Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Wake-Up Call

"A wake-up call," Dumaguete City Mayor Agustin Perdices calls his narrow victory over rival Arturo Umbac. Indeed it is, but the more important matter is: a wake-up call to what?

Perdices may have won this third and final term as head of the city but this victory comes with a strong rebuke from the electorate. His lead of 5,215 votes over Umbac is possibly the slimmest margin in his career. To punctuate the message, his running mate William Ablong lost the vice-mayoralty position.

If this were school, Perdices would have earned the equivalent of a "D." He has passed the course, but just barely. He has to do better, and this means he has to start doing things differently.

Perdices does not have the reputation of a man of bold vision or audacious action. Perdices likes to play it safe, a stance that has served him well over his several past terms in change-resistant Dumaguete.

But Perdices' latest turn at the helm comes at a time when Dumaguete is undergoing major changes: a sharp rise in population brought about by migration and new investments, traffic congestion, environmental pressures, and unsolved violent crimes. Suddenly, the old safe stratagems no longer work.

All things considered, this truly is his final term as mayor of Dumaguete; there's no reelection to think of. Neither is there a Perdices dynasty waiting in the wings. Whether he does a good job or a bad one, he no longer needs to worry about the political aftermath beyond 2010.

It's an enviable position to be in, as it gives him a great deal of latitude, perhaps the most he's had in his career. Perdices could just as easily coast throughout the remainder of his last three years in office, treading those tired, old paths of city management; or he could, in this sunset, give it one last go and try something bold and new, something truly visionary for the city.

In the final analysis, Perdices' responsibility is no longer to his allies, nor to his party, nor even to the people of Dumaguete. His responsibility now is to posterity: what lasting legacy would he like to give? what does he want to be remembered for?

Perhaps, in that answer, the lame duck might turn out to be a swan with a final song to sing.