Saturday, January 10, 2009

What the difference a Dick makes

It just occurred to me that our first article for the year was printed on the fete of the Three Kings, better referred to as the Magi. Appropriate that we begin thus a series on those who would want to be president of the land. Whether they are kingly, or wise, we should all discern. But whether the one who our 40 or so million voters eventually chooses shall, as has been its wont, the least among us, is just another political event in the hopelessly transactional system by which we are governed in this benighted land.

Someone who is certainly not among the least in competence and track record is the subject of today’s article. Whether he could make it in 2010 or not is something else, however.

Yet, lawyers as well as laymen who watched the proceedings of the committee investigations of the Blue Ribbon under Sen. Richard Gordon cannot help but compare the new chair’s performance with his predecessor, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano.

While the latter seemed no more than a master of ceremonies cum timekeeper, Gordon allows fellow senators to complete their line of questioning, and is thus able to evince purpose and direction to the investigation. The listener is not bored by repetitive questions, where one senator, absent when another was using up his three minutes, would pop up the same questions all over again. His lawyerly skills are evident, and he gets the committee staff, basically no different from those he inherited from Cayetano, always on their toes. What takes Cayetano 10 hours of tiresome drag, Gordon achieves in 3 hours, with better conclusions. The new chair seeks out his resource persons, and through a combination of sleuthing and public bluster, he gets them to appear in the Bolante-starred hearings on the fertilizer scam. Contrast this to how his predecessor failed to get Ben Abalos’ gang of four, Jimmy Paz, Ruben Reyes, Quirino de la Torre and Leo San Miguel on the dock. The last, San Miguel, appeared after he was sought by Ping Lacson whose privilege speech started the investigation on the ZTE-NBN mega-deal. Unfortunately, San Miguel was evasive and clearly tried to cover up both his participation and that of higher personages in the stinking effort to make billions at public expense.

Gordon is able to steer the committee hearings towards discovering the bits and pieces of truth out of the prevarications of main witness Jocjoc Bolante, the alleged architect of the scam. And although he is identified with the administration, having run together with GMA in her controversial 2004 election, he now shows independence and purposive ardour in search of the truth behind the scam. Dick’s stewardship of the Blue Ribbon Committee makes for a positive difference.

Which in retrospect is how Gordon’s public service career has been. Early on, he was elected a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1971, whose work was caught up by the declaration of martial law. With the murder of his father, then mayor of Olongapo City which along with the town of Subic hosted the then sprawling American naval base, Dick entered politics in earnest. He made quite a difference, and established order as well as a sense of discipline in what was then largely the nightly R and R locus of military servicemen.

In the wake of the Philippine Senate’s rejection of the treaty to extend the life of the military bases, it fell upon Gordon to never say die. The withdrawal of the American military, which likewise provided livelihood to most Olongapo residents, coincided with the sudden eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, a major disaster that affected the economy and safety of half of Central Luzon’s residents. Dick paved for an orderly transition, as Filipino volunteers he organized prevented the kind of looting that happened when the Americans left neighbouring Clark Airbase. Like the Ateneo cheerleader that he was, this time Gordon cheered his constituents and egged them on despite the immediate dislocation wrought by the closure of the military facilities. He then cajoled Congress into passing a law that gave the former naval base administrative autonomy, and proceeded to entice investments to give economic utility to the war infrastructure the Americans left.

When Joseph Estrada took over as president in 1998, Gordon was immediately replaced by Bataan’s Felicito Payumo, and in 2001, in the aftermath of Edsa Dos, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo appointed him Secretary of Tourism, there to use his management skills to try to give life to a moribund tourism industry bedevilled by the peace and order perceptions brought about by the depredations of the Abu Sayyaf. Once more, the never say die attitude of an Ateneo cheerleader turned gloom into the beginnings of recovery. The tourism department is an oasis of relative success in the otherwise parched desert of GMA’s misgovernment, thanks to her inspired appointment of Gordon, followed by Cebu’s Joseph Ace Durano thereafter.

Gordon parlayed his high profile stewardship of tourism into a Senate election in 2004. And now, just more than a year before he faces re-election or as he hopes, advance his political career towards something higher, he has been gifted by his peers with the high-profile post of chairman of the Committee on Public Accountability, better known as the Blue Ribbon. And once more, what the difference a Dick Gordon makes.

His presidential ambitions are not as welcome to the population though, as gleaned from his low-end survey results. While this space believes that Dick has the track record and the qualities that make up strong political will that is perhaps something this nation needs most in these regressive times, his numbers must improve before he is given a second look by funders and political leaders.

He has been trying to build some kind of a civil society network through the Philippine Red Cross which he chairs. He is quite visible when disaster strikes, not a put on for presidential posturing, because he has been doing this even when he was a mere city mayor, bringing relief to disparate places struck by calamities. Despite these efforts, Gordon has to touch the Filipino’s emotional heartstrings, in a nation where voters think with their hearts more than their mental faculties.

Likewise, he brings little by way of political advantage to a presidential candidate, if he should decide to scale down his 2010 ambitions to the second post. He has no party, even if this space acknowledges that parties have extremely marginal value and have been demoted to mere flags of convenience. His territorial bailiwick is small, and constitute part of mega-Manila where command votes hardly exist. Yet I must admit that these are all trite political assumptions, and every presidential contest is like no other. The best argument that indeed, challenging the usual can succeed is the smashing triumph of one Barack Hussein Obama. This is a challenge that many in the Philippine political arena will perhaps hope to hurdle, and Dick Gordon dreams on, like the Ateneo cheerleader that his persona typifies.

But as senatorial re-electionist, Dick Gordon, the way he has been making quite a difference, should be a shoo-in, especially now that he heads the Blue Ribbon in an administration that will never run out of political scandals and corrupt goings-on.

* * *

Lying has become the national sport. And it is peddled live on national television, each time a congressional investigation unfolds.

In the “Alabang Boys” hearing, you marvel at the ease with which DOJ officials and lawyers prevaricate. Of course, no one beats Jocjoc Bolante, who must have rehearsed his lines during the two years he was in the Kenosha County Jail, instead of reading books. The palace spokespersons lie at the drop of every hat. Why, Dureza even crows about a supposed “Bloomberg report” about the country, along with China, being Asia’s most economically resilient, thanks to his Boss Woman’s economic expertise. He, he, he --- his source turns out to be a chimera called in by “super-truthful” Mike Defensor who claimed to have watched television in his hotel suite in Hongkong, or was it Macau?

Clearly, it’s a case of follow the leader, except that it has gone beyond just her cabinet officials, and lying has infected almost everybody in this land.

* * *

A friend and colleague in previous government service, Atty. Rolando Ramirez, recently died after a delicate brain surgery. He will be laid to rest today. We mourn for his loss in this valley of the benighted, and hope his children will take comfort in his being now in the valley of eternal rest.