A taste of pastoral America and local autonomy

A taste of pastoral America and local autonomy Featured

UNLESS more earth-shaking developments on the Philippine political front appear, this column will digress to chronicle life in and around suburban Baltimore, Maryland, where I am currently carving out the last leg of my professional career — grandfatherhood — not in the mold of a doting Filipino Lolo, hovering over Pinoy "tsikitings," but presiding over highly independent-minded American-born and -bred miniature versions of adults with proclivities of their own. Every day is an exercise in negotiations with 6-8-10-year-olds who fancy themselves your co-equals whose spaces into which one can't simply intrude. At 7:30 a.m. every weekday, the battle to get them off to school begins with Oliver's declarations: "I hate Monday mornings," and "I hate school" some other days. And "I hate Wednesdays" at mid-week. The middle child, Sylvie, is the hardest to rouse from bed. I don't see her smile in the mornings. Surprisingly, the eldest, Max, has of late been helpful, scraping the snow off the car's windshield, but his demeanor respecting the elders is left to be desired.

Philippine setting

God! I miss the mornings in the Philippines when the yayas do these chores, dressing the kids up, feeding them a hurried breakfast but conveniently driven off in the family van by a driver, a routine interrupted only by the year of online schooling in Davao at the height of Covid. Here at Reisterstown after school, one can barely communicate with them as they are all absorbed with their devices, IPads and cellphones doing "Minecraft," the internet application whose creator should have been arrested, drawn and quartered. During homework, bath and dinner times, the negotiations persist until lights out; only to resume the next morning captured in a time-loop — mimicking the movie "Groundhog Day."

In the Philippines, grandparents are with kids only for brief periods for fun and games, after which, tired but fulfilled, they are dispatched back to their parents and eventually to the yaya. Not in America! Lolo (that's me) and Momsie (Lola Sylvia) are the grandparents-cum-yaya taking the slack off the parents, who are both professionals working from home for corporate entities in the Philippines.

American suburbia

In my earlier Facebook postings and columns, still jet-lagged, I narrated the exciting first few days of life in an American farming community. With travel cobwebs cleared, we are settled on a regular routine subject to the rhythms of life in the semi-rural community of Reisterstown in Baltimore County, 45 minutes off the seaport metropolis.

This American county of 25,000 souls is equivalent to Calinan, a barrio where I grew up, now elevated to a barangay of Davao City with a population of 24,000. But the similarity ends here. The difference in the demographics between the two sites in economic, social and political metrics is equivalent to the gap between heaven and earth. Reisterstown is what I envision Calinan could be transformed into given the right type of political leadership and restructuring we should be allowed to choose.

By definition, American rural communities are expanded outside of populated urban areas with large open spaces containing few houses with neighbors far out of shouting distance. Primarily agricultural, its inhabitants work on farms and ranches, where wildlife is abundant due to a sparse population augmented by strict laws governing the preservation and protection of natural habitats. An example is the nearby county of Monkton — a horse- raising community where grand houses and estates still breed horses for racing. According to one blue-nose family who lived in that area dating back to the 1800s, six families only own one 2,000-acre (809 hectares) area.

On the other hand, some of these communities, not necessarily farming ones, are mixed-use or residential areas, encroached by a city -- an urbanized area within commuting distance of a metropolis where the inhabitants work. These are then called the suburbs — adjacent to urban sprawl. A little bit confusing, but people here know who they are and pay taxes to the right entity — a far cry from many Filipino urban, suburban, or rural dwellers who evade taxes, "kung makakalusot." These taxes are what fuel the better-than-average municipal amenities and local government services to its inhabitants.

Government subsidiarity

Philippine suburban growth follows a general pattern of middle-class migration from city centers, but the similarities with the American suburb would end there. Take Manila, the country's premier city. Currently, just one of the 16 cities comprising Metro Manila, the latter has grown to 14 million people today, swelling by another 3 million in the daytime by an influx of suburban population working in the cities. But one phenomenon attributable to Third World countries is that similar capital metropolises (provincial and regional hubs) bulged due to the constant migration from rural areas and other smaller cities in the country seeking jobs and economic opportunities, straining further the already burdened public services. Many of these people are constrained to live in the inner cities and "slums." The middle class are either driven toward an urban sprawl, or create enclaves within these metropolises called subdivisions or "gated communities," or simply live in expensive high-rise apartments.

Which brings me partly to the point of this column. We don't seek to mimic American suburbanization patterns. But the glaring differences are the political structures by which local governments and cities are run, impacting their overall growth — population, income and services.

Basically, this redounds to the ability of their political leadership to run their cities autonomously the way they see fit, limited only by the mandates of its citizenry and its laws. The Philippine political system is highly centralized with the decision-making process structured from top to bottom, with the locals not so much involved but simply assenting to the same.

Researching here in my "free library office," Reisterstown and most towns in America simply implement government subsidiarity and autonomy similar to what I have been advocating in my past columns.

Simply put, the US system first localized their concept of democracy to the neighborhood level, making it easy for its citizens to make small decisions; a bottoms-up approach precipitating ideas and concerns elevating the same to the next higher level. In our case, from our barangay to the municipio, to the ciudad and probinsya. These processes allow better understanding of local issues unique to that community-producing solutions that are more responsive to their needs. We, Centrist Democrats (CD) call this principle "Pinatubo — not Pinatulo"!

Central to all these is the granting of taxation authorities and disbursements of the same with strict proper accountability. The whole concept needs a restructuring of our political system focusing not only on a leap of faith for our people's ability to govern themselves but to coat these with legal articulations.

Back in the Philippines, I don't see any of the presidential candidates outline these concepts, advocating the methods necessary to implement the same when elected. The CDs have been labeling these as subsidiarity and autonomy towards an eventual federal Philippines.

So simple yet not propounded by Bongbong, Leni, Isko, Manny and Ping.

Read 536 times Last modified on Wednesday, 15 December 2021 10:11
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