THE forthcoming barangay elections present an opportunity to change things for the better in the community. For over a decade, the city’s barangays have been dominated by ward leaders of a patronage-fattened “party” that has consolidated its hold on all but a handful of the local officials.

This party’s Strong-Arm leadership style, bereft of cultural sense or refinement, has controlled community officials imperiously and manipulated the city through them. As a result, as the city grows, its problems multiply exponentially. Unplanned, uncontrolled growth seems to be this administration’s development strategy.

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It sacrifices the city’s quality of life to favor vote-rich squatter colonies and migrants who are enticed to register as voters in exchange for dubious land-occupancy certificates. As a consequence, respect for property rights has been eroded. People who invoke poverty to justify lawlessness, disorder and slums help themselves to any space or sidewalk or grab public or private land at will. They know that trapos cannot survive without their votes and will protect them although they pay no taxes.

Complicating matters, vigilante justice to contain criminality has been tolerated if not officially sponsored.

Through all this, taxpayers can only watch helplessly. Their watchdogs in the City Council have virtually abandoned them, behaving more like the Boss Man’s lap dog. Thus we have extravagantly financed public markets that are half-empty inside while adjoining streets teem with vendors and illegal hawkers. Billions have been poured on them with no clear benefits except self-gratuitous claims of progress.

It’s what happens when a community is lorded over by politically savvy but inept trapos whose concept of governance is to capture power, live off the public bounty, build vanity projects, and distribute the crumbs to keep poor people under control.

As the region’s looming metropolis, the city now groans from the burden of patronage politics and mindless growth. Although economically endowed, it has no character design-wise, or distinction except strong-arm rule, horrendous traffic, disorder, and crass politicking. Meanwhile, more large projects are in the making with no quality standards.

Right-thinking Cagayanos can regain control of their city by electing responsible leaders in their respective barangays. Otherwise, the same political bosses will keep feasting on the city’s resources and feed on its economy like maggots on a rotting carcass. Gising na Cagayanos!

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Manny is a former UN executive and director at the development academy of the Philippines. Email: valdehuesa@gmail.com