By Milwida M. Guevara
I was a bit worried when the former Mayor of Bongao, Tawi-Tawi Jasper Que told me that he did not follow the Robredo model. In the past, I would have restrained him right away. In my mind, the process through which Mayor Jesse transformed the delivery of education was The Only Way. But aging makes one more tolerant and resilient. And so I listened to him intently as he led the discussion with the mayors from Mindanao on how things work differently in different grounds.
Synergeia has always preached that planning should be participatory and inclusive. But Mayor Que said that in the real world, it does not happen that way. “It is better to work with “ka-alyado” (party mates or alliance). Tension, endless debates, and high blood pressure are minimized by working with allies. I smiled knowing that our natural tendency is to shun the company of critics. While they make you think deeply and more open to other perspectives, the process of discussion and debate can be painstaking. Many times, we would not like to go through a similar process again.
Mayor Que was indifferent to working with NGOs. “Marami sa kanila, maingay lang. Puro salita, walang gawa. (Many of them are just good for words and not for action).” I have heard the lukewarm attitude of local governments towards NGOs many times, and, vice versa. Mutual trust needs to be built between the two and NGOs can consider strengthening local institutions instead of creating parallel structures.
Mayor Que also doused water on the potential of the real property tax as a financing tool. He avers that it is absurd to ask the poor to pay a tax when they should in fact be receiving help from government. He focused his realty tax collection on businesses and devised ingenious ways to finance education programs for the poor. With a smile, he refused to provide details. “Kanya-kanyang diskarte.” (To each his own). I was reminded of the late Mayor Alex Tomawis from Barira, ARMM, who collected a tax on every sack of copra that traders bought from farmers. This tax partakes of a restraint on trade and is not allowed under the law. But, the “piso para sa edukasyon” (a peso for education) financed his education programs. Who was I to judge that he was wrong especially since I did not have a better alternative? Barira is likewise spared from the regulatory claws of the Department of Finance because of distance.
The realities which local leaders confront can be dumbfounding. I felt so ill-equipped and naive in suggesting ways how School Boards in Mindanao can confront the challenges they face in education. How can they restrain the natives who live in the mountains from having 16 children? How can one prevent child labor when the parents need extra pairs of hand so that all their children would have food on their plates? How does one prevent parents from marrying off their eleven year old children when they are following their traditions? Certainly, textbook and theoretical solutions are irrelevant and out of place.
This brings to mind the importance of grounded theory in finding doable solutions to problems that are unique to communities. Unlike traditional research where investigation is guided by an established theory, grounded theory uses data, new patterns, and observed relationships to construct new theories. It provides practical and simple explanations of complicated phenomena and develops contextual approaches to problems.
More and more, we realize the value of listening, the wonders of discovery, and the gift of learning. One size does not fit all. We need not import theories to explain our behavior and solve our problems. I am a great believer in the wisdom of local communities especially the poor. This was what Mayor Jesse said in his last speech before Synergeia Mayors. ” There are no templates to follow. You must create your own!”