Friday, January 30, 2009

Falling Apart

The signs are all around us. The agencies and institutions which form the polity of this nation are falling apart.

The regulatory agencies which are supposed to ensure that the public is protected from the excesses and abuses committed by private business in its pursuit of profit and market objectives are negligent, and in many instances, even collusive.

Of late, we have been shocked that the World Bank blacklisted three of the biggest public works contractors in the country, whose accounts with the DPWH run into the billions of pesos, each. What became more shocking is that the House of Representatives, or at least its public works committee headed by a contractor, the gentleman from Southern Leyte, and whose vice-chair is another contractor, the gentleman from Pampanga, circled their wagons to protect their fellow contractors, and damned the World Bank for its effrontery in investigating three of their kind. Funny how these guys wrapped the Philippine flag around the blacklisted contractors.

A crisis brought to fore years ago, about the capability of educational pre-need plans to live up to their written commitments, in the case of the Yuchengco-owned Pacific Plans and the College Assurance Plan, should have brought the regulators, in this case principally the Securities and Exchange Commission, looking for solutions in order to protect the victims (of which my own family is one), and ensure that the problem is obviated. Nothing doing.

The queer sell-out for a song by the powerful Yuchengcos of their moribund and hollowed-out pre-need firm to a rather unknown guy who happens to be close to Malacanang, recently brought the same controversy back to life. And the Pandora’s box reveals that so many other pre-need firms are on the verge of collapse. Along with their financial ruin, of course, crash the hopes of hundreds of thousands of poor and middle-class families who had pinned their hopes on the educational future of their offspring. And what has the SEC done all these years, since the red flags went up two years ago? If you are to judge by their lame statements, clearly, they are still clueless.

One of the fall guys in the Alabang Boys’ drug scandal, a lowly prosecutor in the Department of Justice, is getting the heat for an 800,000 peso deposit traced to his and his spouse’s account in some bank somewhere in Tarlac. If the guy got less than a million, assuming these monies are related to the dismissal of the case, who but an absolute dolt would believe that others in the hierarchy did not get anything? Why, I am reliably informed that the lawyer who fixed someone higher than this guy Resado is very, very influential because he is a partner of a very, very powerful congressman, whose son is one of the most influential figures in the current dispensation. And this lawyer is also hooked into drugs, the ecstatic kind that the Alabang Boys, say the PDEA people, purvey.

And then again, you wonder how this guy Resado, whose services as a lawyer in the useless Legal Division of the Philippine Tourism Authority were terminated years back, and whose termination was finally affirmed by the Civil Service Commission four years ago, got another job in another government agency, and this time in the agency that is supposed to prosecute crooks and criminals --- the Department of Justice?

Yes, Manong Raul, this lawyer Resado, who used to be a casual, later recommended for a permanent item by the division chief, was terminated after the period of probation, when his record of under-achievement was reviewed. He would lose cases of the PTA by default. Maybe he was so busy lending money in the public market of Camiling? When his appointment was not renewed after the probationary period, he went to the Civil Service Commission, whose regional office sustained him and ordered his re-instatement. But the PTA management appealed to the Commission en banc, and thank God there was a Karina David who sifted through the minutiae of the case, and sustained management. Why should the lazy and the incompetent be allowed to populate government agencies, indeed?

So you wonder, how did he get a job as prosecutor in an even more critical agency of the same government under the same leadership? Will wonders never cease !

The reason is there for us all to see. Ours is a bureaucracy so hopelessly corrupted. Our institutions are falling apart. But then again, what can you expect when, as it always is, a case of follow the leader? A leader who thinks nothing is wrong with calling up an elections commissioner in the wee hours of the night and ask, “Will I win by one million?”

And whose husband thinks there is nothing unseemly about meeting public works contractors, and asking the DPWH secretary to meet with him and the contractor together. Why, if Ping Lacson had the appointments book of El Esposo in 2003 or 2004, would it shock us if, perhaps, he also met with those characters in Jocjoc’s looney tunes, such as Jimmy “El Suave” Paule, and that Larena woman?

The then majority floor leader of the House of Representatives, now its Speaker, arranged for a dinner with then Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation CEO Ric Tan in 2005. Lo and behold, Ric is forced to shake hands with Celso de los Angeles, whose gamut of rural banks under the flagship of “Legacy” (a word that sounds familiar even in the Byzantine halls of the stinking palace beside the stinking river) he had begun to worry about.

“Primo, give him what he wants, he needs it. He helped Kabayan (the vice-president of the Republic, in case you have forgotten) a lot”, Nograles tells Tan. So helpful that he at a time headed the National Home Mortgage and Financing Corporation, (part of the housing flagship HUDCC which Vice-President De Castro heads) where he was forced to resign. Ahh, but that’s another story, filed for some future article.

Obviously my friend Ric did not “give him what he wanted”, and so, he was replaced, first by Mike Osmena who died, and later, till the present, by Joepot, the younger brother of El Prospero. Now that the Bangko Sentral has closed the Legacy rural banks, who will foot the bill?

Why Joepot’s PDIC, naturalmente. Poor Joepot, who’s really a nice fellow if you ask our Dabaweno friends. And since PDIC does not have the 14 or so billion to cover the numerous “small” accounts that went under with De los Angeles’ legerdemain, he now wants to borrow from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

The same Bangko Sentral which has a division that is supposed to closely audit and supervise the operations of the Legacy banks, among others. I would think BSP Governor Armando Tetangco has had nothing to do with this unseemly group of banks, but what about the boys under, eh? If they did their jobs punctiliously, as holders of fiduciary responsibility, would Legacy ever have lasted this long in its high-finance schemes?

And once again, we recall that it is the same BSP which in some other time, and under some other Monetary Board composition, which allowed a dying bank, Capitol it’s name was, to borrow in two tranches a 180-day loan totalling 1.5 billion pesos. Just like that. And when pay-up time came, the same BSP accepted payment in kind, dacion en pago, the bankers and their lawyers call it, of real estate worth less than a fifth of the loan principal. And later discovered they were holding spurious titles to the dacion, the mother title of which were given during the Japanese occupation --- en tiempo de la guerra mondial! Bakerrrru!

The system is falling apart. Everything is falling apart.

The tragedy of it all is that it’s our money they fiddle around with. It’s our future they toy around with.

What a country!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The ethics of Mr. “Itik”

As far as anyone could remember, the Aguilars have ruled the municipality of Las Pinas --- from father to son to daughter to son-in-law. Who knows, maybe as far back as a grandfather? Of dynasts I do not care to research far better than my memory. Several times in the past, another offspring tried to grab the neighbouring town of Muntinglupa, but failed. Both towns south of the nation’s capital have now become teeming cities, which in turn grew the value of land owned by the Aguilars.

But not until Manuel Villar married Cynthia Aguilar did the family’s land ownership become base for a real estate empire that was to extend beyond hick southern suburbia into most of the entire country’s capitals. And beyond mere capitalist rent the way David Ricardo defined it for Economics 101 students, into venture capitalism, and banking, and high finance, and ahh --- politics. What a roll it has been! “Ratsada”, the gambling aficionados would describe it.

As far back as the mid-1990’s, the spouses Manuel and Cynthia Villar were listed as among the country’s wealthiest, entering rarefied circle previously reserved only for the Tisoy landowners and later the Chinoy taipans. Such huge wealth Manuel Villar parlayed successfully into political capital as well.

When he ran for the third time as congressman of Las Pinas, hardly anyone dared fight him any longer. By dealing with a new president, Joseph Ejercito Estrada, he became Speaker of the House of Representatives, successor to six long years of Jose de Venecia’s hegemony over the nation’s traditional politicians. Villar himself cut that speakership short, when in electrifying volte face, he endorsed with lightning short-cut, the articles of impeachment that began the demise of his political benefactor, Erap. In less than ninety days, the man who ordained Villar speaker was packing his valises and crossing the fetid Pasig into uncertain personal fate.

It is testament to Manuel Villar’s wheeling and dealing expertise that he not only returned into the graces of the disgraced Erap, but has become apple to the eye barely six years after. Not that he has even half the charisma of the movie actor turned successful politician. What he has is the grand ability of using money optimally for maximum political effect. And that political “virtue” was first noticed when he began executing his well-laid plans to become Speaker, then senator, and later, Senate President of the Republic.

One need not be in the public esteem to be speaker. One only had to capture the favour of the man in Malacanang. In short shrift did Congressman Villar and his spouse Cynthia obtain the newly elected Erap’s favour (I wrote about this last September 25, 2008, in an article entitled “Kingmaker; Queenmaker”). Ramon Mitra became the first speaker of the first congress after martial law, because President Cory chose him against the challenge of her own maternal uncle, Francisco “Komong” Sumulong. And FVR chose his loyal co-founder of Lakas, Jose de Venecia, also his kabaleyan from Bonuan Binloc in Dagupan. Erap, as our September article vividly portrayed, chose Villar over Joker Arroyo and Bibit Duavit. Nine hundred or so days later, his choice as speaker, Manuel Villar, impeached him.

But one has to capture public esteem to become senator of the realm. It is not just a matter of buying votes, as when congressmen or mayors buy their votes on retail. There has to be method in the use of money. And Manny Villar has always been methodical. Every fiesta in the land would have a “Happy Fiesta” streamer from the speaker of the House since 1999. If you hadn’t known better, you would think Villar was in your hometown, savouring the humble feasts of every Filipino home. By 2000, he was running his television teasers --- “ST” they were labelled. And who would stroke his knees in that commercial? Why the then ST queen herself --- Rosanna Roces in full frontal sexiness. But ST of course, sans prurient imagination, meant “Sipag at Tiyaga”. Which for years became Mr. Manuel Villar strategized.

The message was brilliant re-run of Diosdado Macapagal’s recollection of his “Poor Boy from Lubao” origins. Manuel Villar, as his story goes, used to be a poor boy from Tondo, who rose from early hardship to become a billionaire several times over, through hard work and perseverance. That tale never fails to stir the masa. And thus was Villar elected to the Senate --- in the ticket of newly-found patroness, La Gloria, approved by the same masa who idolized the Erap whose back he stabbed. (I keep telling you --- we Filipinos have memories as short as our pudgy noses).

Off to work Manny went when he became senator and chair of the powerful Finance Committee that holds sways over the budget of the land. And off to work he went to nurse and nurture to passage a Special Purpose Asset Vehicle law (SPAV) that helped distressed companies stuck with humongous liabilities in the aftermath of the 1997 Asian recession, of which, quite incidentally, his companies’ fortunes were also stuck.

In his very first term, he was able to get La Gloria to bless a term-sharing deal with then Senate President Franklin Drilon. As Drilon was in his second six-year term (first elected 1995, and re-elected 2001), while Villar was in his first term only, he wangled an agreement blessed by La Gloria, to be the senate president in the last 18 months of his first term, so that he would be “Mr. President” of the Senate when he goes for re-election. Another successfully negotiated transaction.

But hey, when crunch time came in the last months of 2006, he was making lagareng-hapon, from Tanay where he sought the forgiving Erap’s favour, and Malacanang, where his Wednesday Group confreres, Joker Arroyo and Ralph Recto, were negotiating for the group. In fairness, only Kiko Pangilinan, of the same Group could not stomach the transactions, and chose to remain independent of both the Erap he helped oust, and the Gloria whose resignation he asked in 2005, after Hello Garci unfolded in naked gore. And voila, after spending half a billion or more, and landing Numero Cuatro in the senatorial sweepstakes after Loren, Chiz and Ping, he got Erap to bless his transactions with the administration bloc to be re-elected senate president. He junked those who ran with him in the so-called GO, those he thought would be his competitors for the presidency of the land --- Ping, Loren, Mar, along with their friends Pong, Jamby and Noynoy, as well as veteran Nene Pimentel, and left them out in the cold, preferring to blend together his loyalists Alan and Pia, Chiz and Kiko, with pro-Gloria Joker, Edong, Bong and Lito, JPE and Gringo, Miriam and Migz.

When Lacson and company protested the transactional arrangement with Erap, who added his son Jinggoy to Villar’s caboodle, and said the public would not accept the transaction kindly, Erap merely quoted his new favourite Manny V --- “media play lang daw iyan”. And indeed, media, or most of it --- played along. Thus was neatly laid the predicates upon which Manuel Bamba Villar would anchor his quest for the presidency of the land.

Like his previous wont, he unleashed the power of advertising. First he re-launched the Nacionalista Party whose franchise he had earlier gotten from Doy Laurel in his California death bed. Full-page ads pictured him as the magnanimously successful entrepreneur who wanted to help budding entrepreneurs. Then came the TV infomercials, where he zeroed in on the plight of the OFW’s. And now, his new TV ads show him waddling into the muddy banks of a (Pateros?) estuary, in the company of itiks and a mag-iitik, who the storyline goes, Mr. Itik helped recover his entrepreneurial bearings. The final tagline sounded a bit poignant, where mag-iitik beside Mr. Itik says, “Kapag galing sa hirap, tumutulong sa mahirap” (Did I get that right?).

What do the surveys say the masa want in a leader? Galing sa hirap. Alam kung paano tulungan ang mahihirap. And finally, sadyang tumutulong sa mahihirap. “Mismo!”, the OFW and the Mr. Itik ads want to picture Manuel Villar, the man who, at all cost and no matter what, wants to be president of the benighted land. Such a great tale. Swak na swak. And the upward-inching surveys show that it pays to advertise. And it pays to have the money to advertise big.

Will Manuel Villar therefore methodically capture Malacanang? Will his optimal use of money buy him the post, as his optimal use of the same got him lower but powerful positions in the past? It seemed like that indeed. In early August, most everyone who wanted to be senator wanted to join the early Villar “bandwagon”. He had successfully invented and re-invented his loyalties from FVR to Erap to Gloria to Erap once more. He had a party that promised to capture the Lakas and Kampi partisans who would be orphaned by the end of La Gloria’s reign and the inability to find a champion among their ranks. The Nacionalista Party was to be the willing repository of the nation’s trapos, con mucho gusto.

Until one fine day when a Ping Lacson discovered a curious double entry of 200 million pesos in the General Appropriations Act of 2008, for exactly the same project, but for a change of name of the street. What was C-5 had been re-named Carlos P. Garcia Avenue, after the late Boholano president who preceded La Gloria’s papa. And for C-5 there was 200 million; for C.P. Garcia, another 200 million. (Incidentally, it was a Boholano who pointed to Lacson the double entry). So, when the first budget hearing came, where NEDA, DOF and DBM would jointly walk the Senate Finance Committee through the maze of their macro-economic justifications for 1.4 trillion in the President’s budget, Lacson sprang the double-entry question at DBM’s Rolando Andaya, thinking that Malacanang or the DBM had sprung another of its usual tricks upon the kaban ng bayan.

Andaya, after consulting his staff, and with a naughty smile upon his lips, threw back the onus at the Congress who would transact his President’s budget. “It’s a congressional insertion”, he averred, and in the process tripped a land mine that would explode in the boundary of Paranaque and Las Pinas. Thus did the road right-of-way transactions of Manuel Villar unravel, in yet suspended striptease. Whether it would be an ST episode like Rosanna Roces fifteen years ago, or a full monty like Rosanna Roces does before painters, depends on how the revelations will unravel. Whether these revelations can be covered up by slick advertising and tons and tons of money, nobody knows at this point.

Already, the discovery of the C-5 double-take has corrupted Sipag at Tiyaga into Singit at Taga, later, C-5 at Taga. It can no longer be used for communication purposes. And so to the market Villar goes, first into the company of hand-picked OFW’s his munificence have benefited, and now, to the mag-iitik’s of Alan Cayetano’s bearings.

Already the C-5 double-take has cost Villar the presidency of the Senate, when his peers got dismayed at the initial findings where insertion did originate from him, and more damaging self-dealing revealed by Jamby Madrigal brought the issue to one of ethics, as a senator of the realm. They banded together in stealth to elect Juan Ponce Enrile to replace him. His once formidable Senate team has been deserted by Chiz Escudero and mirabile! --- Erap’s Jinggoy. Left defending him are the Pateros siblings, Pia and Alan, the former grudgingly, the latter vociferously. And Wednesday Group confreres Joker and Kiko. Nene Pimentel, in the twilight of his senatorial career that has spanned almost eighteen years, has chosen not to side with Enrile.

Pia Cayetano used to head the Committee on Ethics, along with Accounts, and Health, and even Natural Resources. She never convened the Ethics Committee, much less organized it, even when in 2007, La Miriam lodged a complaint against the imprisoned Sonny Trillanes. To the end of Villar’s presidency, Pia never organized Ethics. Now, Ping Lacson, the man who stumbled into the double-take, heads Ethics, by the grace of the new leadership and the new majority. He has organized, and Villar’s minority senators refuse to be organized. But because the committee has to move on, and hear not just the complaint against Trillanes, but the more politically explosive Madrigal complaint against Villar, the drama should soon unfold.

Shall it be striptease, or shall it be --- all the way? Will C-5 unravel the naked truth about Manuel Villar and his transactions on the way to power, or can his “media play lang iyan” and his humongous advertising budget, and all the monies he earned when he consolidated his real estate companies into Vista Land, and sold them at the market when the going was good, be enough to buy the esteem of the masa, enough to make him, president of the Republic in 2010?

“The Ethics of Mr. Itik” --- coming soon to the nearest StarMall cinemas.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Et tu, Noli?

Some people simply can’t seem to run out of luck. After working for years as a broadcast reporter, Noli de Castro of the small town of Pola in Mindoro Oriental, broke into the rarefied circle of nightly newscast anchors. He got into the “big time”, as anchor of the highly-rated TV Patrol, the early evening news program of the Lopez-controlled ABS-CBN television channel. Later, he was to host a weekly tele-magazine which starts and ends with him booming from an executive swivel chair on top of a studio dais, “Magandang Gabi…Bayan”. That became his ticket to even “bigger times”.

Politics in this country has become a celebrity game. It all started when Rogelio de la Rosa, the movie actor our mothers and grandmothers swooned over, decided to stake out for the presidency of the land in 1961. He was challenging the incumbent, President Carlos P. Garcia of Bohol, who presided over a nationalist economic strategy called “Filipino First”, and his Liberal Party protagonist, Vice-President Diosdado P. Macapagal, who swore to liberalize the economy and entice foreign capital. Just exactly what the debonair De la Rosa stood for, hardly anyone remembers, except that he happened to likewise be the former brother-in-law of Macapagal, who was widower to Rogelio’s sister Purita, the lovely lady from Pampanga with whom Diosdado sired statuesque and fair Cielo, and tall and handsome Arthur.

As the campaign progressed, it became clear that De la Rosa was attracting a lot of votes, and threatened the possible victory of his own bayaw. Negotiators went to work, and he withdrew, paving the way for the election of the so-called “poor boy from Lubao”. In the mid-term elections of 1963, Roger ran for senator, and won quite handily. Later, he was to serve our foreign service with distinction, in the Hague, along with Belgium and Luxembourg, as well as in Cambodia.

The example of parlaying celebrity status into political office was not lost on many others. Eddie Ilarde of Bicol, who hosted a popular noontime TV musical and variety show called “Student Canteen” soon followed suit, first as councillor of Pasay City, then congressman of the first district of Rizal, finally as senator, a term which martial law cut short. And after the EDSA Revolt of 1986, Orly Mercado, former reporter of TV Patrol turned host of the acclaimed Kapwa Ko, Mahal Ko medical help program, placed third in the senatorial race of 1987, topped only by the veteran Jovito Salonga and EDSA nino bonito, Butz Aquino, brother of Ninoy. Likewise, after having been eased out of his elected mayorship of San Juan, movie idol Joseph Estrada survived the Cory juggernaut in the first elections held under the present Constitution, and from there, to vice-president in 1992, and president by overwhelming majority in 1998.

I was cabinet-member in attendance sometime in December of 2000 when Noli de Castro faced then President Joseph Estrada in Malacanang. Erap wanted him to run for senator under his coalition ticket in 2001. After small talk, the president went up to his bedroom, and came down with a prized gold necktie and matching kerchief, one in his prohibitively expensive collection of cravats. That sealed what I understood to be a political bargain.

In the aftermath of the second-envelope tsunami that swept Erap out of power, Noli ran as an “independent” senatorial candidate, although adopted by the fallen Erap’s Pwersa ng Masa Coalition. Known far and wide as the ABS-CBN candidate, much like Loren Legarda three years earlier, Noli topped that election. And despite lacklustre performance in the chamber of the “august”, as they love to describe their circle of the political elite, Noli became a founding member of another exclusive club called the “Wednesday Group”. These were four senators who dined on good food and good wine after each last session day of the week, courtesy of Manuel Villar, the former speaker who impeached Estrada, who became their acknowledged cappo. The other members were old Joker Arroyo, the House prosecutor in Erap’s Senate trial, and young Kiko Pangilinan, lawyer cum broadcaster who along with his three other dining confreres, were elected in the first election since Edsa Dos.

Noli was chairman of the tourism committee which hardly had business, while his Wednesday Group dining partners got into more powerful assignments. Kiko got the justice committee, later to become majority floor leader. Joker became the powerful Blue Ribbon chair, from which lofty perch he presided lovingly to husband the travails of Mike Arroyo and his brother Iggy, the guys who are otherwise known as “Jose Pidal”. And Manuel Villar got to be the chair of the Finance Committee, with tremendous power over the purse of the Republic, and later, by virtue of a tayo-tayo arrangement brokered by Malacanang, Senate President after Franklin Drilon.

Noli’s luck never seemed to run out. When Loren Legarda decided to partner with movie king FPJ as Erap’s challenger to the incumbent Gloria in 2004, the latter wisely chose her ABS-CBN “kapamilya” as her Numero Dos. Thus did Noli de Castro, less than three years after political baptism, graduate into the most rarefied heights of power. By the wiles of Virgilio Garcillano, the grace of Benjamin Abalos, and the muscle of Esperon, Ebdane, Mendoza, Lomibao, Kyamko, Habacon, and Garci knows how many more, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was proclaimed by Congress in joint session --- “president” of the land she would misrule furthermore. And with her as perhaps unwitting benefactor to enterprise most despicable was her vice-president, Noli de Castro. Pambihirang swerti!

He wanted social services or tourism as de rigeur cabinet portfolio, but was instead awarded the role of housing “czar”, as chair of the HUDCC, presiding over cash-rich agencies such as Pag-ibig and the housing programs of the NHA, NHMFC, and the like. He has not given up his love for broadcast and continues to host a tele-radyo program over DZMM each Saturday mid-morning. And is generously featured in a television infomercial paid for by Pag-ibig, advertising “murang pabahay” loans. Goody-goody roles for Gloria’s “vice”. As HUDCC head, he had to clear up the squatter colonies that were homes along da riles to the lumpen, in order to make way for a grossly-overpriced Northrail project, one of Dona Gloria’s treasured gifts from China.

He has remained uncontroversial, if unheard in the many raging storms that have buffeted the stolen presidency of Dona Gloria. Even when Hello Garci brought her presidency to the brink in the middle of 2005, Noli was coy about assuming power. He was offered the chance to succeed by a cabal of Liberal Party power-brokers who reportedly offered him a power-sharing deal in Hongkong, where he took off for a break from the tempestuous political climate of Manila. On the day he returned to the country, he went straight for counsel to his Wednesday Group confreres --- Villar, Joker and Kiko. They advised him not to take the bait, especially because the cabal of power-trippers wanted too much “flesh” from a vice-president overwhelmed by the swirl of fast developments. The archbishop of Manila had paid a visit to Malacanang, along with another bishop, and asked Gloria to consider resignation. Cory Aquino publicly called for resignation, as did the Liberal Party after a controversial caucus at Club Filipino. Even her then chief of staff, Efren Abu, issued a statement of cautious support, promising merely to abide by “constitutional processes”. It could have been curtains down on Gloria. But Noli refused to step up to the plate. And later in the afternoon, FVR and Joe de V trooped to Malacanang to keep Ate Glo glued to her seat. Thus was Dona Gloria saved, and thus began governance so egregious because it was held hostage by those who conspired to “elect” her, and those who were “bought” to keep her, as the un-elected but ruling president. What followed has been mis-governance without parallel in shamelessness and deceit.

But ironically, part of the “glue” that has kept Gloria in the seat of illegitimate power has been a fear of the unknown. That “unknown” is Noli de Castro.

What does he know about wielding power? What does he stand for, if any? Could he hack it? These were, and likely are, the nagging doubts about the competence and the character of the man who could be president of the benighted land.

Amid controversies hounding the presidency and government, he has kept still and quiet, preferring merely to appear as a kind purveyor of Dona Gloria’s housing munificence. He is regarded as the re-incarnation of then Senator Genaro Magsaysay, younger brother of the “Man of the Masses”, President Ramon Magsaysay, who was elected to the Senate following the untimely demise of his brother, and kept his silence sepulchral throughout his political career. “No talk; no mistakes” was about the only quote attributed to him.

Yet despite the silence, the lumpen consider him, if we are to believe the tales of the surveys, as Numero Uno in their esteem of who ought to be the supreme leader of the benighted. He is followed, not too closely now, by his rival for the vice-presidency in 2004, Loren Legarda, and his Wednesday Group cappo, the multi-billionaire real estate magnate with broadcast advertisements falling out of his ears, Manuel Villar.

He remains an “independent” by preference. He has nimbly eschewed membership in Lakas, the flagship built by Jose de Venecia for FVR and later Gloria, and similarly, Kampi, the flagship fortified by Ronaldo Puno for his bosses, the Arroyos. As a broadcast journalist, he knows how to read the public mood and has his ears on the ground. Those ears and that mood tells him his benefactress’ political endorsement is likely “kiss of death”.

But pragmatic politics tells him it’s too early to show his hand --- whatever that may be. He is yet in the process of making up his mind --- to run under which flag. For a brief political interlude, he was rumoured to have considered being a repeat Numero Dos, this time to serve the ambitions of his cappo, the ultra-rich Manuel Villar, but after his cappo was decapitated in a Senate coup, and his chances perhaps blurred by real estate and road right-of-way transactions which a plethora of TV commercials might not be able to cover up, Noli de Castro seems to be on the verge of finally becoming his own man.

In the next few days, the Lakas of Jose de Venecia is set to give him a time-bound invitation to join their party of trapos, at the expense of their own original member, Bayani Fernando, who has openly stated his desire to be the party’s standard-bearer. If De Castro still plays coy to the second most-unpopular Lakas, then perhaps, just perhaps, Gloria and Ronnie’s most unpopular Kampi would embrace him. What will be the determinant of Noli’s political fate? It’s a no-brainer --- will he remain on top of the surveys by October this year? If he is toppled down, by Manny or Mar, Ping or Chiz, or (he,he,he) Loren, then he just might find these doors closed to him.

Nimble … nimble, Noli plays the field, a Mona Lisa smile pursed on his face.
His motto, “kung ukol, bubukol”. Will his amazing streak of luck hold?

Kabulukan ng sistema

Masakit sabihin at mapait aminin na sobra-sobra ang kabulukan sa ating sistema pulitikal. Tila baga ang lahat ng mga institusyon ay nahawa na sa kabulukan ng talamak na korapsyon --- isang kanser na tila wala nang lunas.

Mantakin mong ang hudikatura, ang piskalya, at kapulisan ay nakikisama sa mga nagtutulak ng droga, at dini-dismiss ang mga kaso ng mga ito para sa malaking pabuya. Kailan lamang ay muling tumindi ang interes ng sambayanan dahil sa kaso ng tinaguriang Alabang Boys na nahuli ng PDEA noong isang taon nguni’t pilit na nais pakawalan ng mga piskal ng DOJ. Milyun-milyung piso ang siyang sinasabing halaga ng mga suhol, at maraming matatas na opisyal ang tila sangkot sa kabulukan.

Ang World Bank kamakailan ay nagpalabas ng isang “blacklist” kung saan tatlong kontratistang Pilipino ay nakalista. Diumano ay nagkukuntsabahan ang naturang mga kontratista para ma-korner ang malalaking proyektong pinupondohan ng mga pautang ng World Bank at iba pang mga institusyong pinansyal na dayuhan at multi-nasyonal. Sa pag-blacklist na ito, tumindi lalo ang “black-eye” ng Pilipinas dahil sa sobrang korapsyon. Sa mata ng mga dayuhang institusyon at mga mangangalakal, para bagang sobra na ang kabulukan ng ating sistema. Dahil dito, lalo lamang hihirap makakalap ng puhunan at investments para umarangkada naman kahit paano ang ating ekonomiya.

Ang masakit at lubhang kahiya-hiya ay kung bakit dayuhan pa ang siyang sumita sa kuntsabahan ng mga kontratista at mga ahensya ng pamahalaang sangkot, at hindi ang sistema ng katarungan natin, sa pamamagitan ng COA, Ombudsman, at iba pang mga ahensya. Ibig sabihin, natutulog sila sa pansitan, o sadyang nagtutulug-tulugan. Bakit? Dahil hindi nila maaring galawin ang mga ma-impluwensya at makapangyarihan? O dahil sa suhulan? Malamang, pagsamahin mo na ang dalawang mga dahilang ito.

Ano ang epekto ng ganitong mga wasak na institusyon at kabulukan ng sistema sa masang Pilipino? Simple lang. Dahil sa korapsyon, ang salaping galing sa buwis na dapat ay gugulin para sa mga batayang serbisyo tulad ng kalusugan, edukasyon, maging kasiguruhan at katahimikan ng lipunan ay salat na salat. At mahihirap na tanging pag-asa ay serbisyo publiko ang siyang kaawaawa. Kinabukasan ng kanilang mga anak ang siyang napapariwara.

Ang tanong --- mababago ba ang sistemang bulok sa balangkas ng kasalukuyang mga institusyon, katulad ng halalan, kung saan nagkakaroon ng “paghusga” ang taong-bayan, at maaring mabago ang pangunahing namumuno? Paano naman ito mangyayari kung salapi rin ang siyang pinaiiral para mahalal? Salaping pambili ng mamahaling air time sa radyo at telebisyon. Salaping ipinamumudmod sa mga kandidatong lokal na siya namang gagamitin hindi lamang sa pangangampanya, nguni’t mas masama, sa pamimili ng boto. At kung kulang pa ang pamimili ng boto para masalaula ang halalan, nariyan pa din ang pandaraya, kung saan limpak-limpak na salapi na naman ang gugugulin ng buktot na pulitkang tiyak na babawi sa bulok na sistema. At ito ang tinatawag nating demokrasya?

Ewan ko nga ba --- asa pa tayo?

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Remember Shakespeare’s "The Merchant of Venice" and the trial of Antonio where the money lender, Shylock, wants his pound of flesh as payment for the merchant’s debts? Antonio’s advocate, the lady Portia wisely agrees to that pound of flesh being carved from her client’s breast, but with the caveat that not one drop of blood must be spilt.

Imagine if that trial scene happened in a Philippine court. The judge, who would most likely be in cahoots with Shylock, would have himself or herself interjected, "and all the blood that goes with that pound of flesh", bangs the gavel and says, "so ordered".

But Venice, even in times medieval (Shakespeare wrote the play in 1598) was a cut above present-day Philippine courts. Or so a pioneering steel factory, put up during the Ramos era, cries out.

Steel Corporation, initially capitalized at 4.5 billion pesos, was the only certified enterprise under R.A. 7103, also known as the Iron and Steel Industry Act of 1991. It located its plant in Balayan, Batangas, and started building the country’s biggest and most modern integrated flat steel factory in 1996. To finance the venture, it secured loans worth 3.1 billion pesos from a consortium of local and foreign banks.

But timing was off, because in 1997, the Asian recession hit the Philippine peso hard versus the dollar. Thus, dollar-denominated loans resulted in massive foreign exchange losses. The owners of Steel Corp. did not know what hit them, and their plant was yet to be completed. To be sure, the same problem hit just about any big enterprise set up during FVR’s time. Remember Maynilad and Manila Water? Remember Manny Villar and his housing ventures? They all fell into hard times because of the currency crunch, but then, Steel Corp. is not owned by a politician, or members of the business elite. They are just ordinary, hard-working Chinese-Filipinos who dared to become big, up against a bank owned by equally hard-working, but now extremely big Chinese-Filipinos. And that is where the scales of justice tilt for the more powerful.

The Balayan plant, which sits right beside property where I used to spend summer vacations during the martial law years, now produces cold-rolled coils and other steel products for construction, appliance casings, automotive components, cans and roofing materials. It is the biggest of its kind in the country, and exports products to 12 other countries. But when 26 pesos to the dollar hit 44 and more in 1997, while the plant was still being completed, its immediate foreign exchange losses shot up to 1.3 billion, not to mention the interest costs that also piled up accordingly. Yet by end 1999, Steel Corporation generated revenues of 2.4 billion pesos and reported a net income of 330 million pesos. That’s when the second big whammy hit them though. Government, which originally gave the pioneer enterprise a 7 percent tariff protection rate on its finished products, lowered this to 3 percent in July 2000.

By 2001, the owners knew they would not be able to meet loan repayment schedules without impairing their working capital, and thus lead to closure. They asked their creditors for restructuring. In 2002, a restructuring agreement was drawn up, which would involve the creditors putting up a revolving trade financing line of 500 million pesos in exchange for the shareholder’s equity infusion of 550 million pesos which the company would use exclusively to pay back the line after three years. BDO-Equitable was the lead bank and consortium agent.

But the syndicate advanced only a hundred million, and three creditors withdrew 275 million of existing capital lines. Still, the company was able to pay more than 5 billion pesos in interest and principal payments as of June 2006, greater than the original loan amount of 4.2 billion pesos. Despite all the financial setbacks not of its own doing, Steel Corporation was producing top-of-the-line products, and became the market leader, its potential for export hobbled only by lack of working capital on top of a tremendous liability of humongous interest payments. It deserved rehabilitation. But like Shylock, the creditors, in this case BDO-Equitable, wanted more than just a pound of flesh. It seems that what it wants is the entire corpus, over the owners’ blood and guts.

For while the subject of restructuring was being discussed, all too suddenly, in devious fashion that would make Shylock look like a saint, the bank petitioned a Batangas court to place the company under receivership. And the wily lawyers of the bank found a lady judge who is no Portia by Shakespearean esteem.

In its petition, the bank sought conversion of 3.122 billion pesos in outstanding debt to equity, which virtually means Banco de Oro-Equitable would own the steel plant lock, stock and barrel. Not just a pound of flesh, but everything – blood, bones and guts included.

This should be understandable only if the firm was doing badly, if the corpus was rotting, and soon would be carrion, as in most government corporations run down by greedy appointed officials at the behest, or even without, of top leadership. But it is not. By any fair management standard, the owners did not suck the corporation’s lifeblood. It had consistently registered operating profits of 600 million pesos or more each year. But for the debt yoke getting heavier because Shylock had no mercy, it could turn around.

Aha! There lies the rub. If debt becomes equity, and equity is owned by the bank, who gets the 600 million in annual profits? Infuse it with more operating capital coming from the bank (read that as OPM – "other people’s money", the sure-fire formula for getting rich in this benighted land) and watch the profits add further up.

So the owners and their lawyers appealed to the good sense of the lady judge in Batangas. But no, she appointed a receiver who it turns out, was an external counsel of one of the creditor-banks, who was likewise rehabilitation counsel and imposed corporate secretary of another distressed company owned by the creditors. Conflict of interest? Who cares?

I could go on and on, but a litany of incidents showing obvious bias will take three more articles in this column. In any case, feeling they would not get anywhere close to justice, the company moved for the disqualification and termination of the rehabilitation receiver. The lady judge denied it. The company went to the Court of Appeals on March last year, praying urgently for a TRO to restrain the lower court.

The case was raffled off to the Fifth Division, whose chief recused himself immediately thereafter. Then it went to another division with a lady justice as designated ponente. After the lapse of two months, she denied the TRO. After denying the TRO, she unloaded the case, just like the male judge of the Fourth Division. But pray tell, if she did not want to touch the case for whatever reason, why act on the prayer for a TRO first, and two months later? E di sana nag-inhibit na agad?

The case was then assigned to a justice whose family origins coincidentally are from the same area in Batangas, even if he already has two other cases involving Steel Corporation. A Muslim justice chose to inhibit himself from acting on the petition, on the ground that he obtained a housing loan from then Equitable-PCI Bank. How high-minded!

Yet lo and behold! In CA-G.R.-SP 99442, which likewise involved Equitable-PCI Bank, the same guy signed the order dated December 10, 2007 which denied Steel Corporation’s application for TRO. Yet in another case involving the same parties, he inhibits himself? Only in da Pilipins, and the Pilipin judicial system.

Meanwhile, the rehabilitation proceedings before the RTC of Batangas presided over by the lady judge came to a close, as expected, to the injury of the steel company. So Steel Corporation appealed to the Court of Appeals. Lo and behold! It gets raffled once more to this justice from Batangas, his fourth involving the beleaguered steel company. Sinuswerte si justice!

And how, pray tell has this CA justice acted on the four cases? The latest is once more an appeal for an urgent TRO against the same lady judge from Batangas. The CA justice with roots in Batangas has either denied all previous TRO prayers, or sat on the cases without action, hoping perhaps that the company gets run under the ground by the creditor, or is forced to succumb to its pressures.

Playing football with a vital company in a strategic industry for whatever reasons makes one wonder whether the justices (and there are more) simply want the petitioner to bleed to death, to force him to capitulate to the creditor who is not after payment, but afte

Friday, January 23, 2009

No thoughts of redemption

I once heard Senator Ping Lacson in a tele-radyo interview anchored by Henry Omaga-Diaz and Nina Corpuz. Actually I only caught the last 30 minutes of a lengthy one-on-one interview on an early week-end this January.

Asked if he thought GMA could yet salvage her place in history, Ping optimistically said: "Why not? If she would only do good from here on, and act only for the best interests of the people and stop all the corruption around her (or words to that effect) "mapapatawad pa ng taong-bayan ang mga nagawa niyang kasalanan.".

That evening, I had dinner with Ping and a few friends in the advertising industry whom I introduced to him. I chided him for the remark, saying "Naniniwala ka pa bang magbabago si GMA?" To which he said, "Hindi sa ganoon. Pero aminin nating madaling magpatawad ang Pilipino, lalo na kung makikitang nagbabago." I shrugged my shoulders and said, "Asa ka pa?"

I recall this in the light of the Wednesday rigodon in her cabinet. When a friend texted me about the report, I sent it to some of my friends, and one of them immediately shot back – "talagang walang intention of legacy." Exactamente.


Esperon as presidential management staff chief? Well, as a former chief of staff in "her" armed forces, he ought to be an improvement over Cerge Remonde, who took over from how many others, I cannot even recall. And Remonde as press secretary, why ever not? Anybody should be better than the "prayerful" Jess Dureza. But move Dureza to presidential legal counsel? That limits her legal advisers to the likes of Raul Gonzales, Agnes Devanadera and now Jesus Dureza. Further we shall comment not. As we write this, we snicker.

Pathetic is the reason for shafting Dureza from communications into legalese. Ed Ermita said that Dureza requested a less demanding job so he could attend to his ailing wife. How nice. Tutal nga naman, her government couldn’t care less about legalities; little respect they have for the rule of law. The president’s lawyer would rather be a nurse. What a country!

I grieve for my friend Sonny Razon. Now that he is a full-fledged cabinet member, as presidential adviser on the peace process, he could kiss his dream of becoming mayor of Manila goodbye. Not only will the demands of the Moro problem cum NPA deprive him of the time to move around Manila, he surely realizes that getting closer to his president means getting the disaffection of city residents. Never mind Lito Atienza, the DENR secretary who is aching for a comeback. He will be judged by Manilenos in terms of his previous record as mayor, and be compared to the woeful record of Mayor Alfredo Lim, Part Two. Atienza’s closeness to the Palace is a given already factored into the political equation, and from what I hear, even Erap will raise Lito’s hand if only to spite the Fred Lim he once treasured. After all, in the dark days of Edsa Dos, Lito never deserted Erap.

It must be sad when a president finds that no one else wants to be drafted into serving government, and she has to make do with nothing else but play musical chairs, with the "disabled" shuffling pathetically to the tunes of a dirge. But then again, who says she cares?


Let me quote that part of President Obama’s inaugural address that has reference to these benighted parts: "To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are in the wrong side of history..."

"There is no doubt in my mind that any right thinking patriotic Filipino would agree that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo fits exactly that description and therefore should take heed," reader Narciso Ner writes from California.

Ikaw naman, Boy. You think she cares? Note how Ed Ermita riposted to media when asked about whether they were taken aback by Obama’s reference: "There is corruption in every government." And then again, "President Obama should learn from our president."

Recall again when there was this call on the part of Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno (not, never to be confused for Ronaldo Puno, which is why pollsters say the Chief Justice gets low ratings from the lumpen, to whom one Puno is another Puno in a country where the punos are almost extinct) about the need for "moral revolution" (again not to be confused with Joe de Venecia’s hilarious attempt), Palace apologists with cloying shamelessness said their president is "very moral". Ha, ha, ha. What a country, indeed!


Now juxtapose this report about the whistle-blower in the Alabang Boys’ brouhaha. It is said that Maj. Ferdinand Marcelino, still a Marine officer, has been placed under a "gag order." Marcelino admitted that he was told by no less than Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro that as a member of the military establishment, he had to seek clearance from the "commander-in-chief," President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, before appearing again at any congressional inquiry.

That same commander-in-chief has of course arrogated unto herself the title of anti-drug czarina. I did not know that part of a "czarina’s" job is to sweep the dirt under the rug. And Teodoro wants to be the broom.

Marcelino was given a "pep talk" by Teodoro, where he was told to guard against being "used" by people planning destabilization. Oh, that same yarn. The insecurity of the guilty.

They covered up in Hello Garci. They covered up in the ZTE-NBN deal, invoking executive privilege, and got the Supreme Court to say "amen." Now they will cover up for drugs. Truly, what a country!


Now the "honorable" congressmen of this benighted Republic circle the wagons around contractor Eduardo de Luna, in a congressional hearing orchestrated precisely to clear De Luna from the "assaults on his integrity" by these foreign "devils" in the World Bank, who blacklisted him and his firm forever from participation in World Bank-funded projects.

"The allegations of the World Bank against my firm and my person are not only blatantly unjust, they are also bordering on the comic and the insane." Wow! Them fighting words, likely written by a congressman … and the legislators of the Republic, our representa-thieves – wrap the Philippine flag around the country’s "most favored, most special" contractor.

I’m no foreign lover, but hey, "morality" and "uprightness" is a global concern. Even the Bible says so. Why wave the flag on an issue of corruption?

But then again, I am reminded – did I not write yesterday that the little president "presides over a nation whose second name is corruption, whose dignity and honour has been stolen"?

Once again, what a country!


A reader, who happens to be a semi-retired publicist, wrote (at hindi ko iinglisin):

"Bago nagtalumpati si Obama, sabik na sabik ang mga Amerikano sa kanyang mga sasabihin, habang sumisigaw sila na "O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!"

"Bago naman magsalita si Gloria Arroyo, duda na ang mga Pilipino. At sigaw nila: Baba na! Baba na!"


We will resume our series on the presidential moist-eyes this Tuesday. We’ve written about Erap’s "Hamlet Act", followed by "What the difference a Dick (Gordon) makes". Then we segued into "Loren’s sinta for 2010,", followed by a "misunderstood Bayani (Fernando)" and "Jobama (Binay)". We started this week with "say Chiz (Escudero) and what do you get?" Our next column, still to be written, will be about Loren Legarda’s bête noire – "Et tu, Noli?"

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A celebration of hope

We interrupt our series on those who are labeled “presidentiables” because of two events. The first is the celebration of hope that we witnessed happening before our very eyes live on television, in the late hours of Tuesday night, well into past midnight, when a peaceful transition of power happened at the west rotunda of the Capitol of the United States of America.

As early as dawn, eastern time, Americans from all over the country started flocking into the magnificent National Mall that begins at the steps of their capitol, well past the Washington obelisk, in a huge expanse of open space flanked by the museums of the nation’s capital, and thence into the fringes of the lake that front the Lincoln Memorial. All that was filled with perhaps a million people, maybe more, the biggest crowd ever in a presidential inauguration. I was in Virginia, in the suburbs of Washington D.C. when Ronald Reagan took his oath of office as the 40th president of the United States. From what I saw on television then, the crowd was definitely much, much less, and the rites, though a tad more formal than Obama’s, was less the celebration of hope that we saw Tuesday night.

Focused by the camera were the grizzled faces of America’s workers, their wives and sons and daughters, gazing at a future with which to entrust their hopes amid a season of near-despair. You could see it in the welling eyes of the millions who listened to every word that their new president spoke --- from the Mall to the viewing stations in Times Square and Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco to Memphis in Tennessee. And all throughout the ceremonies, they sang, danced and waved flags to demonstrate the ardor of their hopes. I particularly liked the quartet that performed, not so much for the virtuosi assembled at the balcony of the rotunda, truly without equal in their chosen art --- Itzhak Perlman the violinist, Andrew McGill with his clarinet, Gabriella Montero on the piano, and Yo-Yo Ma and his incredible cello. The significance of putting them together was truly inspired --- a Jew, an African-American, an Asian, and a Latino-American. It was as if the America of “E Pluribus Unum” was celebrating the new spirit of national unity and purpose that the promise of real change brought. President Barack Obama was its personification --- “a man whose father, less than 60 years ago, might not have been served at a local restaurant, can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”

It will be a different America from the one George W. Bush, Gloria’s “great” friend, misruled for eight long years. I particularly took note of that line where the new president castigated those “corrupt” governments that keep their people in bondage and oppression. A sensitive soul would have been shamed. But I guess that is one character that exists nowhere in the Malacanang of these benighted islands.

The event was replete with symbolisms, from the Republican red cravat that Obama wore, balanced by the Democratic blue that his vice-president Joe Biden wore. And swearing to the same bible that Abraham Lincoln used in his first inaugural was another great symbol of great significance.

“The challenges are daunting, but anyone who underestimates this nation has forgotten about its past perseverance”, he said. And asking for greater sacrifices in a time of utmost difficulty, where there is “a sapping of confidence across our land --- a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable”, Obama exhorted his people thus: “Greatness is never a given. It must be earned”.

Great men through great words inspire hope. The Americans, by electing their 44th president, Barack Hussein Obama, “have chosen hope over fear”. Little men (and women), through insipid words and uninspiring vision, give only portents of mediocrity and continued decline. When, oh when, shall we witness true and meaningful change in this country, one that can make us all reach for the stars and achieve genuine progress where all are blessed and none are oppressed?

Can this happen in our lifetime? Can we have a celebration of hope in 2010? Or shall a people so moved by the hopelessness of their fate under a government most corrupt and most immoral, finally unite to break the chains of despair that bind them to a fate so bleak, even before the legally appointed hour?

* * *

And what did the little woman, hours before the American Caesar took his sacred oath, mouth before the diplomatic community gathered in the new year’s traditional vin d’honneur?

“We look forward to working with the new president and we welcome him to the world stage”. World stage, my foot. Such gall from one given cold shoulder treatment by world leaders in conferences abroad.

Such arrogance, such misplaced sense of self, from a woman who presides over a nation whose second name is corruption, whose dignit and honour she has stolen.

* * *

The second event that occurred last week was a glimmer of hope in these islands where the shameless rule, and the ruled are not inflamed any longer by the shamelessness around them.

In remarks delivered at an Anvil Exchange Forum on the night of January 14, Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno compared Confucian values and good governance.

When asked about good government, Puno quoted Confucius’ reply: “That it must be able to provide --- (1) sufficiency of food, (2) sufficiency of military equipment, and (3) it must have the confidence of the people. He was then asked: “If it cannot be helped, and one of these must be dispensed with, which of the three should be foregone first?”

To which Confucius replied --- “the military equipment”. And if one of the remaining two must be dispensed with also, which of them should be foregone? After serious thought, he answered: “Part with the food. From of old, death has been the lot of men, but if the people have no faith in their rulers, there is no standing for the state”.

Thus did the chief justice define good governance: “The wisdom of Confucius’ answers speak for themselves. More than economic prosperity, more than military might, government needs the trust of its people in order to govern effectively”.

“The political history of our nation – recall the first and second EDSA revolts – are testaments to the lesson that governments that forfeit the trust of the people have unhappy exits” , Puno recalled, and once more segued into Confucius words. That “He who governs by means of his virtue is, to use an analogy, like the pole-star: it remains in place while all the lesser stars do homage to it … If your desire is for good, the people will be good. The moral character of the ruler is the wind; the moral character of those beneath him is the grass. When the wind blows, the grass bends”.

“There is thus an unbending obligation on the part of those who lead government to provide its moral ballast…To be sure, a government afflicted with moral leprosy deserves nothing but the graveyard. We need leaders with moral character. History tells us that people will forgive leaders for lapses in ability but will not forgive those who slip in character. Character is who we are when no one is watching”.

CJ Puno’s words virtually zeroed in on the real issue behind why life in this benighted land has become so bereft of hope. It is because we allow ourselves to be led by the least of us, which I keep repeating in this space. The least in character; the least in moral uprightness. The kind of leader who would conspire with an elections commissioner she appointed despite checkered record, in order to ensure she would “win by a million votes”. The kind of leader who would fly to China in the dead of night, and sneak back in the wee hours, just to bear witness to a deal so scandalously over-priced, and would thereafter forbid her officials from telling the truth, under oath. Absolutely, definitively bereft of any “moral ballast”.

That speech about morality in politics created quite a stir. First off, it brought about an offer from a presidentiable, Sen. Ping Lacson, for Puno to consider running for the nation’s top post, to which he would defer his own presidential quest. Lacson made it clear that the self-abnegation of presidential ambition would yield only to a man of Puno’s record of integrity. There were voices of support from even rather unseemly quarters, whose provenance is suspected to come from Malacanang itself, whose immediate goal, it is speculated, is to remove the Chief Justice from his perch so that they would have the power to appoint someone who would willingly castrate himself for worldly goods and pelf.

Whatever the digressive brouhaha, the Chief Justice wisely disclaimed personal ambition for higher office. Only the pristine desire to inspire a “moral force” that would regenerate a nation which has forgotten, if it ever imbibed, the lessons of two EDSA’s, “where governments that forfeit the trust of the people have unhappy exits”.

Read between the lines, Madam Gloria. And you too, Mr. President Estrada. And all those who wish to be president but who did things injurious to the people’s welfare “when no one is watching”.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Pagudpud at Vigan

Noong Sabado ng tanghali hanggang sa hapon ay dumaan ako at aking mga kaibigan sa lungsod ng Vigan. Nauna rito, kami ay nagtungo sa lungsod ng Laoag, at naglibot sa San Nicolas, Burgos, Pasuquin, Paoay, Batac, Bangui, at napakagandang Pagudpud sa dulo ng Luzon. Doon ay nananghali kami sa Saud Beach Resort na pag-aari ng mag-asawang Reynolan at Maja Sales. Si “Teteng” ay makailang beses na alkalde ng Pagudpud, bago tumakbo, nanalo, at nadaya sa pagiging congressman ng unang distrito ng Ilocos Norte, sa kamay ng isang beteranong trapo. Si Maja ay kasalukuyang vice-mayor ng Pagudpud.

Tinawag na “Boracay of the North” ang Pagudpud, at sadya namang napakaganda ng white-sand beach, lalo na sa harapan ng Saud Resort. Nguni’t, hindi tulad ng Boracay, wala kang maipintas sa linis ng beach na ito. Sa apat na oras na pamamalagi naming sa Saud, ka-kwentuhan ang mag-asawang Sales, wala ni isang pirasong plastic na nakita kang lulutang-lutang sa dagat, o isa mang maruming bagay sa playa. At walang nag-iingayang mga tugtugin, mga karaoke, at mga nagsisipagtinda ng kung anu-ano. Ang Pagudpud ay “pahingahan ng iyong kaluluwa”, na kung ang hanap mo ay matanggal ang iyong “stress” sa pang-araw-araw na buhay, makipag-bonding sa iyong pamilya, at mare-charge ang mga nanghihinang baterya ng iyong katawan, ito ang lugar na dapat mong puntahan. At ang mga Sales ay tunay na “conservationist” ang pananaw, at naninindigang panatilihing natural at maayos ang kanilang napakagandang regalo mula sa Panginoon, ang makatanggal-hiningang Pagudpud.

Sumunod na araw ay bumiyahe kami ng isa’t kalahating oras patungong Vigan, and dating sentro ng buong Hilaga, na tinaguriang “Ciudad Fernandina” ng mga kolonyalistang Kastila, bilang parangal sa kanilang haring si Fernando ng Kastilya, habang ang Ilocos ay tinawag nilang “Nueva Segovia”. Muli, ang Vigan ay bayang nakapagpapa-alaala sa atin ng ating matulaing kasaysayan, tulad ng Intramuros na kailangang ayusin pa. At ang pagpapanatili ng lumang Vigan ay napunta sa mag-asawang Medina, sina Ferdie at Eva Marie, na matatalik kong kaibigan noon pa mang sila ay parehong nag-aaral sa Pamantasan ng Sto. Tomas, bilang mga arkitekto. Dahil sa kanilang pinag-aralan, at pagpupunyaging manumbalik ang pamana ng lahi na kanilang pinamumunuan, buhay na buhay ang Ciudad Fernandina sa lungsod ng Vigan. Si Eva Marie ay anak ng yumaong Gobernador Evaristo Singson, nakatatandang kapatid ni Chavit na kilala nating lahat. Si Ferdie, na kaklase niya sa UST, ay mula sa angkan ng mga Medina ng Pateros, nguni’t ngayon ay Ilokanong-Ilokano na sa salita, maging sa pagmamahal sa Vigan.

May balanse ang komersalisasyon at pagpapanatili ng mga ala-ala ng kasaysayan sa Vigan. Maraming mga “restrictions” sa design at arkitektura ng anumang negosyo sa loob ng lumang Vigan, ang Ciudad Fernandina, at maging sa pag-aaruga ng mga produkto ng mga taga-Vigan, ang “burnay” o mga gamit na hango sa putik, ang “abel Iloko” na telang gawa sa makalumang pamamaraan, maging sa pagpapanatili ng kanilang mga tradisyunal na pagkain, tulad ng paborito kong “sinanglaw”, at kilalang longanisa at bagnet (iba-iba ang bersyon ng mga ganitong pagkain sa dalawang lalawigan ng Ilokos, at halos lahat ng bersyon ay natikman ko na).

Sa loob ng lumang siyudad, makikita ang kahalagahan ng “conservationist” policies at regulasyon na ipinatutupad ng mag-asawang Medina, mula sa pagpapanatili ng mga mansyong higit daang-taon na ang tanda, at ang pakikibagay dito ng mga kalsada, road signs, at transportasyon. Medyo lungkot ako dahil may McDonalds at Jollibee, nguni’t wika nga ni dating Mayor Ferdie, hindi naman mapigilan ang “modernisasyon” kaya’t siniguro na lang nila na angkop sa makalumang disenyo ang arkitektura ng mga ito. Dumaan kami sa Max’s na katapat ng paborito kong bilihan ng mga “antiques’, at kitang-kita sa gusaling ipinagawa nito kung paano maaring pagsamahin ang makalumang anyo sa makabagong mga pangangailangan ng isang restawran.

Salamat naman at may mga punong-bayan tayo tulad ng mag-asawang Medina ng Vigan at mag-asawang Sales ng Pagudpud, na may pagmamahal sa kasaysayan at sa kalikasan, at may pagpapahalaga sa mga ito, kasama ang maayos na pananaw sa kanilang mga tungkulin, hindi lamang sa kasalukuyan, kundi maging sa pinagdaanan ng kanilang mga bayan, at sa tamang hinaharap ng mga ito.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Say Chiz, and what do you get?

L’enfant merveilleuse of the 2007 senatorial elections was undoubtedly Francis Escudero. Running as part of a ticket with stellar re-electionists and balik-senadores as Loren Legarda, Ping Lacson, Manuel Villar, and on the other side, with Joker Arroyo, Edgardo Angara and even Tito Sotto (who lost even if in two previous elections, he was among the top), Chiz won spectacularly, placing number two, although prior surveys done in 2006 showed him barely making it.

Of course Sonny Trillanes was the biggest surprise in that contest, considering that he ran without physically campaigning, being in the prison cell of La Gloria and her Esperon. But because of that incarceration, and his involvement in the failed November 29, 2007 enterprise at the Manila Peninsula, Sonny’s star has been hibernating in the political galaxy.

There is no major legislation attributed to Escudero, whether as congressman of three terms or in the past two years that he has been senator. But as minority floor leader and therefore the captain ball of the first impeachment complaint against GMA, principally arising from the revelations contained in the Hello Garci tapes, Chiz shone because of his quick wits and gift of articulation. A respected columnist calls him “glib”, which indicates verbosity with little profundity. Whatever one may think of the fellow though, he impresses, and has the ability to say something about an issue without necessarily taking firm positions.

He has been agile at political brinkmanship. In his first term as congressman of Sorsogon’s first district, Escudero was drafted by President Estrada’s son, JV Ejercito, into a team of administration defenders called “Bright Boys”, as counterfoil to the so-called “Spice Boys”, Joker Arroyo’s youthful gang of oppositionists in Congress. And there Chiz was, until the rug was pulled from under Erap’s feet in Edsa Dos.

In 2001, when Gloria had already become president, he easily won re-election in his district, and stayed rather low-profile until 2004 when he was chosen by his wedding godfather, Fernando Poe Jr., to be his campaign spokesman against GMA, his godmother. As FPJ was reticent about public speech, it came upon Escudero’s prodigious abilities to carry the brunt of speaking for the candidate, while breezing through his re-election to a final term. This public impression about his speaking abilities was bolstered by his election as minority floor leader, even as his NPC fellows led by Gilbert Teodoro chose to remain firmly in alliance with GMA.

Then, in 2005, Hello Garci came to town, and Escudero, being the minority floor leader in Congress where impeachment complaints are filed, rose to the opportunity. He was all over the news as the scandal played, along with its thrashing by bribery and pressure. Chiz found a cause, and played it to the hilt. He parlayed this into a successful run for senator in 2007.

Pre-campaign surveys were not as favourable to his chances as his fellow in the lower house, Alan Peter Cayetano, the motor mouth who threw everything against el fabuloso esposo de Dona Gloria, including a money-laundering charge involving a Bavarian bank. But Chiz capitalized on his youthful looks and a youth-attractive message in his advertisements, along with a personal machinery that delivered well. Thus, from a mere number 12-15 in the pre-campaign surveys, he quickly zoomed into an eventual Numero Dos in the senatorial derby, after Loren Legarda.

He became the Ways and Means chair of the Senate, not necessarily as high-profile as Blue Ribbon or as network-functional as Education or Health, but performed well in the never-ending investigations of the Senate on the un-ending scandals of the regime. He was called upon by most broadcast stations to make comments on practically everything, which suited his uncanny ability at thinking on his feet, and in turn kept him very visible in the public eye. Thus, when his name was included in the potential sweepstakes for the presidential trophy of 2010, his ratings quickly rose. As vice-presidential candidate though, the same surveys deem him to be virtually unbeatable in a field that includes fellow senators like Kiko Pangilinan, Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla and Noynoy Aquino.

Because survey ratings have become the major determinant of national candidacies in our politically immature system, Escudero’s party, the Nationalist People’s Coalition of Ambassador Danding Cojuangco has of late flexed its rather atrophied muscles in reaction, and seems determined to field him or Loren, preferably both in tandem with each other as its standard-bearer in 2010. But while La Loren might (just might) be willing to slide down to vice-president to an Erap Estrada, a public offer she has incipiently denied though, it seems unlikely that she would be willing to be Chiz’ second lead in 2010. Already, Escudero has been shooting political commercials due for telecast soon. The 2008 last quarter SWS survey shows him behind snapshot leaders Noli de Castro, Loren Legarda and Manny Villar, who all had television ads at the time. Let’s see who among the candidates will have the best TV ad, which by the looks of it, is all it takes to inspire the voters of the benighted land.

If older and wiser political sachems could prevail upon Escudero to bide his time, youth being on his side, he would make a formidable candidate for vice-president to any of the presidential wannabes. Political handlers of Erap, or Ping, Mar or Loren would certainly rate him top choice for vice-president. Manny Villar would have wanted Chiz on his side as well, until the young senator decided to dump him in favour of the new majority which elected Juan Ponce Enrile to the presidency of the Senate wracked by Villar’s “C-5 at Taga” problem.

While his youth (he will turn 40, the constitutional age requirement for a president or vice-president, in October 2009) could be used as sharp definition vis-a-vis other presidentiables, it could also be used as argument by political match-makers and the public itself to press him to meantime accept second spot. Escudero’s handlers declare that their man would prefer to run now, “before he succumbs to the system”. Well, that system is indeed rotten, and one wonders how anyone who has thrived within the system for the past 11 years of his political life, young though he is, could hope to be less infected by its virus if he was on top of it, rather than 7 years henceforth.

Indeed those who do not like the young Escudero describe him as so young, so bright, and yet so trapo. But as much as I would not have reason to bash him so, this perception is clearly not the public’s present judgment of Chiz.

Yet, running for senator or vice-president is not as scrutinized as when one runs for president. In the aftermath of the most transactional regime the country has had to suffer, questions will be asked about Chiz’ perceived closeness to so-called “pacmans” like his party chief, Danding Cojuangco and his corporate genius, Ramon Ang, or “taipans” like Lucio Tan, as well as to ports magnate and current presidential crony Ricky Razon.

The worst political scenario of 2010 for a promising young man like Chiz would be if he is traded off like some chattel by these or other fabulously rich men, in all sorts of compromises. Already, there is talk that a now-very-rich Chinoy business wheeler-dealer is openly endorsing a “Unity Ticket” with Chiz for president, Loren or Noli as vice-president, and a senatorial line-up composed of GMA officials like Ace Durano, Art Yap, Peter Favila, Jesli Lapuz, Pingkoy Duque, Nonoy Andaya, and six supposedly from the “opposition”, including the likes of Adel Tamano, Grace Poe Llamanzares, Darlene Antonino-Custodio, and others not yet firmly ensconced within Manny Villar’s Nacionalista camp. The political chopsuey makes for good story, but surely Chiz knows, for the sake of his own future, that while it may be good for those senatorial wannabe’s, it will expose his oppositionist colours to perfidy.

Change, the more real and meaningful it will be, shall be the defining message of 2010. That political crap about “unity” after nine long years of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, will be precisely that --- crap.

The awful state of governance that he would inherit from his Ninang Gloria would require a major transformation, in fact, a revolutionary overhaul of the rotten system in which transactional politics and its attendant corruption thrive. Chiz, while relatively unscathed by corruption, is not known to be a crusader for such “holy” causes. As every other candidate will present either serious platform or a parody of one, he or she shall be judged, rightly or wrongly by the electorate, in terms of his or her ability to deliver on the same. Track record will be matched against promise, at least as far as the usual gate-keepers of public opinion are concerned. And in a closely-contested match among many candidates, they would matter, as contra-distinguished from the 1998 election of Estrada which, the moment Gloria chose to slide down to Joe de V’s veep, was a no-contest.

The major concerns of the electorate in 2010 will be how to survive, given the depressing economic conditions, as well as corruption of epidemic proportions. Unlike Mar Roxas, who has served in cabinet as trade minister, or Manny Villar, who has enriched himself beyond the dreams of most every other mortal, Escudero may be considered still lacking in experience on the economy, or what people at least perceive economics to be. Unlike Lacson, who has made the fight against corruption his flagship issue, and by example has abnegated his share of the pork barrel, Chiz has yet to carve name for himself, his most memorable legislative performance, failed though it was, being the captain ball of the first impeachment complaint (the one that almost made it) against his own ninang sa kasal.

But, and this is not meant to denigrate him --- six more years as a vice-president, with a president who could give him an important post, such as DILG or justice secretary, or a succession of high-profile cabinet assignments, the better to train him for the highest responsibility in the land, should leave no further doubts about this young man’s capability. As earlier written, he will not yet be 41 if he is sworn into office on June 30, 2010, and still a young 46 by 2016.

One must credit Chiz for playing his political cards very well, and whether the other presidential “moist-eyes” like it or not, he has become a major player for 2010.

Nakapanghihinayang ang Baguio

Sa nagdaang dalawang buwan ay dalawang beses akong umakyat sa tinaguriang “summer capital” ng bansa, ang lungsod ng Baguio. Ang unang pagkakataon ay daglian at saglit. Nguni’t nitong nagdaang ilang araw, ako’y nagliwaliw, kasama ang ilang barkada, sa Pagudpud, Burgos, Paoay, Batac, at Laoag City sa Ilocos Norte, kung saan kami ay nanirahan sa naisa-ayos at magandang Fort Ilocandia sa tabing dagat, at pagkatapos ay sa Vigan, na sa loob ng higit labindalawang taon ng pamamahala nina Mayor Eva Marie at Ferdie Medina, ay naging isang kaiga-igayang tourism at cultural destination, habang ang herencia nito sa kasaysayan ay naitataguyod ng maayos. At pagkatapos ay dalawang gabi sa Baguio, upang masarapan naman sa diumano’y napakalamig na klima na tatalunin ang nagdaang mga taon.

Maliit pa akong bata ay sanay na sanay akong umakyat sa Baguio, at sadyang malapit sa aking puso ito. Noong ako’y Grade One pa lamang, naniningil ang aming pamilya sa mga pautang sa mga negosyante doon sa negosyo ng aking lolo, kaya’t buwan-buwan ay umaakyat kami doon hanggang sa magtapos ako ng Grade Two. Noong ako naman ay nasa-High School, taunang may kumperensya at training kami sa Student Catholic Action sa St. Louis University mula Disyembre 26 hanggang Disyembre 30. At dahil doon ay naging ugali ko na, maging ng aking maybahay at mga anak, ang pumunta sa Baguio sa kasagsagan ng tag-lamig doon.

Sa nagdaang mga taon ay nakita ko ang pagkakasira ng Baguio. Noong maliit akong bata, langhap na langhap mo ang mabangong halimuyak ng mga pine trees sa tuwing paakyat ka na ng Kennon Road. Ngayon, ke magdaan ka sa Kennon o Marcos o Naguilian, usok ang iyong masisinghot. Sa Camp John Hay ka na lamang makaka-amoy ng bango ng pine trees, nguni’t paglabas mo doon, papalapit sa dambuhalang kapangitan ng SM mall na dati ay napakagandang Pines Hotel, wasak na ang mga magagandang alaala mo ng Baguio ng aking kabataan.

Lubhang nalugmok sa walang habas na komersalisasyon ang Baguio. Pinabayaan ng mga opisyal, lokal man o mga ahensya nasyonal, na mapariwara ang dating angking sarap ng Baguio. Maging ang Session Road na dati-rati’y kaiga-igayang pasyalan ay naging pangit, masikip, at bulok na. Nagkaroon ng dalawang Baguio --- ang maayus-ayos pang lugar, tulad ng Camp John Hay hanggang Baguio Country Club, at ang bulok na bulok nang downtown, kasama na ang napariwarang Burnham Park.

Noon ako ay nahirang na general manager ng PTA, natuklasan kong ang Burnham ay tinanggal mula sa pag-aruga ng National Parks Development Committee ng Kagawaran ng Turismo at napunta na sa local government unit ayon sa kautusan ni Pangulong Ramos. Dahil dito, nais kong malaman kung may plano ba ang city government na isa-ayos ang makasaysayang public park na ito bago namin tulungan sa pondo, nguni’t ang aking nakita ay mga planong pulos konkreto --- semento dito, semento doon. Matatandaang nagpatayo pa nga ng pine tree na semento sa junction ng Session Road at Leonard Wood, na sadyang nakakasuya. Sa totoo lang, ayaw ko noong tulungan sila dahil nga sa aking pananaw, lalo lamang mapapariwara ang Baguio na noon pa man ay tadtad na sa semento. Dumaan kami sa napaka-trapik na palibot ng Burnham nitong linggong nagdaan, at natuklasan kong imbes na magagandang “period lamps” sa palibot ng lagoon, ay mayroon ng mga plastic lamps na gawang Tsina, kagaya ng pagkapangit-pangit na pinaglalagay sa Kamaynilaan. Sayang.

Ang isa pang sakit ng Baguio ay ang walang humpay na pagdami ng tao rito, hindi lamang dala ng panganganak ng mga dating residente, kundi ang pagdami ng mga “migrants” galing sa mabababang lugar. At hindi ito naisa-ayos o na-plano ng mabuti ng pamahalaan, kaya’t nagsisiksikan at pinagpuputol na walang awa ang mga naggagandahang Benguet pine trees. Talagang nakakaiyak at nakakainis.

Sa aking konting pananaw, mahirap nang baguhin pa ito, at ang magagawa na lamang ay panatilihing maayos ang iilang natitirang magaganda pang lugar, tulad ng John Hay at palibot ng Leonard Wood hanggang South Drive, at kung maari pa sana ay ayusin naman ang Mines View Park na naging pugad ng mga vendors at sirang-sira na. At kung maari pang mabago ang pagkakasira ng Burnham Park, para naman ang masang Pilipino ay may mapuntahang maganda pang lugar sa Baguio, dahil ang John Hay at Country Club ay sa mga nakaririwasa lamang.

Bakit nga ba tayong mga Pilipino, tila walang pagpapahalaga sa mga kagandahang taglay ng ating kalikasan, at wala ring pagpapahalaga sa kasaysayan? Kay lungkot. Nakapanghihinayang ang Baguio.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The winnowing (2)

IN the US of A, there are two mainstream political parties, the Republican and Democratic parties. To be able to properly size up the many candidates who want to be president, they have a series of primaries, where actual elections are held to determine who are the frontrunners before they go into the national convention. Or they may instead opt for party leaders’ caucuses. The party national committees decide the ground rules, and even whether or not to hold primaries at all. Card-carrying party members, or in some states, even so-called independent voters may participate in making known their choice. The parties as well as the states may differ in rules as well as procedure.

The candidates do actual campaigning although most of it is directed at party leaders and workers as well as sectoral groups, with media tracking through polls and immediate reporting of results.

This year’s campaign has been extensively covered by media, specially since there is no re-electionist president, and neither is the incumbent president running for the presidency. It’s a wide and open race in both parties for the nomination of their parties. Convention time is around June 2008, and the states where Obama won, such as Iowa, will cast their delegate quota for him in that convention, just as New Hampshire will go for Hillary. The primaries were thus designed to achieve two things: first, to get to size up the candidates at close range, get their views on various issues, and have a fair assessment of their character; and second, get a feel of the public pulse after the candidates have made their rounds. The nominating convention of the party therefore is fairly assured that their candidate has the requisite competence and character, in varying degrees. It is also reasonably assured that among its following, support for the convention’s choice is strong and enthusiastic. The winnowing purpose is thus well served. In fact, when wannabes fail to clinch sufficient support after two or so primaries, they often opt to quit, and support the frontrunners.

The system cannot be replicated in the country, given as we said, the virtual non-existence of political parties in its real sense. Likewise, the multitude of political "barkadahan" masquerading as parties will make primaries so confusing. Besides, neither government through the Comelec nor the parties themselves are prepared to undertake the expenses involved.

Prior to martial law, when poll surveys were not as much in vogue, party conventions were held to choose the standard bearer. Those were expensive affairs that the Nacionalistas and Liberals had, where delegates were wooed through "wine, women and song" as the Free Press in its heyday loved to describe. They were also opportunities for "transactional" politics. "You support me now, I promise you which cabinet post" was heard several times in smoke-filled "caucus" rooms.

With the death of a true-party system and the scuttling of the monolithic KBL post Edsa I, the poll surveys became the singular barometer of the public pulse. Politics became a "horse" race measured by surveys. Whoever was more popular was deemed "presidentiable" enough. This made the political party even more irrelevant. Thus in the first presidential elections held under the 1987 Constitution, the humongous party of resurrected traditional politicians, LDP, chose in regionally-dispersed conventions Speaker Ramon V. Mitra Jr. over Fidel V. Ramos, who was faring much better in the surveys. FVR and a small band of politicians, seven originals if memory serves me right, bolted the LDP and formed Lakas, which then borrowed the "non-trapo" shell party called NUCD of the late Raul Manglapus. It is now Lakas-CMD.

But the surveys proved themselves more accurate in gauging the public pulse than the traditional politicians. Ramos won with a mere 23 percent of the vote over Miriam’s 21 percent. Miriam invented a party (PRP) for the purpose of running, and she almost won. Danding Cojuangco stole the rib-cage of the Nacionalista Party from then Vice-President Doy Laurel, and re-named his group the Nationalist People’s Coalition. ECJ got 18 percent of the vote. Mitra, who headed the biggest party, with membership down to the barangay level, or so the LDP beamed, was a poor fourth with 14 percent of the vote. Mitra spent the most, Cojuangco next, then Ramos sparsely, and Miriam hardly nothing. Thereafter, surveys provided the best guide to choice.

But in 1998, the now humongous Lakas did not learn the lessons of 1992. It fielded Speaker Joe de V, as if in reprise of 1992, and lost heavily to Joseph Estrada, who romped away with 40 percent of the vote, more than double what the Lakas candidate cobbled. Popularity was the sole determinant of victory over the unpopular who could not be given a make-over. But Lakas imported GMA for vice-president, and she won over Erap’s Angara. Again, popularity won over machinery, where LDP was second to Lakas.

With popularity as measured by poll surveys comes the wherewithal. Because parties do not exist, war chests are personal to the party’s candidate. Thus, the ability to raise money for a campaign has become the function of a candidate’s winnability.

In 2004, the first incumbent to run under this Constitution faced a highly popular movie actor. There were no conventions to choose candidates. Obviously the incumbent who reneged on her word not to seek election only had to retrieve her palabra, and that was it. And the disparate opposition gathered around the personal choice of a few people who were "leaders" by virtue of wealth and previous position. But this time, winnability was thwarted by a deadly amalgam of proper strategy, dirty tactics, shameless use of every fund available, and the co-optation of the Comelec, with its evil genius in residence directing "operations".

In 2010, assuming no machinations to keep Gloria in power beyond succeed, we are looking at a 1992-model political horse race. The protagonists will not have popularity of cinematic proportions, even if former president Erap himself joins the fray. He will not have the virtual presence of an FPJ, straight from movie legend to the presidency. His 1998 stature has been diminished by the real events of his presidency, the impeachment trial, as well as the Sandiganbayan conviction. Which means few of those who dream of Malacañang will give way to him.

But 2010 will no longer be about Erap and what Gloria did to him. It may be about what Gloria did to the nation after Erap, which is more perfidious than any before her. But it would be more about who in a field of many can change the order of things – a rotten polity, a stagnant economy, a society lorded over by the powerful few at the expense of the impoverished many. As elections should always be – to choose the best, gauged in terms of competence and character, the latter being the most important.

How do we gauge these? Sufficient competence, and the needed character to cleanse a rotten polity, to keep the economy moving in the right long-term direction and beyond both boom and bust cycles as well as "plastic" spin, and bring its benefits to the many, protecting them against the unbridled greed of a few, worse, the abuses of the powerful? Character is at the bedrock of political will. "Competence" without character will be more of Gloria.

Again, media and the surveys will play a major role, since the party as institution is more virtual than real.

Between March 2008 and November 2009 when the candidacies are more or less certain, is a total of twenty months. Let civil society, convened perhaps by the PPCRV which stands for responsible voting, and media cooperate towards holding regional forums with a non-rigid debate format in each of the country’s fifteen regions outside NCR. Broadcast should cover the event live and unedited, with nationwide exposure, even international, given our large OFW audience. These could be held each month, for a total of 15 months, the rules and timetable for the organizers to determine. The forum should be held on a Saturday or Sunday, with the candidates allowed to do the rounds of sectors and their target publics the week prior to the debate. No representatives should be allowed to participate. Whether or not a candidate participates is entirely up to him. Remember that we precisely want to gauge competence and character.

No one is declared a winner nor are rankings made by the panelists or the organizers. No quick-polling through text messaging or even scientific designs should be made. Let the pollsters do their regular quarterly surveys, and watch how the nationally televised and reported debates affect public reaction to the candidates.

Meanwhile, media should print matrices of their work experience, professional background, achievements in private and public endeavors, and failures as well. They should inform the public about the candidates’ business ties and relationships, personal or familial. In short, anything and everything that matters when competence and character are to be gauged.

I omitted NCR as a venue, and the organizers could even exclude mainland Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon because almost all households in this wide swath are media-attuned on a daily basis. It is in mega-Manila where they should hold the sectoral fora, which should include labor, the youth and students, farmers and fishermen, the professional sector, business (and I don’t mean Makati Business alone or even in tandem with just the revolving leadership of that troika of PCCI, ECOP and the export council, but also genuinely small businessmen and market vendors). In any case, these are details.

Hence, sufficient ways shall have been made to make the voter choose on the basis of sufficient information. That he chooses more by emotion rather than intellection does not detract from the merits of up-close visual and verbal encounters. He after all chooses by himself where he puts greater premium upon – charisma or intelligence, or whether he finds both in one or the other.

The candidates will in time realize whether they are acceptable or not, whether they have sufficient reason to believe that they are believable by the standards of the voter. Thus, the wide field which now consist of Loren, Noli, Ping, Chiz, Manny, Mar, Dick, Bayani, Sonny, Jojo, Gilbert, either Jinggoy or Erap, or both, and yes, FVR if he desires, could join in when the regional debates begin.

Decision to proceed or quit would of course be an individual one. He could choose to be guided aided by survey findings or his own gut feel.

By the end of 2008 at the latest, after some nine or ten fora, some will have quit. Some may seize the day and propose coalitions with the front-runners, or present themselves even as running mates. My educated guess is that by October 2009, only a few will remain standing. The chaff shall have been separated from the grain, and I don’t mean this to demean anyone. Sometimes the worthier have to give way to the destined. That is how the political cookie crumbles.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Adopting the monicker "Jobama" for an accomplished chief executive of the country’s richest city (Quezon City might dispute this, but let me explain that I describe it on per-capita terms), I find rather inappropriate if unseemly.

Jejomar Binay, his first name a contraction of Jesus, Joseph and Mary, has been mayor of Makati, enclave of the very rich, financial capital and fashionable shopping mecca all rolled into one, since the fall of Ferdinand Marcos. But for a brief interlude when he handed temporary power to his wife, Dra. Elenita, when he himself sat as MMDA chair and a member of President Estrada’s cabinet, the people of the city have kept electing him. His second round of three terms each ends on June 30, 2010. Indeed, it is time to move on.

Before Corazon Aquino appointed him officer-in-charge of the country’s then premier municipality, Jojo was a lawyer not of the rich, but of the poor, and together with legal activist Rene Saguisag, embraced human rights advocacies during the long night of the dictatorship. We were together when the first ever anti-Marcos rally in the financial capital rocked the political bearings of the dictatorship in the aftermath of Ninoy Aquino’s dastardly assassination. Unknown perhaps to Jojo then was the fact that I had to bus a few hundred rallyists from his Batangas and my Laguna because we were unsure about any spontaneous turn-out from Makati, then ruled by his predecessor Nemesio Yabut, a loyal Marcos henchman.

Unlike many of the instant local government executives created by revolutionary government fiat, Jejomar Binay proved to be both politically astute and administratively capable. Unlike many who took over their instant constituencies like conquering potentates, Binay retained many of Yabut’s loyalists, in the municipio as well as the barangays. In time, the vaunted political machinery swore loyalty to his colors, even when his rule was challenged by the Yabut heirs.

With so much in real estate and business taxes rolling into the city coffers, he embarked on his own version of a "welfare community," subsidizing so many social services that even Manila, the nation’s capital could not afford. He focused on the basics – health and education, as any right-thinking local executive must. A "yellow card" certifying that the holder is a Makateno, allowed entry at one time to the nation’s most prestigious medical address, the Makati Medical Center. Later, Binay was to put up his own government-run general hospital, apart from well-stocked barangay health centers. The municipality’s schoolchildren had textbook subsidies, and its teachers given increments and bonuses on top of what the national government paid them. In time, he would inaugurate a full-service University of Makati whose educational and even sports facilities are the envy even of some private institutions.

Senior citizens of Makati get to see the movies in Ayala malls for free, chargeable to the city government. And their mayor sends them a birthday cake and some cash gift for Christmas. Makati roads are well-maintained, and I do not refer to Ayala Avenue or the business districts of Legazpi and Salcedo, but even to the poorer districts of Guadalupe Viejo and La Paz and Comembo or West Rembo.

There are many more services that Mayor Jojo gives his pampered constituents which I shall no longer enumerate because, not being a resident of his city, I would only drool with envy, and feel miserable about the state of decay of my beloved City of Manila, once the nation’s pride.

His local detractors certainly have their gripes. They accuse him of corruption, and cases have been filed against him before the Ombudsman. But what local executive has not had his spate of such charges? Of recent memory, Ronnie Puno’s DILG blackshirts laid City Hall to siege because Doña Gloria’s Ombudsman ordered Binay’s suspension for having allegedly padded the payroll with ghost contractuals. Binay’s barangay constituencies surrounded him, and after the Court of Appeals handed down injunction, the "siege of Makati" only provided the mayor with a larger-than-life image as opposition leader. These days, the so-called "United Opposition" coalition is virtually headquartered in his towering City Hall, more fabulously furnished and equipped than any in the entire country. Binay is both president of his original party, PDP-Laban, founded in the early Eighties by now senator, then Cagayan de Oro city mayor Aquilino Pimentel, and the transitory alliance of oppositionists called UNO.

Moving on for Jojo Binay means the presidency of the land. And late last year, he formally declared his intentions, just after Barack Obama won the presidency of the United States. His handlers called him the Philippine version of Barack Obama, but what he had hoped to be an insignia of "change" was trivialized into mere similarity of skin color. By calling their political champion "Jobama," lofty message became little more than, sadly – coffee-shop joke.

The numbers in the surveys show it. Like Bayani Fernando, Jojo, despite real achievements and a busy regimen of moving across the length and breadth of the archipelago, still languishes in the bottom rungs. He has forged sister-city relationships with so many municipalities in so many provinces, donating hand-me-down computers and school desks, but somehow, the effort has not registered in the surveys.

He has publicly declared his fealty to former President Joseph Estrada, and alone among many, has said he would willingly give way to the latter’s intent to make a presidential redux. This makes sense for Machiavellian minds who see opportunity for a vice-presidential candidate of one whose legal rights to seek the office once more may be struck down by the Comelec and the Supreme Court, in which event, No. 2 just might reap instant electoral bonanza. But Jojo, who has shown fierce loyalty to the two political bosses he has served, Cory and Erap, likely means his self-abnegation truthfully.

There is some characteristic that makes the Filipino voter akin to the Filipino movie fan. He typecasts his movie "idols" as much as he typecasts his political "idols". May pang-meyor; may pang-senador. And only a few are considered pang-presidente. (Just like in the movies, where a Baron Geisler like Max Alvarado before him is "pang-kontrabida", while a Piolo Pascual or an FPJ or an Erap could only be the "bida.") Thus, we have had outstanding senators, in erudite advocacy as well as legislative performance – Salonga, Puyat, Diokno, Recto, Tañada, Laurel and many others, but somehow they had been typecast by the voter as "magaling na senador", and would elect them forever if possible, as senators, but not as president. There is a varying background and indefinable charisma required of the top position within the public gift, that had made them elect "electrifying" speakers, or men with military or national security backgrounds – Magsaysay, Marcos, Ramos – or vice-presidents thrust into power by accident of fate – Osmeña, Quirino, Garcia, even Arroyo. Note that all four were neither deeply charismatic nor powerful speakers, and would perhaps not have won against their president in fair elections. We elected Cory Aquino in a wave of sympathy over her murdered Ninoy, and a movie actor with boundless personal charm in Estrada.

It is said that one could plan his political career up to senator, but above that, it becomes a matter of destiny. Quezon and Marcos perhaps defied that. Based on their biographies, it seemed quite evident that they had lusted to become national supremo the day they entered politics. The Filipino voter has not had a mayor or governor typecast as presidential material. The exception was perhaps Arsenio Lacson, mayor of the then truly great City of Manila. But untimely death cut his "destiny" off. Joseph Ejercito Estrada was once mayor of the tiny municipality of San Juan, and was acclaimed for his achievements therein, but people who elected him president in 1998 did so for reasons of charisma and popularity as a movie actor, more than his considerable feats as mayor, and certainly not because of his senatorial performance.

The highly-acclaimed governor of post-martial law Cebu, Lito Osmeña, tried in 1998 as presidential candidate, and failed. These days, there seems to be a growing realization in civil society sectors that there are good local government executives who ought to be considered for the presidency in 2010. Mention has been made of Quezon City’s Sonny Belmonte, even Isabela’s Grace Padaca and Naga City’s Jesse Robredo, Magsaysay Awardees for public service at that, and of course those who have openly declared their intent – Gordon of Olongapo, Fernando of Marikina, and Binay of Makati.

Thus far, the tale of the surveys shows they are not "typecast" by the voters for the presidency of the land. For Jojo Binay, one major problem is that he is titular head of an opposition coalition with many heads who cannot come together to reach consensus that transcends personal ambition. The Liberal’s Mar Roxas, nor Manny Villar’s Nacionalista Party, neither the independent Ping Lacson, or Loren Legarda and Chiz Escudero, oppositionists both in openly pro-administration NPC. Crazy as it already is, the deposed former president, the undeniably charismatic Erap, wants a double take.

Where and how does a Jojo Binay, "Jobama" to his Makati handlers and fans, situate himself thus?


While out of town, I got a text message around noon last Thursday from a lawyer-friend regarding a supposed statement from Senator Ping Lacson, who offered to defer to Chief Justice Reynato Puno should the latter seek the presidency, because what the country needs most is a "moral force".


I called up the senator, and he confirmed, clarifying that he would defer his own presidential plans only for a man with the moral qualifications of a Chief Justice Puno, and none other. Ping is right. More than anything else, what this benighted land needs is moral regeneration. Otherwise, not only shall we continue to drift; we shall perish.


Then, just as I was about to send this article, my friend Oyie Averilla informed me that his grandfather, a man I deeply respect and admire, Gen. Felizardo Tanabe, who preceded Roy Golez and me as postmaster-general, had gone to his eternal rest. A soldier who fought for the country with valiant ardor, and who laid the foundations for a modern postal service, Tanabe will be greatly missed by the postal community, here at home and abroad, among his peers in the Asia-Pacific Postal Union, which he, Roy and I served as secretary-general.

My profound sympathies to his daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren, particularly Oyie, a young man I also admire, currently the chief of staff of Senator Sonny Trillanes.