Thursday, August 25, 2005

Mercado's Column

Viewpoint : Governance by bile

Juan Mercado
Inquirer News Service

WHY does Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmena remind one of the late, unlamented Soviet dictator Nikita Khruschev?

No, it's not Nikita Sergeyevich's vodka-guzzling. Compared to this Ukrainian-born Russian metalworker's intake, the mayor's intake is a piker. And hasn't he been on the wagon?

Drinking triggered Khruschev's ouster. That a souse's had his finger on the triggers of nuclear missiles in Cuba scared the Politburo members witless. After they arrested Stalin's successor, they threw away the key to his dacha. Up to his death, seven years later, Nikita smudged his role in Stalin's murders.

Osmena denies a hand in Cebu's esquadrones de la muerte. These death squads surfaced after Osmena announced last December that cops who will "permanently disable any criminal" will get P20,000-bounties. The Catholic Church, lawyers and human rights groups protested "murder with a wink."

Since then, bonneted gunmen on motorbikes have killed 88 people. Most victims had police records. Some served time, but none for crimes that carried death penalties. No crime lord has been bagged. As expected, the police are clueless.

"Death squads shield sponsors from liability," notes the United Nations Working Group on the desaparecidos [the disappeared]. "An illusion of spontaneous violence provides plausible deniability."

But is "deniability" unraveling with Victim No. 88? Alemar Luna fired and hit one of his assassins. Thereafter, Osmena's security man and favorite police gunslinger--SPO1 Adonis Dumpit--disappeared.

Like Comelec's Virgilio Garcillano, Dumpit now prefers to stay in Davao Oriental(?). Necklaced with salvaging charges, the cop says he likes rural life. Osmena isn't eager to get his gunman back, any more than Khruschev wanted Lavrenti Beria around him. Cebu newspapers say gunshot wounds take time to heal.

Khruschev was a boor. As the Soviet Union's premier, he startled the 1960 UN General Assembly when he banged his shoe on a desk and screamed at Philippine Sen. Lorenzo Sumulong: kholuj stavelimik imperializna. (Translation: "jerk, stooge and lackey of imperialism.")

"We're going to make imperialists dance like fishes in a sauce pan," Kruschev told The New York Times. At a Kremlin reception, he fumed at Western diplomats: "We will bury you."

Osmena won't win the "Mr. Congeniality" award either. "Land grabber," he fumed at Talisay Mayor Eduardo Gullas. "We will beggar you." Gullas belatedly claimed 54 out of Cebu City's 295-hectare South Reclamation Project. This ill-advised claim delayed the issuance of titles.

That left Cebu City twisting in the wind with a P600-million annual bill, in interest alone, for the SRP yen-loan. That's over a quarter of City Hall's budget. Devaluation almost tripled repayments for a loan Osmena had bragged "Cebuanos wouldn't pay a single centavo for."

For over a decade, Osmena blacked out any mention of his loans--until the hemorrhage erupted. Today, the loan is crippling basic services. Cebu tops all local governments in liabilities, the latest Audit Commission report reveals.

"One of his legacies will be strapping every man, woman and child, who lives within city limits, with the country's biggest per capita debt repayment burden," noted Cebu Daily News.

Like Khruschev, Osmena relishes casting threats around and inflicting pain as policy instruments. He lashes out at those who think differently--in the Integrated Bar, university think tanks, business groups or the press.

He even lights into innocent by-standers, as his brawl with Gullas showed: He ejected Talisay vendors from Cebu's Carbon market. He fired an exemplary employee of 17 years from his traffic office. Reason: the man lived in Talisay. He has questioned, before the Court of Appeals, the law (RA 8979) elevating Talisay into a city.

The national government's P7.6 billion six-lane South Coastal Road is a major economic artery. But it passes Talisay. Osmena bars entry to the coastal road, thus disrupting traffic, classes, businesses for thousands. He issues passes for a road his city does not own.

With pastoral visits to southern parishes snarled, Sun Star Daily asked Ricardo Cardinal Vidal: "Didn't you get a pass, Your Eminence?" The prelate replied: "I'll use that road only when it is open to all."

Like Khruschev, Osmena swears by an eye-for-an-eye policy: use force, so opposition capitulates. With that approach, Mahatma Gandhi once said, all would end up blind.

"Force is enveloped in a paradox," a Royal Canadian Mounted Police guide on negotiation noted. "You cannot 'talk it out' after you've tried to 'take them out.'"

The wisest leaders make it easy for opponents to agree. They make ample use of third-party intermediaries. "Face-saving lies at the heart of the negotiations."

Whether responsible for a nation, like Khruschev, or a city, like Osmena, the leader must remember: the desired outcome is not victory but mutual satisfaction. Force is only used to educate, not to smash.

"The quiet revolution in local government is [the] crafting of partnership-based models," the World Bank notes. Governance by bile doesn't help cities confronted by exploding demands from growing numbers of indigents.

Centuries back, the brilliant military strategist Sun Tzu wrote: "The best general is the one who never fights." In today's lingo, that can be rewritten as: "The best crisis manager is the one who never assaults." But what if the leader's spleen is locked into overdrive?