A Christmas Letter to the Leaders of La Trinidad, Benguet
…….michael a. bengwayan
Can You Really Make La Trinidad More Progressive, Cleaner, Safer, Greener?
Dear Leaders of the Municipal Town of La Trinidad,
A pleasant day to all of you. I will not beat around the bush. I will be very straightforward, frank and laconic. Three years ago, you were carried on to your lofty positions not because of what you think you are
, but because thousands of voters put their trust in each and everyone of you that: YOU CAN MAKE LA TRINIDAD SAFER, CLEANER, MORE PROGRESSIVE AND GREENER. This is of course beside the point that each voter gambled that you will help rid the local government of graft and corruption and steer the government “sa DAANG MATUWID”, as the President stressed. And you have no choice but to do so because you are the public servant and we, your “BOSS”, as expounded again by no less than the President.
You will, no doubt are aware that with your position came along the challenge of delivering to a town which, as societal civilization dictates, is divided – with its poor increasing in numbers; and the relatively affluent.. If we are to truly develop a great town that can be a “City” in the future, we should have a local government that works for all. We must do more to deliver to the most vulnerable communities. I believe that you share this vision, and hope we can work together in implementing it.
On January 8, 2012, I led some 5,000 people in Baguio City in a massive protest against the intended killing of 182 trees at SM’s Luneta Hill. Again and again, I led rallies, the biggest happening on September 23 where more than 10,000 people participated. One of the many reasons why many attended is that, they do not only hate to see trees being cut without valid reason. But also, people are sick, tired and disgusted with what they are seeing in Baguio City. They see garbage piling up, people complaining of lack of water, students crying that the streets are not safe at night, and parents fearing of theft and robberies. Many residents are bewailing the influx of outsiders who destroy not only our culture but the few remaining natural resources. In short, many people are so disgruntled over their current leaders.
Our beloved town faces similar problems such as those that are earning the ire of Baguio citizens. My co-residents of La Trinidad draw my attention to the worsening garbage problem in the town, lack of access to clean and safe sanitation, polluted water sources, increasing air pollution, theft, robberies, gambling, rowdy establishments due to drinking and holdups. In one area in Betag for instance, one of my staff, Robin, a law student has shared twice how he witnessed a girl mugged by guys and another guy held up and stabbed and he was so helpless he could not do anything but shout outside his window. I have talked to business establishments that were robbed and do not want to report the crime to the police because they believe “wala ring mangyayari”. We see drinking establishments with noisy music mushrooming, alleged gambling units operating and billiard and karaoke bars doubling as drinking spots.
Of course this is not to say nothing good is happening. I am sure there are but perhaps the local government and other agencies are not up to their tasks in providing the necessary media mileage for the residents to hear and know from. I believe there are many good and honest government workers doing their best and they are faceless heroes in the bureaucracy. Yet, it is the leadership that is first taken to task—thus if it has the character warranted and appropriate for it, we should seeing and hearing more of the boon and not the bane.
Beyond our peripehery remains our last frontier—the forests, creeks, brooks, rivers. These too need equal protection not because the law (eg. PD 705 , EO23 etc.) says so but because natural law dictates. The trees provide oxygen for human beings. They absorb the dangerous greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide. In short, if we don’t nurture our forests, protect and regenerate them, the future generation will suffer irreparable consequences. I and many others have done and continue to do our share in this regard but we feel the leadership is a bit a step behind instead of a step ahead.
More than what I mentioned, however, many constituents continue to wait for access to the most basic of services. I have witnessed this again and again when we do medical and dental missions and feeding projects. Another thing pointed out by many is the lack of sanitation fac ilities especially toilets and protection of water sources. While many take having a toilet that is clean and safe a luxury and protection of springs for granted, unprioritizing insurance of safe water sources affects a great deal of our most vulnerable communities . In fact, I have yet to see if we have a municipal forest and water code. Although this is a challenge facing every municipality, water and sanitation provision is a local government function. As a resident of this town, I intend on holding my local government to account in acting in accordance with its constitutional obligations.
The worsening state of our watersheds due to encroachment of informal settlers is also affecting the town in many ways. I routinely see sewerage overflowing from canals and toilets from peoples’ homes, stagnant filthy water collecting under standpipes, and children playing in sewerage that gathers in pathways due to a lack of drainage. What better example than the houses at Km 3 whose toilet pipes are directed to Balili river. I often ask myself, how did these houses get sanitary permits in the first place?.
The progressive realization to bridge the gap to these evident problems will never be realized by government alone. But the government should concretely act with will to start lessening and eventually solving these problems. My group the Cordillera Ecological Center and sister group A Tree A Day (ATAD) have succeeded in undertaking a few projects that have made a dent in the problem and we want to be partners with the government to make this town a better one for all La Trindadians. I am sure there are many groups as well who want to be involved or are now involved.
But the question is, is the current leadership up to the task, as we are made to read and believe in the media, or are they busy covering their own tracks because of the ineptness they incurred such that they have more time in court than time to serve.
Let us know. You owe it to us. We voted for you. Now, can you really — Make La Trinidad More Progressive, Cleaner, Safer, Greener?
Michael A. Bengwayan, Ph.D.
Cordillera Ecological Center