PULITZER-winning author Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times that the emerging Chinese Dream should be different from the American Dream of “big car, big house, and big Macs for all.”
In this country, dreams are as existential as shanties not being demolished, keeping odd jobs, sending children to college, or working overseas to escape the sting of dehumanizing poverty. Other hopes get pushed under the thick rug of the old-school patron system or we conceal them behind the pandemonium of our many festivals. After all, the Philippines is listed as one of the happiest places in the world and to say that Filipinos love to party is an understatement. Our aspirations are either pursued or altered by our own making even when CNN ranked us 5th in the Gallup’s Positive Experience Index last year. We are either an archipelago of shiny, happy people indulging in fiestas, or we simply don’t have the right priorities.
Festivals are pious affairs of thanksgiving that stem from communal traditions. These dances are often agricultural in theme and origin. Farming is such a key resource that festivals are correlated with the abundance of harvest. While there is no way to downplay the positive politics, sociology, spirituality, and economics behind the euphoria, the opinion is when there’s no abundance there should be no festival—and being predominantly Catholic is largely an excuse.
The Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA) only advocates solutions, not issues. For instance, instead of venturing for the rewarding Seal of Good Local Governance from the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the institutionalization of the Performance Governance System (PGS), local government units in Negros Oriental spend millions in showcasing local festivals. This is quite expected in a province with 24 fiestas, each dedicated to a patron saint. The problem is when LGUs become too concerned about exhibiting these “reconstructed agricultural experiences” as festivals without any grassroots research for validation. This gets even darker when one LGU’s award-winning festival becomes a guiltless justification of its incompetence in fiscal management, transparency, disaster preparedness, and peace and order, among others. The sentiment is that consumerism has obscured our people’s real cultural expressions. The verdict is that festivals too often fail to mirror devout religious bearings resulting in disconnected magnifications of amusement only for boosting our already brand-confused tourism.
ISA advances a Philippine Dream that germinates from dynamic roundtable presentations, discussions, and applications of nation-building initiatives by LGUs. This is the kind of festival this country actually needs. This is the equitable million-peso investment where our youth can truly partake in nation-building—not just as an elusive classroom concept—but as a dogma in practical living. Through PGS, institutions can implement reforms that fundamentally transform policy-making processes and structures. Elected officials, office heads, and employees work with broad-based community groups to craft specific public policy goals, action plans, and performance metrics to track and measure progress. If we heed Aristotle’s saying that “the proper end of government is the promotion of its citizens’ happiness,” then PGS is the next frontier in public service.
Bayawan City was initiated in the PGS back in 2007. In the transformation game plan, the potential niche for growth and development was identified. Bayawan continues to prioritize organic farming initiatives, infrastructure, low-cost housing for the poor, employment for all, and adherence to the mantra that affirmative change is possible via public-private dialogue and partnership.
It is not the uproarious Tawo-Tawo Festival that validates the city’s material abundance but the Seal of Good Local Governance award that Mayor Pryde Henry Teves proudly received in Manila recently. There is no need to hide behind the veil of fly-by-night festivals just to put on happy faces, because our leaders have chosen to fix our problems head-on. While other LGUs spend millions in festivities, Bayawan benchmarks and invests in its growing agriculture, increasing agrarian opportunities, health institutions, and other unfolding economic landscapes leading to food security, future potential, dignity of labor, environmental preservation, justice, literacy, wealth, peace, and freedom. Bayawan, as a work-in-progress, perceives PGS as the golden gate to more economic opportunities for its people.
Today, the PGS culture of governance transforms the Philippines, one city at a time. Bayawan is among the few. Many are to follow. In this archipelago of shiny, happy people, if festivals are here to stay, so are some 12 million of our brethren living in poverty.
Nick Elemia is the author of the book Light Bearers and is the Community Affairs Officer of the city government of Bayawan, a partner local government unit of the Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA). Learn more about their joint pursuit of governance reform and their efforts to build our Dream Philippines through isacenter.org.