20 minutes to the government center

The most common promise a politician usually makes is the improvement of the delivery of basic services. One promise that stands out, however, is the commitment made by Mayor Bernard Faustino Dy of Cauayan, Isabela, when I interviewed him a few years back: That he will work hard to ensure that all his constituents, no matter how far they come from, will be able to reach the government center in a maximum of 20 minutes.

The commitment is anchored on the idea that no matter how good a local government’s social services are, if they are not accessed on time, will just be useless. It’s just like having a state-of-the-art hospital that is not maximized because its doctors only issue death certificates as patients die along the way.

Second, the commitment then becomes a guiding principle in local planning particularly in land use planning. With the 20 minute-maximum travel time, the local government unit will have to build shorter access roads and alternate routes between the farthest barangay to the urban center. With mobility as a defining factor in development, it will not be difficult to see not only access to social services but also economic progress.

The only politician that I heard echo this “20-minute travel time” is Mayor Noel Rosal of Legazpi City. True enough, in non-rush hour periods, Old Albay District can be accessed in 20 minutes from Cagbacong and Buenavista, or from the barangays at the slope of Mayon Volcano including Padang, Mabinit and Bonga.

But it seems the mayor and the city council needs to re-strategize more. The city’s traffic is becoming a norm and this needs to be addressed. No matter how many access roads are constructed from the far-clung barangays to the urban center as long as the choke points within the urban centers remain, the 20-minute commitment will not be realized.

Of course, we commend Mayor Rosal for that mental shift and hope that other cities and municipalities in the region also follow. Whether or not the National Land Use Act is approved in the current Congress, local government units should highly consider the principle of “20-minute travel time”. Not unless local government units have the luxury to construct satellite centers in their respective territorial jurisdictions.

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