Marikina City Hall: Transparent, hi-tech, but…

I’ve always been awestruck by the Marikina City Hall (MCH) since I set foot in it a few years ago. The main attraction is its big atrium, whose glazed roof filters light from the sun into the building’s large space. It greatly symbolizes transparency in the local government. And the see-through glass walls of all offices in the two floors drives home the point even further. If you want to easily monitor council meetings inside the hall, just go upstairs and see from outside the Council Room how your favorite councilor performs. You cannot eavesdrop, though.

I’m not in a position to say that the MCH is the best seat of local government in the Philippines (for the reason that I’ve not gotten inside in any more than a couple). But at the very least, the MCH will surely be among the best.

When I visited the place this afternoon–on instruction by my wife to settle our real property tax and secure a tax clearance, which are required for the individualization of lots in my neighborhood–the feeling grew deeper at the sight of one big change in it: Use of ICTs.

There are a couple of sleek machines that run the employee access control and attendance system, or the equivalent to the bundy clock system.

There is a big computer room (or is it?) in which IT employees do their stuff. I saw a lady that was producing a presentation on how one uses the Marikina City web portal.

A set of standing Internet-ready computers is available for students or visitors who may need to hook up while waiting inside the hall.

The Real Property Tax system, at least, is computerized. The counters are using a web-based application to retrieve and supply data based on transactions with the taxpayers.

I did not go upstairs so there sure were more stuff that I missed.

However, I have to admit that behind my big appreciation for the state of the art are my few reservations. You know me, right? I’m a FOSS guy, so I’m basing everything from that perspective.

The LGU must have spent tens of millions of pesos to acquire and maintain computer hardwares and softwares. In my estimate, there are at least 300 computers being used inside the hall. And I’m not speaking yet of other offices outside, like the Engineering and Health Centers. I’m very much sure that had MCF seen the light of FOSS, she would have opted not to buy Microsoft products in favor of open source equivalents, which require less investments. Look, the tax people are using their computers just to run web-based applications, for which Linux architecture fares much better than Windows.

Oh, not only web-based applications. I saw one tax person ‘crunching numbers’ with Microsoft Excel. I swear that OpenOffice Calc can be as cool, free of charge for software updates.

And for non-ICT stuff. I observed a couple of things that are surely a disgrace to the government. First, the payment receipt system is broken. When I paid for my real property tax, I was given an official receipt. But when I paid for documentary stamps, I was given a small piece of white paper with the Assessor signing on it. Twice I asked for an OR. Twice I was told that doc stamps had no OR. Is this allowed? Hmm.

Second, there is no drinking water for public consumption. Cheap rant, you may say. But to me that’s important. To think that Marikina City’s public water service (in partnership with Manila Water System) is much greater than the old cities in the NCR (which are mostly serviced by Maynilad.) I was not asking for a cup of free coffee or hot chocolate. I just needed a little amount of water to drench my dry throat at that moment after doing a couple of rounds among two counters and a xerox service outside the hall.


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