When Politicians meet the Professors

By Nash Cordero and Mona Celine Yap

Posted at Dec 19 2013 12:55 AM | Updated as of Dec 19 2013 08:55 AM

“This is not a debate, but a friendly dialogue between our top politicians and our top academicians, that is why it is meet, not versus,” was what moderator and Dean of the Ateneo School of Government Antonio La Viña opened with as he formally started the event aptly named “Politicians meet the Professors” last November 28,2013 at the Escaler Hall, Ateneo de Manila University.

Politicians meet Professors

The Legacy of Jesse Robredo

This event is the inaugural activity of the Jesse Robredo Foundation. Launched on the same day, the foundation was formed by the family and close friends of the late Deparment of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary and Mayor of Naga City to perpetuate his life and leadership. The inaugural ceremony was led by Sec. Jesse’s widow, Camarines Sur 3rd District Rep. Leni Robredo, who emphasized the dedication of their family to continue the legacy of her husband, most especially in extending a helping hand to those who are in need. Rep. Robredo also said in her opening speech that one of the very first projects of the foundation is "Tabangay: Bayanihan Para sa mga Barangay," an adopt-a-community project, in partnership with Kaya Natin Movement and PLAN International which aims to create a disaster fund for 25 barangays in Eastern Samar for their post-Yolanda rehabilitation.

Rep. Kaka Bag-ao is flanked by Neric Acosta and Dean Chel Diokno of De La Salle University-College of law

“Politicians meet the Professors” served as a venue for experts to discuss important and relevant socio-political issues, the likes of Typhoon Yolanda and the Priority Development Assistance (PDAF). It is where academics and governance combine and where theory and application complement. It is not a face-off but rather an exchange of ideas. The ‘Politicians’ group was composed of Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, Rep. Leni Robredo, Rep. Kaka Bag-ao of Dinagat Islands, Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian of Valenzuela City and Sec. Neric Acosta. On the other was Atty. Jose Manuel Diokno of De La-Salle College of Law, Atty. Jimmy Hofileña of Ateneo de Manila University, Dr. Alex Brillantes of Commission on Higher Education, Dr. Fay Lauraya of Bicol University, Dr. Ma. Fe Mendoza of University of the Philippines–National College of Public Administration and Governance represented the ‘Professors’ group.

Hot Topics

Discussed in the dialogue were two of the hot topics in our country today; the disaster brought on by Typhoon Yolanda to Eastern Visayas and the scandalous pork barrel scam. As Dean Tony opened the topic of dealing with preparedness during disasters, our lawmakers and academicians threw some of their questions and ideas that can aid in developing a more organized and effective disaster preparedness plan for our country. Senator Teofisto Guingona III believes that an effective way is for the government to create a sole agency dedicated not only to disaster risk management, but more importantly disaster preparedness. “Education, information and preparedness” is key during these times, he said.

Yolanda’s Effect

Coming from a place where epicenters of typhoons always hit, Dr. Fay Lauraya of Bicol University said that including disaster risk management and preparedness and providing manuals to their students was very effective in their knowledge sharing.

Dealing with local government units in disaster preparedness is essential to any government. After all, the barangays, the municipalities and towns are the front line and therefore the response has to come from them first. “Not all mayors have knowledge on disaster, Yolanda can happen again and it can happen in Manila, what is important is the knowledge to respond to this,” Valenzuela representative Sherwin Gatchalian said. Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Commissioner Alex Brillantes chimed in that structures with regards to disaster preparedness needs a lot of work and that we should start thinking about reorganizing to have a more fast and more potent response. “Disaster preparedness is everyone’s business, University of the Philippines, National College of Public Administration and Governance Dean Fe Mendoza added. Rebuilding on the exact same site where the typhoon hit was the elephant in the room for Presidential Adviser for Environmental Protection Sec. Neric Acosta said. “It is more than just rebuilding, we also need to look into relocating,” he added.

In the wake of the worst typhoon recorded to have ever landed in the Philippines, resiliency, although very important, should not be the only thing we Filipinos should have. It’s us, the local officials of our community and municipalities, that should work together and create a safer Philippines. “Preparedness is not about mobilizing for heavy rains and typhoons. It’s incorporating “disaster proofing” in our local development plans," as said by the late Jesse Robredo.

'Typhoon' Janet

Ateneo's Atty. Jimmy Hofilena stresses a point as Cong. Leni Robredo listens

Before Yolanda came into our midst, a typhoon as strong as Yolanda rocked our nation. This was the pork barrel scam that robbed our citizens of billions of pesos. With the recent decision of the Supreme Court deeming the Priority Development Assistance Fund unconstitutional, the question now is “what happens to the people who were somewhat aided by these funds." Representative Bag-ao, who shared that her constituents did not know about the “PDAF” until the scandal broke out, are beneficiaries of these funds. “My “PDAF” was used by providing medical care and education for my constituents who before did not experience any kind of attention. My problem now is how to explain and tell them that the decision of the Supreme Court was the right decision,” she added. Cong. Robredo, a victim of the PDAF, which her opponent used for vote buying, agrees with the Supreme Court decision, but said we could have put it to good use by transforming it into incentive funds for the local government units.

Bottom-up budgeting, the new process introduced early this year, was also a hot issue brought up by the audience who were given the chance to ask our panelists.. The importance of bottom-up budgeting within the community is significant, especially with the PDAF now unconstitutional. “It starts with the basic unit in the society, that is why it is called “bottom-up budgeting," Senator Guingona shared.

Meeting Halfway

The "Politicians Meet the Professors" leadership dialogue became a great opportunity for politicians and academicians to meet halfway. Academicians are an important resource in our community because they have a lot of suggestions that have the opportunity to blossom into action.

At the root of all these, the demand for transparency and accountability is what is being asked from our government. The call for people’s participation, like what the late Jesse Robredo introduced in Naga through the Naga’s People Council, was a prime example of how we citizens can involve ourselves in our government. Cong. Leni Robredo closed the dialogue as the Jesse Robredo Foundation was formally launched. “We have very big shoes to fill, but with your help, we can finish what my husband started, working closely with the local government and demanding good governance from the officials you elected," she said.

For more information about the Jesse Robredo Foundation and its activities, please contact Almiera Calicdan at (02) 990-3282 or (02) 433-1440.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.