Hardening Of The Heart

by Juan L. Mercado


Philippine cities are busting  at  their seams. So are cities in Asia and “in other far away places with strange sounding names.”  Will most spiral into “cities of despair”?  How  many will  emerge as  “greener” capitals with a future?

There were 143 Philippine cities as of September 2012, up from  60 in 1991.  Some were “shell cities”. Their stunting “prevents  them from generating their own resources”, World Bank and Asian Development Bank cautioned.

Naga in Cebu to Batac in Ilocos Norte, plus 14 others,  flunked minimum criteria of income, population and area.  “Flip-flops” by Arroyo Supreme Court  justices got the 16 in, thru the backdoor.  Expect  more “sneak-in” bids in the 16th  Congress.

Migrants and kids from a stalled “demographic transition” cascade into Olongapo, Malaybalay, Zamboanga and other ill-prepared cities.  Half of the  population today is urban—and rising. Demographers clocked cities’  population surge at 2.3 percent annually. Few notice or heed these “faceless”  men and women.

Headlines swivel towards high-visibility news, from the Atimonan massacre to renewed harassment of Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada who blew the whistle on the  ZTE scam of the Arroyo administration.  Add to that press tattle on Bachelor-President  Benigno Aquino’s “Valentine”.

A significant report is about congressional fund sklereocordia: “Hardening of the heart”  bugged legislators who exempted themselves from audit to gorge on congressional funds. “Are your hearts hardened?”, an exasperated Master from  Nazareth  told disciples who bickered over failing to bring  bread.

Prime time TV news, whether on British Broadcasting Corporation, NHK of Japan or NBC in the US, never lead or air  police blotter pickings. In  contrast,  raw footage of  petty crime is  culled from  a few surveillance cameras in Manila , then spewed in national  broadcasts.  Onli in da Pilpins?.

Asian cities took in more than a billion people from 1980 to 2010, ADB notes. “The equivalent of  almost five new cities, the size of Beijing, are added, every 12 months”.

The historical pattern, however, differs. In Europe and North America , urbanization played out over centuries. That “elbow room” allowed  factories  and incomes  to outpace births. “In the developing world, however, this is compressed  in two or three generations,” UN notes.

More than half of the world’s megacities – metropolitan areas with over 10 million inhabitants – are in this region. Eleven of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in Asia.  Air pollution contributes to premature death of half a million Asians each year.  Outbreaks of leptospirosis and watery diahrrea in Metro Manila slums after Storm “Ondoy” underscores  this threat, World Health Organization notes.

How  many of us Filipinos are there now?  Depends on who you ask. The 2010 census pegged it at 92.3 million. Some embassies estimate that  at 103.7 million. Most agree we’re now the world’s 12th most populated nation.

The on-the-ground reality is “a nightmare for governance: sprawling, degraded cities with large, impoverished  populations who are socially excluded”. Over 10 million today  are  jobless or underemployed. Another 1.1 million are added on, every year, to the labor force.  Most are young, with libidos in overdrive.

To survive, millions of slum dwellers grow their own food on every strip  of available land: backyards, along rivers, roads, and under power lines. In low-income barrios of Managua , Caracas and Bogotá, for example, “UPH” is thriving.

“UPH” — what? Urban and peri-urban horticulture is the cultivation of  food crops within cities.  The urban poor feed themselves better by bringing farms into cities. End of January, scientists from the world over met  at Linkoping University in Sweden for the “Urban Agriculture Summit”.  “Is this the beginning of another  agricultural revolution?” asks Wall Street Journal. Other scientists are not too sure.

Quezon City implements a “Joy of Urban Farming Program”.  In New York , a commercial organic farm, is located on the roof of a six-story block in the shadow of the Empire State Building . “Cultiva Ciudad” grows food crops on building roofs that may yet disprove novelist Carlos Fuentes  wise crack about polluted  ”Makesicko” City. Over 130 million urban Africans 230 million in Latin America engage in UPH.

Will  UPH impact  on towns and cities here?  Before Gloria Macapagal Arroyo stepped down, “there was no statistically significant change in the poverty situation 61 percent of cities and towns”, notes  former NSCB secretary general Romulo Virola.  “Is this the result of distorted aspirations, or of failure of governance?, he wonders.  “Whatever, it urgently calls for innovative ideas from our municipal and city mayors”.

“In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of,” Confucius wrote in the Anaclets. “But  in a  country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.”

Development is not a larger IRA begging bowl. Rather, it is empowering people to enlarge their choices, enabling them to rise to more humane standards of living.  City and town officials  must  apply  limited resources to funding  health, water, sanitation and job training, plus tightening up on revenue collection.

A  crucial first step is the shattering of  local  official  mindsets — which the late Secretary Jesse  Robredo did so well. Robredo demonstrated that the  future need not  be one of shortchanging our grandchildren.

Continued  squandering  of  LGU funds thru “15-30 political sinecures” or building waiting sheds that no one uses is “hardening of the heart.”

(Email: juan_mercado77@yahoo.com)

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