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Do we need a big brother in BLISTT?
by Michael G. Umaming

“If metropolitan BLISTT becomes a reality, Tublay should remain a countryside providing organic vegetables and fresh air,” said Mayor Ruben Paoad after participating in a learning visit to the Metro Naga Development Council (MNDC) in Camarines Sur in December 2012.

Tublay was the latest addition to BLIST, an urban development framework completed in 1994 that consisted of Baguio City and its surrounding municipalities of La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan, and Tuba.

The MNDC learning visit was sponsored by the Regional Development Council. Aside from Paoad, former mayor Greg Abalos of La Trinidad and Mayor Arthur Baldo of Sablan were among the participants. There were also several councilors from the different LISTT towns as well as members of the secretariat from the region’s National Economic and Development Authority. 

Big Brother

Many of the participants observed that although the MNDC, comprised of the City of Naga and the 15 adjoining towns, is not your perfect inter-LGU cooperation, BLISTT could learn much from it. One striking experience was that of a ” Big Brother.” 

Melissa Bulaong, a Naga employee who used to work with MNDC, said one of the council’s most productive years was when it had a Big Brother, a leader who thought less of his parochial interest and prioritized those that needed more.

That leader was former Naga City mayor Jesse Robredo who persevered to organize the council in 1992 with the slogan, “Together we could do more.”

“The move was viewed by some sectors as a scheme to get Robredo to a higher position, but thank God, the people saw the sincerity amidst the political intrigue,” Bulaong said.

Robredo’s skill in finance generation also came to the fore when he managed to get funding support from private and international financing institutions and had this channeled to the poorer towns. A successful food processing center funded by the Department of Science and Technology and partly inspired by MNDC in the fifth class town of Gainza, was visited by the team.

“No wonder Robredo was well-loved,” was how Abalos summed up the interactions with MNDC.   
   
Big Brother for BLISTT

The logical question to the participants was: Can there be a Big Brother in BLISTT? 

Most of the mayors needed some pressing to respond or when they did, they would refuse to be quoted for fear of being misunderstood.  But most of them tend to look up to Baguio City for leadership for three valid reasons.

First, Baguio has the resources. Aside from the fact that it is a chartered city with a congressman of its own, it is the only government unit in the region where locally generated income is bigger than its internal revenue allotment. Of the P8.6 billion income of the Cordillera Administrative Region in 2011 Baguio provided the chunk at P1.05B compared to the provinces. Benguet, where the LISTT towns belong, came in second accounting for P708 million.

Second, Baguio is most accessible, being centrally located. It is also a center of information because almost all media offices are located in the city and it has a large population of intellectuals, a sector critical in the spread of information. 

Lastly, Baguio is the one most in need of BLISTT.  Having reached its peak and suffering from urban blight, there is indeed no way for it but BLISTT.

Hopes and fears

While cooperation and participation are the calls of the day, these must be built painstakingly – agi-innarem tayo ditoy (we win each other’s heart),” Mayor Baldo said. 

A councilor related the following, which should have been done in careful consultations with the affected party, otherwise it would make BLISTT more difficult to attain: “When Baguio wanted to relocate the La Trinidad parking space in Magsaysay Avenue, the general reaction among politicians of the LISTT towns and in the province of Benguet was: Urayen yo ta adda tiempo nga agsapul to met ti Baguio.”

The same councilor said Baguio City must understand that we are not as excited with BLISTT. Some of us see the inevitability of a metropolitan area and we see the opportunities for livelihood and access to social services. But we also fear the negative side. We fear that with BLISTT, we become a catchment area of Baguio’s garbage; we fear that with its money, Baguio might succeed to get much of our limited water resources; we fear the uncontrolled in-migration and congested population; we fear the traffic and the pollution.

These fears were actually there from the very beginning.  A paper entitled, “Owning the Metropolitan Vision: The Case of BLIST,” writers Ruben Mercado and Carmel Chammag revealed impressions even among member-municipalities, all throughout the stages of BLIST development, that BLIST planning was a strategy for Baguio City to transfer its problems to its neighbors.

Possible area of cooperation

Abalos suggested a program where Baguio could play Big Brother – a river clean-up program, which it must lead and even fund at least in recognition of the fact that it is a major river polluter, which is why La Trinidad is aptly referred to as Baguio’s toilet bowl.

“This does not absolve us of our part in the pollution of the river, but this is an area that can earn much respect for Baguio, which would ignite a lot of positive interactions among us in BLISTT,” he said. 

Baguio City is the headwater of four major rivers such as Balili, which flows toward La Trinidad and Sablan; Bued, which flows toward Tuba along Kennon Road; Ambalanga, which flows toward Itogon; and Galiano, which flows toward Asin, Tuba. 

“How it treats these rivers will show on the downstream LISTT towns. It would be a choice for Baguio to play villain or hero to us,” said another mayor who agreed with Abalos.

Last year, the city council of Baguio asked the Environment Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to assess the state of these rivers to guide the city in addressing the river pollution problem and to open the eyes of its public considering that households accordingly contribute considerably to their pollution. 

However, only the Bued River, last classified in 1993 as Class C or suitable only for Fishery Water, Recreational Water Class II (boating, etc.), and Industrial Water Supply Class II (for manufacturing processes after treatment), is undergoing reclassification study by the EMB in partnership with the University of the Cordilleras.  The study is expected to be finished within the third quarter of the year.

From BLIST to BLISTT

BLISTT was not just the entry of Tublay.  It was also a humble realization of the need to get out of what was largely viewed as Baguio-centric urban plan and to highlight the interest of the rural part in the metropolitan vision. 

In July, all the BLISTT mayors, together with the RDC, NEDA, Department of the Interior and Local Government of the region and the Local Government Development Foundation or LOGODEF, a non-stock, non-profit  foundation tapped by RDC to help in the alliance, signed a memorandum of agreement defining terms and conditions of their cooperation.

A BLISTT Development Council is to be organized to come up with a development framework that would bring together issues and concerns of all the members.  The council would serve as an inter-local cooperation that enhances each other’s potentials and comparative advantages, a mechanism for resource mobilization to advance its agenda, and a venue for identifying and resolving its inter-LGU conflicts.

The MOA also specified that a technical working group be formed with each LGU sending at least three personnel.

The first meeting after the MOA, which was done early last month with Baguio as host, was attended by all the mayors.  An observer said it was more of an informal meeting that reviewed the MOA and came up with a resolution that a governing body comprised of the BLISTT mayors be formed.

Mayor Edna Tabanda of La Trinidad will be hosting the next meeting to be done this month. The MOA stipulated that members will take turns hosting BLISTT meetings.

Tabanda, a long-time member of the RDC’s Good Governance Committee, is an advocate of a BLISTT Area Development.  Recently, it provided relief to Baguio by allowing the use of part of its territory in Lamtang as temporary staging area for Baguio’s garbage before they are brought down to an engineered sanitary landfill in Pangasinan. 

With these developments, BLISTT probably does not really need a Big Brother.  Like a neighborhood association, each member just has to look at himself more closely and ask: Am I a good neighbor?

And like Paoad, we join with a clear vision of what we want. Like Tabanda, we give more sisterly gestures – a cloth that wipes off the sweat on a brother’s brow can spell all the difference.
Other news
:: Random thoughts on BLISTT
:: The BLISTT: As some others see it
:: Why BLISTT?
:: Beyond Boundaries: Realizing the potentials of a public-private partnership in BLISTT
:: Andebok, a foundational site in Baguio’s political history
:: The need for a legislative response to the BLISTT framework
:: BSU’s role in the development of BLISTT
:: BLISTT: Transforming distrust to mutual cooperation
:: Local resources, global directions in the service of the CICM Mission
:: Making BLISTT work

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