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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, June 22, 2020
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Priorities, priorities!

Rock & Refuge

I will add my voice to the hundreds who openly slammed the P9.545 million budget for the rehabilitation and improvement of the Bacolod Rizal Park and enjoin others to file a petition against the implementation of such before the national government.

This is not because I hate to see improvements in our cityscape but it escapes me how beautification in this time of pandemic is of importance over health matters. Timing is elementary my dear leaders and today mere aesthetics must be set aside.

The Local Government Support Fund – Assistance to Cities that is funding this project is part of the 2020 General Appropriations Act that allocated P2.489 billion for construction, rehabilitation, repair or improvement of public open spaces among cities nationwide.

However, if the bright minds in our city government read through the guidelines and not just the cover page, there are more ways to use this fund than sprucing up a park that is not even widely-used by the public.

The LGSF budget is actually quite interesting as it can be used for “green or blue infrastructures that go beyond the business-as-usual level and help maintain critical ecosystem functions or address climate and disaster risks.”

What are these green or blue infra? These are the terminologies used in urban planning where spaces are utilized with the environment in mind. Examples are rain gardens that use water-absorbent plants against heavy rains and flooding. Is the Rizal Park design even near this concept?

The special fund can also be used for other open spaces like waterfronts, streetscapes and institutional spaces which includes hospitals, centers for the elderly and orphanages, colleges, etc.

A very basic project, but which could be useful in the long run, is setting up rainwater collection systems in all public open and institutional spaces or a project to manage surface water and reduce flooding as this has become a perennial problem during heavy rains.

Ah, but aesthetics is more visible to the public’s eye thus improving a park is worth more votes than introducing green technology.

We have yet to resolve the controversial P4.8 M Halandumon Tower, a worthless damaged edifice, and here we are again in another beautification project amidst COVID-19. Indeed, public bashing was meritorious because of the timing and purpose.

Mayor Bing Leonardia said that this project will translate income for workers and sales for local hardwares and stores as part of the badly needed economic recovery program. To that I agree. We are in the middle of 2020 and economists have warned us to brace harder.

We have thousands of overseas workers who were sent home and many of them may not be able to return to their jobs in the next three years as projected. Unemployment is at its highest and with tiempos muertos coming in, we may be heading towards troubled waters.

Job creation is needed but there are other ways to do this than to beautify a park and bidding it out to just one contractor.

The mayor also said improving the park may contribute to the “immortalization” of our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. Maybe yes, maybe no.

But just look at the most popular Luneta Park. Many people frequent the place as a recreational space but I bet very few of them actually go near the monument, let alone ponder over the life and sacrifices of Rizal. Education is still the best way to immortalize our heroes.

A netizen commented that since this is not part of the city’s budget, we can still pull the plug on this nonsensical project by petitioning the national government and I agree. Another made mention of rising criminality in our city and funds could have been put to better use by installing CCTVs in strategic areas. But I remember there was such a proposal a couple of years back so whatever happened to it?

Unfortunately, the special fund is very specific to open spaces with an environmental concept. Thus, I hope our urban planners and environmental advocates will take a closer look at this fund and see how you can put some sense and provide direction to the bright minds in our city.

I do not want to be called a detractor to our development plans, but the multi-million projects the city has been prioritizing are off tangent with our needs. I have made mention of this many times and I will not stop calling out for the re-assessment of the coliseum and museum projects and instead address the health infrastructure we badly need.

The national government has admitted its running out of money thus I seriously doubt there will be funds for that tertiary hospital we are dreaming of.

It is easy to bash and to criticize our officials, but then what? Unless we, the public, take a closer interest on how our city utilizes the budget, this will just be a never ending cycle.*

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