got inputs from the chamber of commerce and dealers’ groups, and then conceptualized new projects. Among those new projects during my watch was the industrial estate in Sta. Ana (today’s CEZA).
It was an altogether fulfilling experience for me then as a budding technocrat. I loved every bit of the job. Walls among state officials were broken down, cooperation gelled, new bold and ambitious projects were identified, existing ones were fast-tracked (irrigation, electrification, public works, enterprise finance, food sector development). It was beautiful!
Sadly, I had to leave that work, as I needed to go back to my schooling: to the University of the Philippines where I longed to take up my masters degree in sociology. I simply monitored the ensuing institutionalization efforts for the councils…till later, I heard about the constitution of municipal and barangay (village) development councils. That’s partnering at work, and mind you, it surely works if you put your heart and mind into it. It brightens up the world a bit.