Absence of leadership

For more than a week before the year 2011 ended, local radio stations discussed the alarming report about the dangerous levels of coliform bacteria that a laboratory technician of the Metro Iloilo Water District (MIWD) detected in the water flowing out of household faucets. And it was distressing to find out that the local chief executive, Jed Patrick E. Mabilog, had chosen to keep quiet about the issue until just before the New Year, and when he did, all he could say was that he “no comment”.

Didn’t the city mayor feel alarmed by the report? Didn’t he sense danger written all over it, and that lives of his constituents have been placed at risk? Didn’t he feel enraged that incompetence and negligence were aggravating the city’s water woes, with obvious health hazards now thrown into the equation? The actions of Mabilog in the face of this report about elevated levels of coliform in the city’s potable water system validate fears that he lacks fundamental leadership skills to confront issues and protect the public welfare. We didn’t see a mayor tackle this crisis; we saw a nitwit and a coward.

In the face of this danger, Mabilog should have been all over the place, ordering additional tests on the water quality and issuing warnings to the people to take precautions like boiling the water before using it. He should have summoned health authorities to an emergency session to talk about ways to protect constituents, specially children, from falling ill, or even dying, as a result of the contamination. He should have confronted the MIWD management and fumed about the negligence which was obviously the root of it all. Unfortunately, leadership took a leave of absence in City Hall, and Mabilog simply tried to appear cute.

It’s a good thing nothing tragic happened. A series of subsequent tests showed that the coliform bacteria level in the water samples taken from several points in the MIWD pipe system indicated that it had gone down to non-threatening levels. But it doesn’t mean the problem has been solved. There is still contamination, because once the water starts flowing into the MIWD pipeline, it should already be zero level of this disease-causing bacteria that comes from human waste. That the coliform bacteria level has been reclassified as “tolerable” isn’t the equivalent of “safe”.

This crisis should not have happened had our city mayor acted swiftly and boldly to address the water woes of the city. His most violent reaction to the MIWD issue was to threaten leading a picket in front of its offices several months ago to protest the removal of his power to appoint its board of directors from erstwhile LWUA chairman Prospero “Butch” Pichay. As the inability of the MIWD to provide potable water to tens of thousands of households in the city, Mabilog kept busy traveling abroad. Every week, he spent two days in Manila. He behaved as if nothing serious was taking place in the city. He looked at his job as an opportunity to see the world and pursue his business ventures.

After 18 months, there is enough basis to categorically label Mabilog as a total failure on the job. He has done nothing to indicate he possesses the “right stuff” to lead the city and do things differently from his predecessor, Rep. Jerry P. Trenas. Decision-making? Zero. Ability to inspire people? Zilch. Transparency and honesty? Fail. If anything, the half-time report on Mabilog is characterized by scandalous anomalies and plain incompetence. Mabilog is the city’s worst nightmare.

Having wasted the first half of his first term in office, we can expect Mabilog to just slide into eventual irrelevance and early retirement. His brand of politics offers little hope for improved delivery of public services. He is a poor shadow of Trenas. Mabilog became city mayor through pure luck at the right time. But his failure to deliver even just a small portion of the expected performance will shove him into the dustbin of political history. He might as well just focus on business, because that is where his heart is. He has no heart for the city and its people.

We are just thankful there is Senator Franklin M. Drilon to take up the slack for the meager performance of our mayor. Almost everything good that has happened in the city is the handiwork of Drilon. In fact, Mabilog has threatened to become the biggest obstacle to Drilon’s projects. To cite just one example, Drilon arranged for a dredger from DPWH to be deployed here last March to remove the sedimentation of the Iloilo River. It hasn’t started its work because Mabilog hasn’t found suitable dumping area for the silt.

Mabilog’s absence of leadership is something we have to endure until 2013. We will have to be patient; the nightmare will not last forever.