We can only imagine how difficult it is for Batac, a two-year-old city, to revert to a municipality following a final and executory ruling by the Supreme Court. Along with the fiscal mess the reversion caused are dampened hopes and hurt egos.
In his speech during the Empanada Festival, an activity originally intended to highlight Batac’s charter day celebrations, Mayor Jeffrey Nalupta lashed out at the High Court saying, “If only the Supreme Court is not deaf and will stop from being blind,” it will see the reality that Batac and 15 other newly created cities deserved to be recognized as cities.
Nalupta, of course, was oversimplifying the case. I trust that the justices handed down their decision, with the Chief Justice himself concurring, based on law and sound reason, and not of whimsical blindness. But we do understand the young mayor. He had to let out his frustration and exhaustion on this highly charged issue. People struck with deep emotions are oftentimes not rational, and to them society is magnanimously forgiving.
On a more disturbing note, however, the mayor said, “Whatever the finality of the case to the SC, we will fight with dignity and honor whatever the cost may be.” He said Batac has to continue the fight as a matter of “self-preservation and respect”.
But who is to blame on this mess in the first place? Not us, say the 16 embattled municipalities. In an open letter released last April, they collectively said:
“It is no fault of ours that we, the affected 16 cities availed of an opportunity provided for by legislative acts to transform our municipalities then into economically sound and politically viable component Cities. That was a right afforded to us by the laws that both Congress and the Senate passed in the same regular manner that any other laws are passed.”
I opine that members of congress are the main culprits here. For the longest time, they have used cityhood laws as a milking cow for votes. They tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to play fairy to the sixteen municipalities by circumventing R.A. 9009 which raised the requirements for cityhood, including the minimum 100-million pesos locally generated income, five times higher than the earlier requirement of twenty million. But then under the old law, even the most backward municipalities can claim cityhood status, no wonder that Lamitan in Basilan, known not exactly for peace and prosperity, also gave a shot at cityhood, together with Batac and fourteen others.
It is a twist of irony that Senator Nene Pimentel authored the law that would impede the cityhood of Batac from where the good senator traces his roots. But Ilocanos have a bigger reason to be proud of Pimentel who once again showed us what delineates the common politician from a statesman. The common politician thrives on shady deals and compromises, the statesman rises above and pursues a vision, armed only with virtues and principles.
We look forward to the day when Batac can become a city without disadvantaging legitimate cities whose respective internal revenue allotments are to be significantly reduced with new cities sipping juice that is not their own. Laoag City Mayor Michael Fariñas, also a descendant of Batacqueños, was sober in saying that he was not against Batac’s cityhood so long as it meets the requirements set by law.
I work in Batac and although my permanent address is in Laoag City, I am renting a housing unit at MMSU, which makes me a Batac resident, too. I only have respect for Batacqueños, and I love miki, empanada, longanisa, and bagnet.
I have high regard for its officials, including Councilor Bernan Marders who, along with the Naluptas, was one of the most ardent initiators of Batac’s Cityhood.
But my loyalty, dear karikna, is with truth, justice, and reason.
The fight continues, yes, but the battle must now shift on reforms that will make “the home of great leaders” a city beyond question.
By her own merits, Batac should prove to the world that she is a city-that-could be, and resist the temptation of sulking in despair as a city-that-was.
But then again, cityhood must not be the be-all and end-all of Batac. Any municipality which hinges its “self-preservation and self-respect” on the attainment of cityhood status invites cynicism, distrust, pity, and mockery.
If it is any consolation, Mayor Nalupta assured his constituency, “Whether we are a municipality or a city, our motivation to serve does not change.”
Healing is on its way. Even this shall pass.