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.