THEY call it political will. I call it balls. Politicians usually lose them once they sit in office. Those who do not or try to prove that they have not usually end up losing the immediately following elections.
Look at what happened to former Talisay City mayor Mayor Eduardo Gullas. In 2013, he engaged Tabunok public market vendors in a staredown after he moved to relocate the vendors to a newly completed public market. The newly constructed market was not very far from the old one and relocation would have decongested the national highway in Tabunok and allowed traffic in the area to move a little quicker.
The vendors resisted the idea, however. Many have been freeloading on the streetsides which they have converted into extensions of their stalls and did not want to give up their undeserved perk. The others just did not want to move out of their comfort zones.
Worried about a possible backlash, his allies advised Gullas to allow the vendors to stay at least until after the election. The mayor refused. He had political will and he wanted to show it. It was a move that was warmly applauded but not in Talisay where Gullas ended up losing his reelection by 763 votes to upstart JVR delos Reyes. Balls do not win an election.
Viewed in this light, recent moves of the mayors of Talisay, Cebu and Mandaue look politically reckless as they had the potenial of alienating a huge chunk of their electoral base. Samsam Gullas successfully cleared the area around the Tabunok flyover of obstruction, in the process dislocating hundreds of vendors and their families, many of whom must have been registered voters. This is the same Tabunok where his grandfather met his Waterloo six years ago; was Gullas courting a deja vu?
In Cebu, one of the things that Edgardo Labella did during his first week in office was to drive away the street vendors who have made the sidewalks on Colon St. virtually impassable. Although some of the vendors were eventually allowed to return, order has been restored in the sidewalks with the vendors aware of the tenuous nature of their occupancy. Labella likewise cleared a number of roads of illegal occupants.
And in Mandaue two days ago, Jonas Cortes had his city’s side of the Mahiga Creek thoroughly cleared, in the process demolishing houses that, although illegally built, had provided shelter to at least 2,000 people, according to SunStar Cebu. Earlier eviction attempts that were done during Cortes’ first stint at City Hall not only failed but ended up with the mayor being criminally and administratively charged by the occupants with the office of the Ombudsman. What was he doing, tempting the fates?
What has emboldened the local chief executives to execute the law without fearing that they could lose their jobs three years hence? It is possible that unlike previous mayors, they do not care if they ended up one-term wonders as long as they had done their job? I have heard Labella say this a number of times. Everything is temporary anyway, he said.
But I think, they all draw their strength from President Duterte. He has ordered local chief executives to reclaim all the streets and other public places from illegal occupants, giving them until the end of this month to do so. Implicit in that order is the assurance that in carrying out his mandate, he has their back.
You can say everything against Duterte but you have to admit that this president has balls. Local officials can do no less.