Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Dona will not sing

It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.

Everyone was glued to the ninth SONA of Dona Gloria, waiting for the moment when she would finally sing. She ain’t fat alright, but she’s the star of the long-running opera, tragedy to most, sheer fun to a few. All she did was to warble a fast version of “Her Way” --- “I did all that, and may I say, not in a shy way”, but she would neither begin nor end her song the way the videoke favourite starts --- “And now, the end is near, and I must face the final curtain”.

What have I been saying all along? The Dona won’t fade quietly into the night. She has aces up her sleeves. Wait till she returns from her Obama hegira. That’s when “her” actions unfold.

Many think, wishful at that, that Obama would pound some sense into her head, douse some cold water into her hot being. Perish the thought. She calculates, probably with precision, that geopolitics will not affect his focus on his country’s economic woes. If Bush would not lift a finger in Thailand, why would his successor pre-empt “her way” with her country?

She is so unlike a truly fine lady who now awaits what the Divine Maker decides, but has continually and consistently served the nation by reminding it of a moral compass. “But while my power as president ends in 1992, my responsibility as a citizen for the well-being of my country goes beyond it to my grave”, she said in 1991.

Many writers have commented on the “final” SONA that won’t be the last word. Many reactions have been made by politicians who either wish to share the limelight, or want to steal the show. But the SONA is “her” show, and truly, from the bated breath that could hardly disguise a state of mind unable to distinguish truth from reality, and unable to hide contempt for her enemies, let alone suppress smiles even when she knew the applause was “canned”, it was truly, genuinely, Dona Gloria. Even if I suspect the rhetorical flourishes and the “taray” words were ghost-written by one who wrote the same excerpts from a final SONA I shall now print, spoken by a lady who retired from the presidency with absolute grace, and now awaits her fate with amazing grace.

Read Cory Aquino’s last State of the Nation Address, minus a few paragraphs, and note how it was disingeniously used as template for Dona Gloria’s “final” SONA, without the same grace, without the same nobility, without real farewell:

“This is the last time I shall address you on such an occasion as this. Let us clear the air between us. (From the start, the tone of farewell was set).

“I could have made things easier for myself if I had opted for the popular.

“I could have repudiated the foreign debt, won the passing praise of a greatly relieved people, and the lasting contempt of a devastated country.

“I could have opted for outright hostility towards the international banking system and invited its retaliation. But the only result would have been to weaken the present democracy against the conspiracies of the former government which contracted the miserable debt in the first place. I would have taken the chance, if I were the only one at risk, but I had a country to take care of.

“I could have called for an elected constitutional convention. Surveys showed that an elected convention was the popular choice to draft a new constitution. But I believed it was more important to draft a constitution and submit it for ratification in the shortest time possible, and hold elections immediately. The people and the army needed a full elected government and a constitution around which to rally in defense of freedom.

“I could not afford the luxury of the popular by waiting out the endless deliberations of an elected convention, like the 1971 Constitutional Convention. And besides, what was so great about that experience? After a year of talk and scandal, the final draft was prepared in Malacañang, approved by the frightened Convention, and ratified in a fraudulent plebiscite. (The 1972 Constitution was submitted to Ferdinand Marcos by Diosdado P. Macapagal, the president he defeated, who had managed to get himself elected president of the constitutional convention. Unlike Marcelo B. Fernan, Teofisto Guingona, Augusto Caesar Espiritu, Alejandro Lichauco, and a dozen others whose names escape me at the moment, who refused to sign that constitution tampered in the palace).

“I could have made things easier for myself if I had allowed the Executive to influence the decisions of constitutional commissions. I might have spared myself deep embarrassments by interfering with the judgments of the courts. But I uphold the independence of these bodies. I am convinced it is in all our best interest to respect an independence that may thwart the government’s will from time to time – but is yet our best assurance of justice when we will need justice most.

“I firmly believe in the freedom of the press. And I accept the criticisms poured on me, painful as they are, as part and parcel of the hazards of public service, and conducive to its honest performance. True, I have sued for libel, but I did not use the power of the presidency to advance my cause. And this is shown by the fact that four years later my case continues to drag on. I have not forgotten that what my husband wanted most in prison was for the public to hear the side of freedom, and no newspaper would print it.

“I submitted myself to the judicial process as an ordinary citizen, and exposed myself to indignities a president should not endure.” (Contrast this to E.O. 464 and “executive privilege” used over and over again). “But I want to encourage people to seek redress in the law, despite the inconvenience, rather than in vindictiveness, which has no end. I want them to make the cause of justice for one, the cause of justice for all…

“We can roll back prices at the drop of a hat and spare ourselves al the aggravation, but we learned that hasty rollbacks exacted a heavier, long-term cost on the economy, and, ultimately, on the people, than they had saved…

“I could have said, “Let my successor be presented with the bill for my popularity today.” But it is the people who would pay the price, and I am not made that way.

“I did not always adopt the ideal solutions proposed by those who have the luxury of contemplation. Government often had to do what pressing realities compelled it. And if the government sometimes lacked better choices, it never lacked the sincere desire to do good.

“I could have promoted only military officers popular with the press, and ignored the experience of a democratic government that has been the principal military objective of the rebel forces and an insurgency that just doesn’t know when to quit. But I chose instead commanders of proven courage, leadership, and fidelity to the Constitution.

“I could do the smart thing still, and do the things my opponents unfairly charge me of preparing – rigging the elections in 1992, the way I did not rig the ratification of the Constitution, the national elections, and the local elections. They way they rigged elections from 1969 to 1986. But my instructions to the military and police are explicit. Let them hear it again:

“The right of the soldier and the policeman is merely to cast his vote; his greater and solemn obligation is to assure the right of others to cast their votes and get them honestly counted. No soldier has the right to combine with his comrades to campaign for a person or party and deliver to them a block of the military vote. No member of the military shall lend his name, prestige, and the influence of his position to anyone’s campaign. The same holds true for the police. (Read this --- Esperon, Lomibao, Ebdane, et al.)

“The military has earned the people’s trust as the spearhead of their liberation and the constant defender of their democracy. To these honours it is my aim to add the distinction of shepherding our democracy through its first political succession, by clean and peaceful elections.

“I will not preside as Commander-in- Chief over the kind of military that cheated the opposition in 1978, and me in 1986. That would insult the memory of the man to whom I dedicate this last address to the joint houses of Congress, and stain the proud achievement of this nation in 1986.

“I specifically charge AFP Chief of Staff General Lisandro Abadia and PNP Director General Cesar Nazareno with the responsibility to assure clean and honest elections. While they may not fear my displeasure because I will not be president then, they will face the judgement of the disappointed country. (Read this --- Delfin Bangit and Roberto Rosales).

“Yes, I could have done all those things that win wide acclaim, exiting as grandly as any president could wish. But while my power as president ends in 1992, my responsibility as a Filipino for the well-being of my country goes beyond it to my grave. A great part of that responsibility is to do the best I can today, according to my best lights, while I have the power to do it.

“As President, I have never prayed for anything for myself; only for our people. I have been called an international beggar by the military rebels. Begging does not become me, yet – perhaps – it is what I had to do. I could have kept my pride and held aloof, but that would not have helped our people. And it is for them that I was placed in this office.

“Someone who will stand in this place next year may do better, for I believe in the inexhaustible giftedness of the Filipino people. I only hope that he will be someone who will sincerely mean you well.

“I hope that history will judge me as favourably as our people still regard me, because, as God is my witness, I honestly did the best I could. No more can be asked of any man.

“On June 30, 1992, the traditional ceremony of political succession will unfold at the Luneta. The last time it was done that way was in 1965. I shall be there with you to proudly witness the event. This is the glory of democracy, that its most solemn moment should be the peaceful transfer of power. (Now contrast this definitive statement with the Dona’s pa-cute remark about getting down the stage and still being president until 2010).

“Maraming salamat sa inyong lahat at paalam.”

Farewell could not have been mistaken in that 1991 SONA of Corazon C. Aquino, a great lady for whom the nation now prays. Despite her failings, the people respect her, and history will always speak well of her.

What of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo? Likely she cares not about history.

Monday, July 27, 2009

What’s Norberto up to?

What in heaven or hell’s name is the nation’s In-security Adviser, Norberto Gonzales, up to? He and his acolyte (it used to be reverse roles), Romeo “Archie” Intengan, the ingenuously “jesuitic” priest cum political ideologue, have been going the rounds of whoever care to listen for the last several months, whispering about a plot to save “democracy”, reform the country, and put to eternal rest their worst enemies --- the political left, the “communists” which is how they call anyone who does not subscribe either to an archaic Cold War version of “freedom” or their social democrat mantras.

They have talked to my lord bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos of Butuan and Fernando Capalla of Davao, Diosdado Talamayan of Cagayan and Ramon Villena of Bayombong. Together these four are trying to outshine each other for the “pleasure” of Dona Gloria’s anointment as her cardinal of the Malacanang Diocese.

They “convinced” the quartet to “conditionally” bless their vision of a Reformist Transition Council of State (RETRACOS), which shall immediately preside over the revision of the present Constitution (by themselves and their “acolytic” minions), reform the electoral system (probably with Ben Abalos, Garcillano, Bedol, Sumalipao and Icaro as the “reformists”), and hold elections still on May 2010, for a parliamentary, federalist (their sweetener) form of government. “Just be sure we will have elections in 2010”, one of the prelates told them.

In order to make-believe that they have the full support of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, they trot out Milo Ibrado, Norbert’s deputy in the National Security Council, who happens to be the brother of the Chief of Staff, Gen. Victor Ibrado. The gullible fall for their poster-boy camouflage.

Armed with DD Pueblos and the Malacanang Diocese’ nihil obstat condizionerum, they discuss their proposal with the chief magistrate of the land no less, Reynato Puno. And offer him no less than the chair of their Retracos. The CJ, we are told, remained silent, imperturbably suppressing a giggle or a smile, and just gazed beyond Norbert.

Norbert and Archie next peddled their wares, now with their testimonial “impression” that the Chief Justice himself would not object, to another set of bishops, this time belonging to the perceived Diocese of the Streets. The bishops brought along their consiglieri on matters temporal and non-spiritual --- a lawyer here, a civil society stalwart there. They were astonished at the proposal, not the least being the contradiction in terms presented by the word “reform” and Gloria.

For here was Norbert saying that while the CJ would be their chairperson, one of the members of the Retracos would be La Donna Gloria Macapagal Macaraeg de Arroyo, misma! Lastima!

Porque, los obispos “de la calzada” ask? How could that be? How could reform and Gloria mix together, let alone the better Puno and sui generis Macapagal-Arroyo?

Ah! Norbert explains, “the chain of command in the AFP cannot be broken. And GMA is the top of that chain, as commander-in-chief, so she must perforce be part of the Retracos”.

Politely the bishops declined their benediction. (What kind of damaged culture tells us we must be polite even before those we find objectionable? Why can’t we find it within us to be frank and candid, and tell our enemies off --- to their face?)

I was told that Norbert and Archie have been talking to other men of the cloth, but as I have no personal admissions from those they allegedly tried to convince, I shall not purvey rumour.

Now why must a supposedly responsible person, appointed at that as member of the cabinet being the National Security Adviser and Executive Director of the National Security Council, be peddling a concept anathema to constitutional order? For the Constitution prescribes both term limits for public officials and acceptable, legal modes of revising hat Constitution itself. And nowhere in its text or the antecedent minutes of the Commission that promulgated it, does it say anything about a Reformist Transition Council of Sorts (Retracos still).

Does the Dona know about Norbert’s ingenious proposal? Or Don Miguel? Or Senor Buboy (Diosdado too)? She should.

And clearly she does. For neither slap on the wrist, or as normal leaders would, removal from the cabinet, has been inflicted upon Norbert.

The Chief Justice has admitted that he did meet with Norbert. But that he refused to play along. The bishops of the Diocese of the Streets have publicly described their unusual face-off with Norbert too. Maybe my lord bishop DD Pueblos of the Diocese of Malacanang, or Ramon Villena, the Dona’s personal favourite, or Capalla and Talamayan will likewise affirm. They are not allowed by the Pope to lie, remember? Or maybe they could wiggle out by saying Norbert “confessed” his plot to them.

Now if her National Security Adviser publicly proposes something that is illegal in se and per se, and her mouthpiece Sergio Remonde as well as her eminence grise Eduardo Ermita disclaim the same as mere personal opinion, cannot the people conclude that she approves of the same?

Which is why the FSGO is right when it states that what the people want to hear in her SONA (I am writing this article hours before she addresses Congress), the following:

“That she will relinquish all power at noon of June 30, 2010, and thus allow the peaceful and orderly transfer of power to her duly-elected successor;

“That she will not allow any effort to alter, amend or re-write the Constitution before June 30, 2010, nor would she support any effort to prepare for a Constituent Assembly, and would leave it to the next leadership in both the executive and legislative branches of government to call for an elected Constitutional Convention to amend the charter;

“That she will ensure that all support mechanisms will be undertaken to ensure clean, honest, free and orderly elections on May 10, 2009, and will not in any way use the powers and resources of her incumbent office to influence or alter the people’s free and sovereign choice of their next leaders, nor in any way cause the failure of said electoral exercise;

“And that she will not entertain any suggestions or attempts to impose emergency rule or martial law, and would prosecute all public officials who suggest the same in public statements calling for a revolutionary or transition government, all of which are anathema to democratic order.”

And anticipating that she will not state the same, the FSGO further said:

“Failure on her part to forthrightly declare all these should be taken by the Filipino people as clear intent to thwart the elections of 2010 under the mandates of law and the Constitution.

“It is clear in most every public opinion survey that the people want the elections of 2010 to proceed and succeed in electing a new set of leaders. The second quarter survey of the Social Weather Stations for the current year reinforces previous public opinion research on the non-acceptability of charter change. Seven out of every ten adult Filipinos nationwide oppose changing the Constitution to allow her continued rule beyond June 30, 2010. In the National Capital Region, fully 83% oppose it.

“We, the Former Senior Government Officials therefore ask the Filipino people to be prepared to do anything and everything to thwart all plans and attempts to prolong the rule of the present administration under the leadership of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. We call on all sectors of the population, whatever their calling, wherever they are in these islands, to be prepared to resist.

“We have thwarted the enemies of democracy before. We should be prepared to do it again.”

That statement has been furnished to the State Department of the United States of America, as it has been to heads of missions of ASEAN and our major trading and diplomatic partners.

* * *

Vegetius Renatus in his Epitoma Rei Militaris wrote: “Se vis pace, pare bellum”. “Let him who desires peace be prepared for war”.

And the erudite, highly respected chief magistrate of the land, speaking through Midas Marquez his spokesperson, clarified that a “transition council” , by whosever concept, Norbert’s or whoever, can only be possible “if there is a supervening event”.

In 1986, a “supervening event”, thereinafter referred to as “people power”, toppled Ferdinand Marcos. In 2001, a supervening event called Edsa Dos toppled Joseph Estrada. Will there ever be a supervening event to prevent Gloria Macapagal Macaraeg de Arroyo, “pinagpala ng Panginoon” (according to herself), from ruling forever and ever, and finally and formally creating her imperial Diocese of Malacanang to bless her “forever and ever”? Hallelujah! Laudamus te! Glorificamus te! Pax Glorianicus.

Or will that supervening event devour the impostor astride the tiger’s back?

Let us just pray for Cory Aquino.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Save those trees

Have you tried driving from Apalit, the first town of Pampanga, to Mabalacat, it’s farthest going north, using the MacArthur Highway? I have been doing that for several years in the 80’s, breaking the NLEX into Guiguinto, then to my lola’s hometown of Malolos, and into Calumpit, the northernmost town of Bulacan. I used to time it in such a way that I would be in Calumpit by noon. Lunch would invariably be at Highway Café, just before the bridge that demarcates Calumpit from Apalit, Bulacan from Pampanga. I would phone in earlier to order sinigang na ulang, even then almost a rarity. I would pair that off with any of three choices: adobong kanduro (snipes cooked in garlic and vinegar), or lechong kawali, or Cabanatuan-style longaniza, fried crisp. And, hold your breath, newly harvested milagrosa rice.

The ulang used to be plentiful in the rivers of Bulacan and Pampanga, its huge head brimming with orange fat that tasted almost like taba ng alimasag, its stubby flesh succulently firm, tastier than any prawn could ever get. The old ladies who ran Highway Café in between taking care of their grandchildren whose father was studying then at the PMA, bought only the best ulang caught in the then un-polluted Apalit River. They would prepare a broth of hugas bigas (rice washing), sour the same with kamias and sampalok, then throw in the ulang, later malunggay leaves and freshly quartered native tomatoes. I asked them once why they did not use other pang-sigang vegetables, such as labanos and mustasa or kangkong, preferring only the lowly malunggay, and the answer was logical --- “matatalo ang linamnam ng ulang” (the other vegetables would over-power the succulence of the fresh-water shrimps). Their lechong kawali was always crisp, like the Ilocos bagnet, but the flesh was juicy still. Their adobong kanduro was a delicacy particular to these parts, where snipes were a regular hunt. I love their home-made longanisa, which I would order for taking home. I disdain sweet longanisa and its cloying taste, then and to this day. The Pampango variety leaves me absolutely cold. Which is why, before I discovered the wonders of Northern cuisine (the Batac, Ilocos Norte and Alaminos, Pangasinan, Tuguegarao and Vigan, Cabanatuan varieties, and not to forget Tuvera’s in Baguio, along with Lukban longanisa’s are the best in the country --- strong and redolent with native garlic, mildly spiced, and hardly any sugar), Calumpit’s old ladies supplied our breakfast cravings with occasional feasts.

But this article is about trees. Forgive my digression into ambrosial cravings. In any case, don’t go to Highway Café. It has closed, partly because the old ladies no longer cook, partly because the waters of Apalit River have been polluted, and worse, Jollibee’s and McDonald’s have likewise polluted the tastes of our younger generations. Out of product and out of a market, how does goodness survive?

To Baguio or the Lingayen Gulf via Calumpit, I would motor through MacArthur on lazy days when I was not in such a hurry, in order to marvel at the canopy of old acacia and occasional narra that hugged both sides of the highway. Sometimes an eucalyptus or a kapok would mar the canopy of branches and leaves meeting each other in a clasp at the middle of the thoroughfare, but that was alright. In an early afternoon, the trees would blanket the searing heat of the sun, a pleasure to behold and feel. Those who now travel between Angeles City and Mabalacat would know what I describe. That short distance of perhaps two kilometres, minus the city proper where bedlam and traffic choke, still has rows of these majestic trees, its small flowers of yellow or light pink clustered amid a carpet of green. Replicate this in portions of Camiling in Tarlac, on the way to western Pangasinan, and along the stretch that leads from Camiling eastward to Paniqui, and you marvel at these hardy creatures that have withstood the elements and the traffic.

With these in mind, and similar patches of green along San Fernando and Carcar in Cebu, in Nueva Vizcaya and Isabela, in Bukidnon, in Agusan del Sur leading to Davao del Norte, and in Oroquieta leading to Dapitan in Western Mindanao, I conceptualized a project when I was head of the Philippine Tourism Authority for two years and a half. We called it “Colour the Philippines”, a project that would plant flowering trees along the national highways, and flowering shrubs to complement areas where already mature non-flowering trees abound. We would sponsor a contest among local communities along the nation’s highways, suggesting the kind of species to plant, and prizes given each year after measurable success has been achieved. Communities would be rated not only according to the number and health of the trees and shrubs, but also according to the degree of citizen or community participation in the care of these trees. In our dream, we could see areas with rows of yellow golden showers, towering acacias with pink crowns, flaming orange fire trees, violet banaba, clusters of orange tulips in towering branches of the African tulip tree, even pink and white clusters adorning branches of the Santa Elena in rather barren patches. Bougainvillas, heliconias, gumamelas and adelfas all over. Imagine the colours. It would be a celebration of tropical life, itself a tourist attraction.

To fund the project, we established a foundation headed by then Jaycee president JV Ejercito, also the son of the president, who was quite enthusiastic over our fund-raising sponsorship of the Philippine presentation of the world-acclaimed Cameron McIntosh production of “Ms. Saigon”. Things were going well, both in support of private corporate sponsors (particularly San Miguel Corporation, through the kindness of Ambassador Cojuangco) as well as advance ticket sales. (I stress “private” because not a single centavo of public funds went to the project, neither PTA’s nor any of the GOCC’s, even if JV and I probably could source from these). But a week after Ms. Saigon opened at the Cultural Center whose stage was re-done for the automatic-motion sets required by the British producer, Chavit Singson blew his bombshell against Pres. Estrada. A month later, after gruelling Blue Ribbon Committee hearings initiated by Sen. Nene Pimentel, Speaker Manuel Villar impeached Erap, and sent the articles of impeachment straight to the Senate. By December, the Senate trial started, televised live, and it hogged primetime, the same time Ms. Saigon was being shown at the Cultural Center. The project became a financial failure, not because Lea Salonga or Carla Guevarra missed their high C’s, but because everyone was glued to television, watching Sergio Apostol address his witness as “Madam Wetness”, or Joker Arroyo showing power point presentations of Jose Velarde checks. By the third week of January, Erap was out of office, and so were we all.

These memories flashed back when I read about the plan of the DPWH to widen MacArthur Highway and in the process, cut down some 5,000 acacia and other trees dotting the scenery from Apalit to Mabalacat. The next phase, I would surmise, involves Bamban to Moncada, even beyond.

Now why should the DPWH widen MacArthur, when there is a parallel NLEX that runs through the same provinces of Bulacan to Tarlac? Why, pray ask further, should we continue to cluster our townships and poblaciones beside busy thoroughfares, when modern planning should tell our local government officials to build new town centers, far from the madding crowd? Why not spend our monies and our loans in expanding the NLEX northward, beyond Tarlac and into Pangasinan, later through the Ilocos provinces, thus cutting a new highway instead of beating the old MacArthur to perdition? Why ever cut those majestic trees planted by our forefathers, that have withstood the elements and unkindness of three generations and even beyond. Surely “progress” and “modernization” and “motorist convenience” can find alternatives other than widening and cutting down.

Try driving from Reno in Nevada down to Bakersfield and Los Angeles to the west or Las Vegas to the east, and soak in the charm of those quaint small towns with the postcard pretty houses and giant trees in yard or wayside, like Glenbrook and Genoa and past Mt. Montgomery, and understand what I mean, when California and Nevada planners carved interstate and state highways through wheat fields and corn fields instead of beside old townships and cities. See how the “old towns” and “vieux villes” of Britain or Europe are decidedly shielded from the motorist-convenient superhighways and autobahns, from whose interchanges flow and feed the old roads and highways where majestic trees still stand.

Why must “modernization” clash with beauty? Why must “progress” be made to happen at the expense of the environment?

Spare those trees, Jun Ebdane, and build a parallel road elsewhere. Rescind the permit to cut, Tukayo Lito Atienza. And to all those local government officials whose towns and communities own those trees --- fight for your heritage, do not allow the national government to cut these. Storm your cabalen who wants to be congressperson of your 2nd district with your entreaties to save those trees. And have the foresight to re-plan your communities for future generations to reward you with gratitude, that you had the prescience to provide them a better environment.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Desperately looking for “Mr. Clean”

Filipinos who have participated, as spectator, voter or active player in post-Pacific War politics are a disillusioned lot. They have been for a pretty long time.

They elected Manuel A. Roxas, the great and fiery orator and best friend of the US of A, and pinned their hopes in his leadership when the Philippines was recognized as “independent” by the “Great White Father”. The latter immediately showed Roxas and the Filipino people that no blessings came free. They exacted a high price for “independence”, including continued occupation of some 99 sites as military bases, and parity rights for Americans in the economy of the devastated nation. Roxas died shortly into his term, ironically succumbing inside “occupied” land, Clark Air Base in Pampanga. Elpidio Quirino succeeded him, and despite being hobbled by the Huk rebellion and the corruption of Roxas’ successors in the Liberal Party, he was able to slowly rehabilitate the country from the ashes of a cruel war. After a controversial election in 1949, where LP warlords got the birds and the bees to vote for Quirino in Lanao, his days were numbered, and with the help of the CIA, who never forgot how he as vice-president and foreign affairs secretary to Roxas, reduced through determined bargaining their 99 bases into two dozen, his young defense secretary Ramon Magsaysay, was overwhelmingly elected to the presidency.

Magsaysay was the first non-lawyer to be elected president since the Commonwealth, where the dynamic Quezon was political king. Osmena, the Cebuano lawyer, succeeded. In the wartime interregnum, Jose P. Laurel, brilliant Batangueno lawyer, was chosen by the Japanese. Roxas and Quirino were both lawyers. The Liberals derided Magsaysay’s credentials as a “mere mechanic”, which was counter-productive, for although “the guy” was not of humble origins, he connected to the poor as a mere mechanic, speaking their language, familiar with their ways, unlike the intellectually-remote statesman, Quirino. But like Roxas, Magsaysay died three years into his term, succeeded by his vice-president, another lawyer, Carlos P. Garcia of Bohol. He was followed to Malacanang by another lawyer, Diosdado Macapagal, who parlayed his definitely poor boy origins into the presidency. Ironically, he retired with his family in Forbes Park. Macapagal was defeated by another lawyer, the imposing Ferdinand Marcos of Ilocos, with a lot of help from beauteous Imelda Romualdez of Leyte.

Had martial law not intervened, a non-lawyer, jack-of-all-professions Benigno Aquino Jr. would have been the next president. But Marcos out-foxed everybody, and surprised the whole nation of 40 million with a military-imposed dictatorship. That was to last 13 years and a half. On his 11th year, Ninoy Aquino was assassinated, which started the downfall of the dictator. Forced by American pressure to call for “snap” elections, the nation rallied behind Ninoy’s widow, whom the Marcos propaganda machinery derided as a “mere housewife”, “talagang walang alam”. The propaganda line became counter-productive when Cory admitted that she was indeed “talagang walang alam, sa pagnanakaw, sa pagpatay…”. The public was clearly disaffected, and they were desperately looking for someone “clean”, someone “un-tainted”, never mind if she was inexperienced in statecraft. At the end, EDSA’s symbol was a non-lawyer, a mere housewife, the widow of the man who would have been president.

But Cory was hobbled by an economy held hostage by gargantuan foreign loans, and several attempted coups coming from a fractious military who resented her being “soft” on their communist enemies. What began as a trek to national redemption became little more than a return to the traditional “forms” of democracy, lorded over by a return of the ways of traditional politics --- pork barrel, patronage, political feudalism. We have long been led by non-lawyers since. Ramos was a soldier, Estrada was an actor turned local politician, Gloria a textbook economist.

These days, after a miserably long reign spanning six years of dubious election and three years and five months of a “stolen” term, GMA desperately tries to hold on to power, and has kept everybody guessing on the multifarious options and sub-options she has plotted, from charter change to martial rule to failure of elections. On Monday next week, she is supposed to deliver her final State of the Nation Address before Congress in joint session assembled. She will attempt to trump her “legacy”, but the people know better. Whatever the list of projects, whatever the litany of “reforms”, the truth stares them on a seminal basis --- unemployment and underemployment, diaspora as only escape valve, corruption most gross, greater misery except for the few, disorder all over and war in the countryside and in the South, and all over ---the politics of hopelessness.

But next year is supposed to be the year when we select her replacement. Never before have so many sought, or pretend to seek, the presidency of the land. Vice-President Noli de Castro, former Pres. Joseph Estrada, Senators Francis Escudero, Richard Gordon, Loren Legarda, Manuel Roxas and Manuel Villar. Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro and MMDA Chair Bayani Fernando. Bro. Eddie Villanueva and Bro. Mike Velarde, both evangelists of the born-again category. And now, Gov. Ed Panlilio of Pampanga, two years before an active Roman Catholic priest. Oh yes, Kapatiran, the openly theocratic party, mentioned one JC de los Reyes, a councillor from Olongapo. Are there any more?

Earlier. Senator Ping Lacson declared his withdrawal from the derby, followed though in rather uncertain terms, by Mayor Jojo Binay of Makati, who openly hopes to be Erap’s vice-president. It is speculated that Lacson could be the vice-presidential running-mate of Escudero, Legarda or Roxas, definitely none else.

Escudero, Gordon and Teodoro are lawyers, the first, at 40, the youngest candidate in the long list, the third the second youngest at 44. Roxas, 52, is an investment banker, who served in the cabinet of both Estrada and Arroyo. Villar, 60, is a multi-billionaire, who parlayed his wife’s real estate holdings in the suburbs into a giant real estate empire built during his years of political influence. Legarda, 47 and de Castro, 60, are broadcast journalists. Estrada, 73, while a college drop-out, was elected mayor, senator, vice-president and short-lived president. Fernando, 63, is a civil engineer. Bro. Eddie finished economics in college, became an activist, later a tele-evangelist. Velarde was, and is, a real estate businessman who has become a preacher of a Catholic born-again denomination. And Among Ed, until March of 2007, was a practicing diocesan priest of the Roman Catholic Church.

Because evangelists like Bro. Eddie and Bro. Mike have either thrown their hats into the ring or threatened in the past to do so, their appearance in the presidential lists are greeted with ho-hums. But the entry of Among Ed has been grist of the political mill for several months now. First built-up by Harvey Keh and his band of moralist-seekers in the Ateneo and beyond, some in media are now stripping the Panlilio presidentiality statement after statement, as if to reprise Cory Aquino’s reluctance in 1985. But as Cory’s entry was exciting, Panlilio’s is well, just curious.

For there is a basic difference. In 1985, the nation was seeking a figure who could unite the opposition, and more importantly, the people --- to rally against a well-entrenched dictator. They glossed over Cory’s lack of political preparedness, qualifications even, because they needed a symbol to rally to. What better symbol than the widow of Ninoy Aquino? Thus even Doy Laurel, Ninoy’s best friend, had to gallantly give way to his widow. Two against one became one versus Marcos.

But up until the 1987 Constitution and its confused multi-party set-up, our people were used to one-on-one battles. Quezon vs. Osmena, Roxas vs. Osmena, Quirino vs. Laurel, Magsaysay vs. Quirino. Briefly in the case of Garcia were four political heavyweights pitted against each other: the incumbent Garcia, the erudite and wealthy Yulo, the intellectual giant Claro M. Recto, and Manahan, the Magsaysay faithful. Then it went back to Macapagal vs. Garcia, briefly with a failed attempt by Manglapus to prevail over Marcos vs. Macapagal. Then Marcos vs. Osmena, and thereafter, until Cory and Edsa Uno threw him out to Hawaii.

From 1992 and onwards, it has always been a contest of many seeking one office. Seven sought it in 1992, another 7 in 1998, five in 2004. And in 2010, after the field has been winnowed, expect a minimum of four, and up to seven.

In 2009, the nation is not lacking in alternatives for 2010. But what it currently seeks, after suffering the years of lying, cheating and stealing, is someone best approximating “Mr. Clean”. In looking at Among Ed as Mr. Clean, as trumpeted by his band of motley followers, the voters have yet to inspect the rest of the field, as to whether they too are Mr. Clean, or failing to be super-clean, at best be close enough.

And this is where media and civil society, as seekers of and purveyors of the right information, should come up to the challenge and be useful to the voters of 2010 (if there will be elections, a caveat I still cannot give up).

Let us rate each and every candidate according to their public record of acts and statements, in terms of whether they have cheated, lied or stolen. It should be a pretty simple thing to do. Did Noli de Castro and Loren Legarda, as broadcasters and public officers, lie, cheat or steal, from public as well as private coffers? Did Mar Roxas and Manny Villar, both super-wealthy, earn their assets through lying, cheating or stealing, or abused their power and influence to obtain or multiply their wealth? Did Francis Escudero, as three-term congressman of Sorsogon, and within his two years in the Senate, commit acts of cheating and stealing, or has he lied in his several public statements? Ditto for Gordon, and Gibo, Bayani and whoever else. As for Erap, whose candidacy hangs on the lifeline of legal and constitutional question, beyond fact of conviction for plunder, do we as citizens believe he lied or stole, because clearly he never had to cheat to win (well, don’t ask me about mahjjong games).

There was one candidate who by most assessments did not steal from private or public coffers, eschewing even pork barrel, and in his time as PNP chief, stopped even petty corruption in the form of the kotong of public officers, and earned even his commander-in-chief’s ire because he dared to raid jueteng lairs of known compadres, and that was Ping Lacson. But he chose to bow out, precisely because he did not have personal resources, or could not get the backing of those who thought him pretty “unreliable” in quid pro quo. I did not influence that decision, and when informed, questioned the timing. But that is water under the bridge.

And the same scrutiny should now be focused on Among Ed. Did he, as priest and as governor, lie, cheat or steal? As priest, it is up to his parishioners and his superiors in the numerous Church, to speak up. As governor, his record must now be an open book. He earned more in one year than the Lapids in four terms combined as far as quarry fees are concerned. But is that all there is to aspiring for the top post in the land? And is that everything a gubernatorial post should achieve? Has Among Ed displayed the ability to unite his people and get them to work together for Pampanga’s welfare, which is a test both of competence and character? Does his governance of Pampanga stand as model for the rest of the country, beyond the accounting of gravel and sand?

Being perceived as “Mr. Clean”, I respectfully submit, is not enough.

In a larger sense though, and beyond the lying, cheating and stealing test, what the public should be looking for, if the elections of 2010 should proceed the way we know it should, is a “Mr. Right”.

Not right or left from Joma’s or Palparan’s ken of vision, but “right” as tested in the twin crucibles of character and competence. One for 2010 cannot be without both. Lying, cheating and stealing are tests of character, incomplete as they are, for character also means the ability to withstand fleeting pressure, and the strength to persist despite temporary setback. But passing the lying, cheating and stealing test is certainly no test of competence.

In our short history of 63 years as a “republic”, thirteen of which were under martial rule, there have been several instances when we succumbed to the cry of the moment --- to an idealist choice based purely on perceptions of character, or a genuine admiration of competence. Search from collective experiences, and read contemporary governance history. “Sawa na kami sa abogado…sundalo naman, or artista naman” should not willy-nilly transform into “pari naman”.

In the crossroads of our life as a nation, and 2010 certainly is, while nobody can ever be perfect, we have to choose based on an informed calculation of who best approximates our “Mr. Right” and not just our perceptions of a “Mr. Clean”.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ipagdasal natin si Tita Cory

Nais kong ipaalam sa ating mga taga-subaybay ang salaysay sa akin ng isang pamangkin ni dating Pangulong Cory Aquino na malapit kong kaibigan.

Noong isang linggo, nagkaroon ng misa mismo sa loob ng silid ni Tita Cory sa Makati Medical Center kung saan nakaratay sa karamdaman ang dating pangulo ng higit isang buwan na. Nagtanong ang pari kung nais ba ni Cory humiling sa Panginoon ng isang milagro para sa kanyang taglay na karamdaman. Matamang sinagot ni Tita Cory, bagama’t hirap magsalita ng ganito. “NO. I pray for a miracle for our country”. Sa madaling salita, sa kanyang pagdarasal, hindi sariling kapakanan ang inihihiling ni Tita Cory ng lunas. Ang ipinagdarasal niya ay mag-milagro ang Panginoon para sa ating bansa.

Mangiyak-ngiyak ang aking kaibigan nang kinuwento niya ang pangyayaring iyon sa silid ni Tita Cory. Sadya namang hindi mo mapipigil ang luha kapag ganoon ang eksena. Maging si Kris Aquino nga ay hirap na hirap magpakatatag maski nasa harap ng telebisyon kapag napag-uusapan ang kanyang ina. Kanya nga nagpaalam na muna sa kanyang mga taga-panood, dahil mahirap naman talaga ang magkunwaring okey na okey ang lahat, na siyang inaasahan ng kanyang propesyon bilang entertainer, samantalang sa likod ng isipan ay naroon ang naghihirap na ina.

Ang lalong kinahihirap at kinabibigat-damdamin ng mga kaanak ni Pangulong Aquino ay ang kaalamang malaking hirap pisikal ang dinaranas nito. Tumanggi na siyang magpa-chemotherapy. Inia-aasa na lamang niya sa Panginoon ang kanyang kasasapitan. Kung baga, tanggap na niya na anumang oras ay maari na siyang kunin sa kabilang buhay. Ipinapasa-Diyos na niya ang sarili.

Nguni’t “conscious” ang dating Pangulo, at buhay na buhay ang isipan bagama’t nananakit at nanghihina ang katawan. Liban sa sakit na dinaranas, na pasumpung-sumpong ang biglang pagsakit ng katawan, siguro’y malungkot siya dahil na nga sa kinasapitan ng ating bayan. Siguro’y nanghihinayang na bagama’t ipinaglaban at itinaguyod niya ang demokrasya noong kapanahunan niya, ay tila hindi nito nasagot ang mga kahirapan ng bansa, lalo na ang kahirapan ng masang Pilipino. Kaya nga’t hiling na niya sa Maykapal ay milagro para sa bansa.

Tanda ko pa ang isa sa kanyang mga mahahalagang SONA, kung saan nagpahayag siya ng hinanakit sa mga “noble houses of finance”, ibig sabihin, ang mga bangkong dayuhan na pinagkautangan ng kay laki ng naunang si Ferdinand Marcos. “Democracy does not pay dividends”, aniya sa nagsanib na kamara ng Kongreso.

Marami ang nag-akala na dahil sa “milagro ng Edsa”, o people power, kung saan mapayapang napatalsik ang diktadurya at naibalik ang demokrasya, ay “maaawa” ang mga naglalakihang bangko at institusyong pinansyal, at patatawarin ang ilan sa ating mga utang.

Marami rin ang nag-akalang sa pagkakaalis ng diktadurya ay sisigla na ang kabuhayan ng bansa at sambayanan sa ilalim ng demokrasya.

Nguni’t hindi nagkaganoon. At hindi tanging demokrasya at kalayaan lamang ang sagot sa kahirapan at pagdarahop ng nakararami.

Kaya’t ating ipagdasal si Tita Cory, na nawa’y huwag siyang maghirap nang sobra. Bagama’t marami pa rin ang mga suliraning hinaharap ng bayan, nanumbalik ang demokrasya at kalayaan dahil sa pagkakamatay ni Ninoy, ang dakilang asawa ni Cory, at dahil din sa katatagan sa pakikibaka ni Cory Aquino. Isama natin sa tuwing magdarasal tayo ang mataimtim na dalangin para kay Tita Cory.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Presidentiables’ Fora

As early as January of 2008, this writer suggested that civil society groups and media start planning and thereafter sponsoring a series of debates all around the country’s regional groupings. We called the proposal a “winnowing” process by which people can gauge the competence and character of those who would be president. Since the usual opinion research polls would be done periodically, the impact of these debates should eventually show in the surveys. But it was important, I stated then, that the debates, or forums if you wish (because strictly speaking, a debate is more structured and will not fit a plethora of participants), should begin early enough. I suggested April of 2008, and every month thereafter. I further suggested that the monthly forum should go to each of the country’s 16 administrative regions, and not be confined merely to Metro Manila. By so doing, even issues specific to each of the 15 regions distinct from Metro Manila may be discussed. More importantly, I suggested that it be covered live by broadcast media. If they began on April of 2008, half of the country would have been covered by November 2008. Resuming the series in January 2009, we should be about through with all the regions by August or next month.

It was my hope that the presidentiables’ fora would winnow, and thus reduce, the plurality of candidates. Those who would fare miserably shall have been hooted out by public opinion after four or five such encounters. And surveys would not be a function mostly of paid media, i.e., advertising. Note for instance that those who have been using the airwaves to present their contrived wares, using public funds or private profits generated from public influence, are also the ones who have continually shunned any such intelligent encounters. Noli has been content with being the poster boy for Pag-ibig, using up 160 million in public funds, or 500 million, according to Atty. Ernesto Francisco’s accounting. His good friend Manny Villar has, according to Nielsen ratings, spent some 322 million pesos on national TV ads from September 2008 to May 2009. He should have spent some 400 million just for TV ads by now, including that 120-seconder paid ad “interview” by Boy Abunda inside his “poor man’s hovel”. I would estimate that the guy has blown some 800 million pesos minimum since he started his presidential quest, to include a humongous “free” media budget, not to include foreign excursions to Europe, Egypt and other parts, with Nacionalistas and NP’s-to-be in tow.

But nobody took my suggestion of an early form of winnowing seriously, except Pia Hontiveros of ANC, as well as two presidentiables who expressed intent to participate. Eventually, ANC took the lead in coming out with an ANC Leadership Forum, which began in May, with another in June this year. Appearing in the first live telecast were Gilbert Teodoro, Mar Roxas, Ed Panlilio, Chiz Escudero and Dick Gordon. The next forum featured Joseph Estrada, Loren Legarda, Bayani Fernando, and Jojo Binay. Ping Lacson stole the show by announcing his withdrawal. Noli and Manny were no-shows.

Last Thursday, two such forums materialized. One was sponsored by former President FVR, with Mar, Gibo, BF and Chiz showing up. The other, on rain-soaked Plaza Miranda, with TV cameras showing live how a handful of spectators braved pouring rain and occasional howling wind, to listen to Erap, Loren, Among Ed, Chiz, Dick and Mar.

The most memorable statements from the FVR forum came from FVR himself, who had a message for Gloria --- who goes up must come down, restating Newton’s law of gravity using as metaphor the trek to the summit by a bunch of Filipinos with motives far more noble than Gloria’s decadent political career. The other was literally a no-brainer. The audience was aghast when Gilbert Teodoro, responding to the question about which of the MDG’s he would prioritize, confessed, honestly at least, that he did not quite know what MDG’s meant. Those are the millennium development goals, unveiled in the year 1999, to show how disparate the Third World (I prefer to use Fourth World to show how poverty has dehumanized the people of most of the Third World) has become compared to the rich countries. Gilbert is likely to be the PaLaKa official candidate for president, because he would never condescend (or so he shows) to becoming senator under Noli’s presidential standards.

Believe me, at the rate these presidentiables’ fora are losing currency, we will end up with a public getting more disinformation from paid media, and even paid “free” media, as bases for “discernment”. What a country!

* * *

Which is probably why former Sen. Ernesto Herrera wants them stopped for being “premature”. Some of the participants are not likely to run anyway, he said. Kinsa kaha, Manong Boy? Si Among Ed, si BF, si Dick --- kinsa?

Per the former Cebu-Bohol senator, some of them are just using their participation to perk interest in themselves, while eventually settling down for a lower post. Have these debates or forums after November 30, when it is clear who is running, Senator Boy suggests.

* * *

Anti-graft crusader Mar Tecson of San Miguel de Mayumo in our native Bulacan writes against the format.
If the intent is to “gauge how each of the presidentiables will perform once elected”, the forums thus far fail to elicit enough such information. Many are reluctant, Mar observed, to “reveal their platforms for fear that these may be judged deficient and/or copied and used by their opponents”.

Mar suggests instead that a “taped interview be done separately and at different times with each of these presidentiables, in (such) a way that there will be no copying of answers”.

He suggests the following questions:

(1) In your perception, what are the top ten most important problems of the nation, and how will you address each problem?

(2) How will you address each of these additional top problems?

“This way, if the presidentiables are intentionally or unintentionally forgetting to present some controversial problems or issues, these problems/issues will be asked just the same, to which each of the presidentiables will be constrained to give his answer/reaction. Thus, omission of other important problems/issues in the gauging of presidentiables will be avoided”, Mar elucidates.

“I suppose the presidentiables' ability to govern --- not just the ability to answer extemporaneously --- will be better tested if they are informed beforehand of the questions to be asked. After sometime, the taped interviews can be shown by media for the information of the entire nation”, he further suggests.

* * *

For now, what sticks out is the clear intent of two so-called leading candidates (per SWS and Pulse Asia), Noli and Villar, to snub such competitive forums. The fact that they still remain in the lead pack nonetheless infer that the average voter does not care about issues. Or, hopefully they take note of these “cowards” who would not fight squarely. Why, even Erap has been participating, and has come out pretty well compared to some.

Okay, let’s wait for the next quarterly survey, the field work for which will be about SONAta-time till the second week of August. Results will come out on September. By then, we should have a clear picture of who else, other than Ping Lacson and Jojo Binay, will have surrendered their quests for the presidential plum.

* * *

On rather sad note, may I ask our readers to increase the level of prayers for the health of former President Cory Aquino? The developments are not too encouraging.

But let me give you a recent profile in her courage, more so, her nobility.

In a mass given by close kin at the Makati Medical Center where she has been confined, the officiating priest asked Cory is she was praying for a miracle from God for her health. She said NO. Rather, she prays for “a miracle, for our country”.

I write this with tears welling in my eyes. Deep inside, Cory may be asking herself painful questions: Was Ninoy’s dying in vain? Was her standing up for democracy also in vain? “Democracy it seems”, and I paraphrase one of her memorable state of the nation speeches, “does not pay dividends”, more so for the poor. Well, only in this benighted land, and others similarly situated.

Mga tanong ni Obama

Gaya ng alam na ninyo, tutungo si Donya Gloria sa Washington D.C. sa katapusan ng buwang kasalukuyan, batay sa “imbitasyon” ni Pangulong Barack Obama ng Estados Unidos.

Matagal nang inaasam-asam ni Donya ang pagkakataong makaharap si Obama. Ilang beses na siyang nagtungo sa Estados Unidos sa pag-asang makakadaupang-palad niya ang bagong halal na pangulo ng pinakamakapangyarihang bansa sa mundo.

Sabik na sabik ang Malakanyang sa meeting na ito, na kanila pang itinanghal at ipinagmamayabang. Si Donya diumano ang unang lider ng Southeat Asia na haharap nang personal kay Obama. Dapat lang naman ano? Kasi tayo lang naman ang bansang nasakop ng mga Kano dito sa Asya. Tayo lang ang pumayag sa Parity Rights, kung saan tinarato ang mga negosyanteng Kano na parang mga katutubong Pinoy hanggang sa itigil ng pagtatapos ng Laurel-Langley Agreement noong dekada 70. At tayo lamang ang pumayag na magkaroon ng 99 na base militar ng mga Kano sa bansa natin, na buti na lang at pilit na pinabawasan ni Pangulong Elpidio Quirino, hanggang sa ang matira ay Subic, Clark, Camp John Hay, Wallace sa Poro Point, at Mactan, liban pa sa American Cemetery sa Libingan ng mga Bayani. Unti-unting nabawasan pa ang mga ito noong panahon nina Marcos at Cory Aquino. At tayo lang naman ang naniniwalang may espesyal na relasyon sa atin ang mga Kano. Kanya’t kung sino man ang umuupong pangulo, dapat lang naman na siya ang unang harapin ng pangulo ng mga Kano.

Ang kaibigan kong creative director na si Dennis Garcia, na malimit mag e-mail ng kanyang mga kathang-isip, ay nagpadala tuloy ng sa kanyang palagay ay mga “tanong” ni Obama kay Donya Gloria, kapag nagkita sila sa White House. Nakatatawa ang mga “tanong ni Obama”, at siyempre, ito’y pawang kathang-isip lamang:

1. Tuloy ba ang eleksyon?
2. Bakit hindi mo kasama si Mike?
3. Ano itong nababalitaang may balak ka daw mag- martial law?
4. Nasaan yung ibinilin ni Michelle na Lapid’s Chicharon?
5. May “talent fee” ba ako sa Empatso Ad? (yung nag-dinner kuno si Ate Glue at isang look-alike ni Obama, kung natatandaan pa ninyo)
6. Sino’ng mas matangkad sa inyo ni Charice (Pempengco – sino nga kaya)?
7. Kailan ang kasal ni Edu at Pinky?
8. May dala ka bang Hayden videos?
9. Which was fixed, the left or the right?
10. Si Ruffa at Lloyd na nga ba?

Hala sige, mag-aliw na lang tayo.

Basta’t ang alam ko, sasabihin daw ni Obama kay Donya, pag-umpisa na ang meeting sa White House ay ganito: “Hello”.

At susunod: “Dahil hindi na ulit tayo magkikita bago matapos ang iyong termino, ay sasamantalahin ko na ang pagkakataong sabihing Goodbye na rin. Siguruhin mong wala ka na sa Hunyo 30, 2010. Muli, paalam na”.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

“All politics is local”

Long-time Speaker of the US House of Representatives Tip O’Neill is remembered best for two quotes, both borne out of long experience in the arcane art of politics. “People like to be asked”, he said, recounting the story of a failed politician who lost his pursuit of elective office, and learned after defeat that even his neighbour did not vote for him. After the bitterness of personal defeat had mellowed, he asked his neighbour how come he did not vote for him. The neighbour answered, “you never asked me for my vote”. People like to be asked. People want to feel needed.

But the politics of character-reading aside, the more significant lesson one learns from Speaker Tip’s long career is his dictum that “all politics is local”. Even Barack Obama, whose campaign is now widely touted as “new age” politics, widely utilizing the information highway, which was non-existent in O’Neill’s time, learned politics from his days as a community organizer, and applied his lessons in the larger canvass of national politics.

Obama welded together Speaker O’Neill’s dicta in a trailblazing campaign where he asked people to listen to his message of “change we can believe in” through wide and ingenious social networking through the internet. In America, practically every household has access to a computer. And capturing the Democratic nomination by outpolling Hillary who had longer and wider experience and following within the party showed how his community organizing skills resonated with the state politicians he assiduously courted.

The observation that “all politics is local” resonates even more in countries like the Philippines where the ideal level of political maturity has been stunted by decades of feudal politics and economic poverty. In the benighted land, the reality is that the mayor or governor is the “big boss” in the territory, and the guys who provide the “lifeline” (read that as plenty of money) for national politicians, are the “bosses” who matter most.

The provenance of lifeline or wherewithal from business depends on how they read their political tea leaves based on an amalgam of two factors they juxtapose together and then analyze: one is the survey which attempts nearest quantification of voter preferences; the other is the political infrastructure, which is where a network of supportive local politicians is the barometer.

It is where “all politics is local” that the behemoth Lakas-Kampi-CMD place all their eggs upon. Altogether, they control two-thirds of the House of Representatives, not including surrogates and sleepers in both party-lists and co-opted national parties. They have near 80% dominance of local government units.

But politics being local is also a source of national candidate weakness. Local politicians think of nothing other than their local politics. Only the sure winners, by virtue of long warlordism or constituent affection, can afford to think national when elections near. The rule is: think of yourself, and forget about the national candidates. Winning after all is everything, and winning an elective seat can be leveraged when dealing with a “transactional” president, or bargained when asking senators for local projects. That is how Philippine politics has degenerated into the realm of the feudal. And this practice has all the more strengthened its roots under Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, even beyond Marcos, the most unabashedly transactional of all our leaders.

Focus on “all politics being local” has also created a great disconnect between the choices for local office and the voter’s choices for national office. The average Filipino voter can be a “command” vote when it comes to the mayor and his coterie of political hangers-on, but not when it comes to his “kursunada” for president, vice-president or senators. In this definition of “kursunada”, it is media, both paid and free, which plays the most functional role. In the run-up to 2010, Villar, Noli, even Mar have used “paid” media most, and Chiz hardly, using his gift of gab, thinking on his feet, and free media interviews optimally to increase his survey ratings.

Take what happened in the 2007 elections. Everybody and his mother in local politics was affiliated to or co-opted by Lakas-Kampi and GMA. But her Team Unity succeeded in getting only two old re-electionists to win: Angara and Joker. And a national neophyte to squeak in – Migs Zubiri. The winners by a mile were from the opposition --- Loren, Chiz, Ping, Noynoy, Cayetano, even Sonny Trillanes. Villar who styled himself as oppositionist and was adopted as a guest candidate by the GO, as well as Kiko Pangilinan, who, along with Greg Honasan, ran as independents. The “command” vote did not materialize, except perhaps in Ampatuan’s Maguindanao. And even that army of local politicians failed to elect Gloria favorites Mike Defensor and Chavit Singson, as well as Ralph Recto, her E-VAT author.

In 2004, as incumbent presiding over the widest coalition of local political forces, GMA had to conspire with Garci to squeak through with a million vote-margin over the hardly organized FPJ campaign. Even in 2001, when every local trapo had switched allegiance to the Dona after Edsa Dos, and when she herself was yet immensely popular, she could not afford to shut-out Dra. Loi and her hated Ping, let alone Ed Angara and Greg Honasan. In 1998, everyone was Lakas, but Erap won thrice as many votes as Joe de V. In 1992, everyone was LDP, but FVR and the independent Miriam thrashed Tata Monching Mitra.

This is not to suggest that a candidate for president can forget about cobbling together a political network of local politicians. Magmumukha kang kaawa-awa if you do not have candidates down to the local level. Even the then extremely popular Erap needed the LDP and adopted Ed Angara as his vice-presidential candidate in order to have a banner for local candidates to identify with. And so, the elections were framed as a fight between Erap and his Lammp coalition, versus Joe de V and his and FVR’s Lakas. The rest --- Lito Osmena, Raul Roco, Fred Lim, Renato de Villa, were “also-rans” for lack of anything but a network in a few provinces. Ditto the 2004 elections, where the fight became FPJ versus GMA.

But the 2010 elections will draw greater parallel in the elections of 1992. You have several candidates who by the time the starting gate opens will have relatively close survey numbers --- Chiz, Noli, Mar, Villar, even Erap. And single-digit raters like Gibo, perhaps Gordon and Bayani. Plus perhaps, and hopefully not, the tele-evangelists Brothers Mike V and Eddie V.

His money can buy Manny V the local “carrying capacity” of many Lakas-Kampi stalwarts. Already, Erico Aumentado of Bohol and Eleandro Madrona of Romblon, both Manny acolytes, are jettisoning whoever their merged party’s candidate will be, whether Noli or Gibo, in favour of Villar.

Mar’s Liberal Party needs more than just the following of two to three dozen local biggies. Can he get the LP-Atienza to return to the fold? That’s a tall order, because Mar, in fairness to his advocacies, has been stridently anti-Gloria. Tukayo’s LP followers will go to each his own. Why, even Lito himself has sought, and gotten, Erap’s support for a re-match with Manila’s Mayor Fred Lim. Where would small Mike and Quezon’s Danny Suarez re-locate?

Chiz and/or Loren has the NPC, but Chiz’ numbers if they hold, and Loren’s numbers, if they do not increase, means the NPC will likely field the younger Chiz as their presidential candidate. The NPC may not be that large, but its following has shown extreme loyalty to their “boss”, Ambassador Danding Cojuangco. And they are the likelier shelter of many from the other parties. Already, Kampi stalwart Louie Villafuerte has declared support for NPC’s Chiz, and many are expected to follow suit.

The ultimate victims of “all politics is local” will be Noli, who courts none of them, and Gibo, even if he tries to court the local trapos. As GMA’s lame-duck presidency gets lamer, the desertions will be an avalanche into the other camps. It would have been different if Noli had not played jele-jele, and GMA had decided early on to choose a “champion” on whom to pass her baton.

Cory had no such personal dilemma. She had eschewed any thoughts of re-election early on, content that her place in history was secure. Hers was a political dilemma --- who to endorse, whether Ninoy’s friend Monching Mitra, her friend Celing Fernan, or the man who mutinied against Marcos and kept off the coup attempts against her presidency --- FVR, whom she eventually blessed.

GMA wants to remain in power, more in fear rather than greed (others would dispute this). In the process, she will hollow out her own Lakas-Kampi-CMD, whose carrion will be divvied up by the other contenders.

Unless her Plans B to Z can yet be carried out. But that’s another devious story, the sub-plots of which are far too extensive for several articles to tackle.

Meanwhile, let’s look for more signs from the SONA, and its aftermath. As for that much-lusted for, and now much-ballyhooed Obama encounter ---finally --- perish the speculations. It will be goodbye. Just that. Hello! And goodbye.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Thinking ahead

A good leader, it is said, is one who thinks at least 25 years ahead of his time, and makes plans accordingly. Sadly in this benighted land, our leaders only think of today. Worse, not only are they unable to solve today’s problems, they compound the same, so that the next leader inherits not a legacy of “stones for the edifice”, but rubble.

The thought came to mind when I read a recent pronouncement from the Department of Public Works and Highways about the proposed construction of an underground highway system on Roxas Boulevard to create more thoroughfare space without destroying the historical landmarks in the area. On the surface, the idea sounds laudable. For once, a government infrastructure agency thinks of preserving historical landmarks and take aesthetic considerations in the planning of their projects. The idea of constructing a tunnel beneath Roxas was conceptualized long before, precisely because a fly-over above it would mar view of Manila Bay and its fabulous sunset, as well as desecrate the Burnham-designed Luneta upon which now stands Rizal Park.

According to DPWH, traffic flow on Roxas Boulevard has crawled to 10 kilometers per hour during the rush hours, and it is anticipated that more vehicles would be passing through in the next few years, particularly when the Coastal Road to Kawit, thence Cavite City, is completed. DPWH Secretary, also the Acting DILG Secretary, said that the proposal would probably take another five years before construction begins. Which is just as well, because hopefully and despite his Dona Gloria, we will have a new leader by then, a leader who can think beyond his term of office, and plan for the sake of future generations.

The DPWH proposal, dubbed the Metro Manila Tunnel Expressway (MMTEX) is composed of an arterial road and an integrated expressway system, to provide motorists and trucks swifter access to the harbors and ports of Manila, and would have two phases: Phase One being an 8-km. tunnel to be built from the NAIA Road to the corner of Roxas and Padre Burgos, which will cost 9.9 billion pesos; and Phase Two would be a more ambitious 20-km. tunnel from Padre Burgos to the NLEX, passing through Navotas, Malabon and Valenzuela. That should cost 30 billion pesos more.

My taking issue with this proposal is not about pesos and centavos, but about the lack of a more comprehensive and long-term plan for the metropolis and its residents. This lack of forward planning, of looking ahead beyond one’s time, is precisely why the quality of life in the National Capital Region has degenerated through the years. Traffic, air pollution, noise pollution, the lack of sewerage facilities. congestion in habitable areas, the coddling of informal settlers, the lack of rapid transport systems, inadequate and ugly street lighting systems, the lack of open parks, playgrounds and other open spaces, even depletion of water sources --- all of these and more, have made Metro Manila one of the world’s ugliest capitals.
Take the DPWH proposed MMTEX. It seeks to alleviate congestion along Roxas Boulevard which connects the single-runway NAIA to the Ports of Manila, namely South, North, MICT (the container port) and the Harbor Place reclamation project now used for break-bulk cargo. The containers and trucks that come from these ports likewise create a nightmare in Metro Manila’s thoroughfares, even if their passage has been delimited by truck bans. These containers are allowed to park in yards within Manila itself, apart from their moving cargo to warehouses also in the NCR area.

Serious long-term planning, which should have been done a long time ago, would have shifted the international sea cargo vessels to ports outside the NCR, such as in Subic in Zambales and Batangas. Even beyond the same, a port in our eastern seaboard, say Infanta, would not only cater to vessels coming from the Pacific, such as the US and Canada, besides opening up thousands of hectares of currently under-utilized lands between Antipolo and Infanta to industrial opportunity. The ports of Manila should be used only for domestic passenger traffic, with modern terminals for passenger convenience. And the Port Area, controlled by the Philippine Ports Authority though owned by the City of Manila, could be an ideal tourist haven, with hotels, restaurants and shoppes neatlt designed from the ashes of its present go-downs and decrepitude. This would also encourage domestic tourism. Luxury cruise liners may also be allowed in the port of Manila, so that along with our island destinations, Manila and its historic Intramuros may be visited by tourists.

Relocating international cargo, whether break-bulk or containerized to Subic, Batangas and even Infanta will also decongest Metro Manila of factories and warehouses, increase the land values in the Calabarzon and Bataan-Zambales areas, as well as spread the population in the metropolis to other provinces.

Instead of looking ahead, our DPWH would simply allocate more taxpayer resources into servicing the improperly located ports of Manila, forever condemning our streets to the presence of giant container behemoths which take up so much space, pound the concrete and asphalt with their mega-weight, and slow down traffic to a perennial crawl. What myopia!

Beyond relocating our ports for ocean-going vessels to other parts of Luzon, serious plans should now be undertaken to relocate the seat of government from Manila to elsewhere. As relocating to the Visayas or Mindanao may be extremely inconvenient for hundreds of thousands of civilian state employees who have their homes at or near the metropolis, maybe another site in Luzon should by now be studied.

Some time in the early Erap days, Public Estates Authority chairman Frisco San Juan, a pre-martial law congressman of the undivided Rizal, now the eminent president of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), had a proposal to utilize Mount Irid for this purpose. Irid is near the Sierra Madre, in the boundaries of Rizal and Quezon, accessible also to Bulacan, if the proper infrastructure would be created. Its elevation is ideal, cool enough even during the hot summer months. But the infrastructure cost would be daunting, far as it is from both seaport and airport. Ideally though, the lowlands and hills surrounding Mt. Irid would make for ideal government housing projects.

There is another possible location which the next government after Gloria may wish to study, and these are the highlands close to Mt. Cuadrado in Pampanga, near Floridablanca, most of which form part of the former Clark Air Base. Nearly all of this is government land. The infrastructure components are mostly in place --- the international airport, and very recently, the SCTEX, that marvellous piece of engineering planned by the FVR administration, financed by the Japanese government through the ministrations of then President Joseph Estrada, and constructed during the reign of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. In a recent conversation with former President Ramos, he estimated some 10,000 hectares available in that plateau, which is almost equidistant from the Subic seaport to the international double-runway airport now re-named after Diosdado Macapagal. The Philippine Air Force headquarters can relocate to Clark, beside the international airport, much like Dulles in Virginia, an hour away from the White House by land. The Army has so much land within Clark at its disposal. The Navy, which is well into relocating its substandard facilities to Sangley, can always have a presence in Subic. And we could have a beautifully designed national capital, replete with parks and rotundas, and uniformly-designed and coordinated buildings, which could rise little by little, but strictly according to plan, something the great Manuel Luis Quezon dreamt in what is now Quezon City, since gone madly awry with the entire NCR.

But that would remove government presence in the capital region, some might say. So what? How many have to transact business physically with government anyway? The ordinary man on the street transacts mostly with local government --- for his permits and licenses, his real estate tax payments, and hardly with the national government, except perhaps with the LTO whose presence all over the land is ubiquitous anyway. And in the age of computers, who cares if the national government capital is a hundred kilometres away from Manila and Makati, Ortigas Centre and Quezon City, which could then redefine itself as a viable financial, commercial, tourism and educational centre (although I still have visions of a beautiful highland university city elsewhere), devoid of sizable traffic and clutter brought about by national government presence? Government buildings, except for Malacanang, the three buildings at the Luneta which altogether comprise the National Museum, could be sold to the private sector, and/or adapted for university use.

What about the cost? Precisely, there is time to do a full cost-benefit analysis, complete with environmental impact studies, and the more important consideration of economic pump-priming. But not in this government, which is riding into the sunset, albeit reluctantly. And even assuming it is able to force itself through by the concupiscence of its soldiers and police, which is altogether doubtful too, that would certainly be a short-lived misadventure.

As we look forward to change, it is best we also dream.

Ano ba ang nangyayari?

Noong 1984, sa New Manila, ay nagkaroon ng assassination attempt sa buhay ng naging pangalawang pangulo, senador, at embahador nating si Emmanuel Pelaez. Habang siya’y dinadala sa emergency room ng St. Luke’s Hospital, nakita niya ang hepe ng pulis ng Quezon City na si Gen. Tomas Karingal na sumugod sa ospital, at naitanong ni Pelaez, “General, what is happening to our country?” (Ano ba ang nangyayari sa ating bansa, Heneral?)

Naalaala ko ang pangyayaring ito matapos tunghayan ang walang tigil na kaguluhang nangyayari sa ating bansa ngayon. Siguro ang nagdaang isang dekada ang siya nang pinakamagulo sa ating kasaysayan, liban na lang siguro sa ikalawang giyerang pandaigdigan na hindi pa ako isinisilang nang mangyari.

Mula noong 2000, umpisa sa pagpapa-impeach kay Pangulong Joseph Estrada, nagkaroon ng sunud-sunod at synchronized na pagbubomba sa Metro Manila, sa LRT, sa airport, na marami ang namatay at nasaktan. Wala pang isang buwan ang nagdaan, bagsak sa kapangyarihan ang inihalal na pangulo ng bansa. Pumalit si Gloria, sa pamamaraang hanggang sa ngayon ay pinagdududahan pa kung legal at naaayon sa Saligang Batas. Katakut-takot na anomalya ang nagsulputan, umpisa sa sovereign guarantee sa IMPSA na ilang araw pa lamang nakauupo ay na-fastbreak na. Hindi ko na iisa-isahin ang mga anomalya at iskandalo ng graft and corruption na naging katangi-tangi sa rehimeng Arroyo. Alalalahanin na lang natin na tayo ngayon ang kinikilalang isa sa pinaka-corrupt na bansa sa buong daigdig, at kung hindi nangunguna, ay pumapangalawa sa buong Asya.

Ilang beses na sinampahan ng impeachment cases si Donya Gloria sa Kamara, na ang pinakamatindi ay noong 2005, matapos mabunyag ang pandaraya sa halalan noong 2004, sa pamamagitan ng konspirasiya ni Donya at ni Virgilio “Garci” Garcillano. Ang lalong kasuklam-suklam ay kung paano ito nilabanan ni Donya Gloria sa pamamagitan ng pag-ubos sa kaban ng bayan bilang panuhol sa mga kinatawan upang mapigilan lamang ang impeachment sa Kamara. At paulit-uli itong nangyari, taon-taon.

Ngayon ay wala nang isang taon at ayon sa Saligang Batas ay dapat nang magpaalam si Donya Gloria, na naging pangulo ng bansa ng matagal na siyam na taon, segunda lang kay Marcos, bagama’t hindi naman nanalo noong halalan ng 2004 sa patas na laban. At lalong masaklap, dahil hindi siya ma-alis sa pwesto, lalong nag-ibayo ang kanyang lakas, at tila ay hawak na hawak niya ang militar at kapulisan, at ngayon ay kung anu-anong balakin ang nais na ipatupad upang hindi na siya bumaba pa sa pwesto.

Nariyan ang Con-Ass, nariyan ang pagpalit sa Saligang Batas upang manatili siya sa pwesto bilang Prime Minister sa isang sistemang parliamentaryo, at ngayon ay marami pa ang nangangamba na may lalong maitim na balaking magpataw, tulad ni Marcos, ng martial law. Matatandaang noong bago ibagsak ang batas militar, ganito rin ang mga senaryong nangyayari sa Kalakhang Maynila.

At marami na namang nangyayaring mga senyas sa paligid. Bomba sa Kalakhang Maynila na tila wala naming intensyong pumatay kundi manakot lamang, at pambubomba sa Mindanao ng hindi masawatang mga terosista at sesesyunista na lalong nag-ibayo ang lakas sa pamunuan ni Donya Gloria. Napakagulo.

Kaya nga naalaala ko ang mga katagang sinambit ni Pelaez --- “What is happening to our country?” Tila nauulit ang mga eksena.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


All is quiet from Northern California and Virginia, where Ronnie Puno is hibernating after two important events. One is felicitous --- the wedding of his youngest daughter Tami which was held at Napa Valley on the Fourth of July. The other happened, rather, unsuspectingly stabbed through his back while he is away. I have already written in two previous articles about this.

Crame is agog. Beneath the seemingly busy exterior, nerves are taut. Some officials warily read the silence from Ronnie as portent of things to come. The signs are there. Some heads seem to be in Malacanang’s chopping block, to be replaced by new favorites beholden directly and loyal personally to the Dona, misma, and no one else.

Not even to the gran esposo. Loyalty must be solamente y absolutamente.

* * *

Those in Crame who know how to read tree leaves read too much from Ronnie’s silence and his past character record. When Marcos was deposed in 1986, the young assistant minister of MILG left for Washington DC and spent his time with the PR firms and lobby groups there, principally Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly.

He quietly slipped back in 1991 and first offered his services to Vice-President Doy Laurel. Eventually, it was Fidel Valdez Ramos who got his professional services. He helped augment the sparse political machinery of FVR, who however had the DILG then under Cesar Sarino cooperative to Tita Cory’s endorsed presidential candidate. Ronnie the Tree made full use of this, and organized what was perhaps unfairly called the Sulo Hotel Operations.

But as luck would have it, another FVR supporter, Teddy Benigno the journalist, went hammer and tongs after Ronnie, then an appointee to Broadcast City. Ronnie did not get into a conflict with Teddy or his backers in the new FVR regime. He just packed up and left again for the comforts of Langley in Virginia. He came back with an assignment for then Speaker Joe de Venecia --- make sure he had the numbers and the other determinants of political strength to ensure that the Speaker would be FVR’s endorsed, rather than Defense Secretary Renato de Villa. Ronnie delivered, but realizing early in the campaign that Joe, even plus Gloria, was no match to Joseph Estrada, he offered his services to the latter. He was supposed to “ensure” that Erap could not be cheated, for Erap’s numbers were already overwhelming. Daya lang ang talo. To this day, I do not know whether Erap’s victory was ever really endangered,

Erap assumed the DILG portfolio when he became president, if only to show his peace and order priorities to the hilt. He appointed Ronnie his undersecretary and chief operating officer, After a while, Ronnie was appointed full-fledged secretary, but was hounded by accusations principally coming from his and FVR’s bete noire, Sen, Miriam Defensor Santiago. Erap, himself hounded by controversies early into his reign, had to let go of Ronnie, who was then given the post of UN Ambassador. But this got snagged at the Commission on Appointments, and unlike Davide, who shamelessly proceeded to New York after he was appointed to the premier diplomatic post by Dona Gloria even without CA confirmation, Ronnie accepted his fate quietly. He stayed with Erap until the last moment.

In 2002, his Ateneo buddy, el gran esposo de la Dona Gloria started seeking his counsel. By 2003, he had been conscripted into the Dona’s electoral bid of 2004. He blocked off the Byron Hotel, the same “swerte” site he used for Erap’s election in 1998, and this time used it to oversee electoral operations. After the “successful” operations which saw Dona Gloria cheating her way with Garci into controversial victory, Ronnie’s star rose and rose. He even gave up a newly-won seat as Antipolo City congressman to become the DILG Secretary. From that vantage point, he made sure that he controlled the PNP, with due deference of course, to the personal choices of Dona Gloria y su esposo, particularly in the jueteng-rich provinces of Luzon.

He engineered the pardon of Erap, which is why the former president still considers him “one of his boys”. Word once floated that he would be Erap’s vice-presidential candidate in a hopeful re-run.

Now the Dona seems to have tired of his services. Or rather, he committed the “crime” of telling her he could not “fix-it” for her over-ambitious desire to rule forever and ever.

Will Ronnie the Tree do a Chavit? Not likely is how observers see it. Maybe he will just fade once more into the lovely woods of his Langley spread. So what happens to “his” boys in Crame?

* * *

Meanwhile, as I was rushing this article yesterday afternoon, word got in from a person very close to former Pres. FVR that the latter would soon make a very important political announcement. It would, I am told, signal the end of his support for Dona Gloria.

Would he announce his support for a candidate not from the Dona’s stable of favorites, I asked. The source would not even give me a clue, except to say, “Senyas na malinaw”, Signs.

* * *

Now let me give you, in unexpurgated Tagalog, my friend Isagani Cruz’ message to us, his fellow FSGO’ers, on the 4th anniversary of the Hyatt Ten’s revolt against a cheating, stealing and lying regime:

“Noong 1970, isa ako sa unang-unang nagsabi (sa aking dulang Tao) na magkakaroon ng martial law sa Filipinas.

”Noong 2000, sa pagkakaalam ko, ako ang unang-unang naglagay sa kolum sa peryodiko ng "Erap, Resign!"

”Noong 2006, sinulat ko na sa kolum ko na iniisip na ni Gloria Arroyo (hindi ko gagamitin ang apelyido ng mabuting ama niyang si Macapagal, dahil sinira niya ang pangalan nito) na magdeklara ng martial law.

”Ngayon ay sigurado na ako. Kahit na ano pa ang gagawing pangalan sa gagawin ni Gloria Arroyo, martial law pa rin ang mangyayari.

”Bakit? Dahil kapit na siya sa patalim. Kahit sinong mahalal na bagong pangulo ay siguradong ibibilanggo siya. Patatawarin din naman siya pagkatapos ng mahabang panahon (tulad ng pagpapatawad niya kay Erap), pero mabibilanggo siya. Ayaw niya iyon (sino ba naman ang may gustong mabilanggo?) , kaya ngayon pa man, naglalakbay na siya kung saan-saan para siguruhing may pera siya, para maghanap ng maaari niyang tirhan kung sakaling makaeskapo siya bago maupo ang bagong pangulo, at para maghanap ng kakampi pagdeklara niya ng martial law.

”Tandaan ninyo, sinabi ko ito bago sabihin ng iba.”

Well Gani, sana mali ka. But really, the signs are there’

* * *

The chief of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the most powerful nation on earth, Leon Panetta, is calling on Dona Gloria for about half-an-hour on Sunday, the 12th of July. He will fly in and then fly out.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The anatomy of lying

I am one of those “critics” who have kept silent on the issue of the supposed breast implants of Dona Gloria. Frankly, to me the implants are a purely private matter which I would not want to dissect in this space or the one in Abante. And as my few friends know, we did not even deign the subject a matter fit for discussion.
What is worth discussing is how Malacanang’s mouthpieces and its press office handled the issue that as far as I know first came to public knowledge via a short column item in an article written by Jarius Bondoc for the Philippine Star.
While breast augmentation is in aid of vanity, which I maintain to be purely private and personal, why the performance of excision and biopsy had to be subjected to initial official denial is beyond me. In matters like these, it is the responsibility of those who speak for their principal, in this case their president, to first ask questions before they open their mouths.
Based on the frothing denials, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde failed to ask his principal what her doctors did to her at the Asian Hospital. Immediately he took offense at Jarius Bondoc’s straightforward reporting of fact, and denounced it as pure fabrication. More incompetently, he even trotted out a picture of his principal and asked if one could detect a breast augmentation job on that, which he rather unseemly referred to as a “boob job”.
When his principal and perhaps wiser minds looked at the brouhaha, they probably realized that Jarius had the precise lowdown on her medical records, and implying that Jarius fabricated the story was quite risky. Jarius is one person they knew they couldn’t “fix”. So they had to admit that indeed, Dona Gloria had breast implants done two decades ago.
That is what happens when one conceals the truth, and when discovered, tries to wiggle out of a situation by lying.
An honest person would have first discovered the whole truth, and decided to release the same to the public, minus certain unnecessary details that would only complicate public understanding of the situation. And spokespersons are supposed to be after all, purveyors of the truth, because as public officials, they are covered by the injunction that public office is a public trust.
But since lying is the rule in the Arroyo administration, Remonde and later his sidekick Lorelie Fajardo must have felt they were serving their Dona well. She too has made lying not only a habit, but part of her distorted apparatus of power. In this regime, prevarication is “virtue”, especially when it is necessary to pursue the evil ends of cheating and stealing.
* * *
Now let me advert to another “situation” that happened early on in the short-lived Estrada regime. The Philippine Daily Inquirer came out with a story about a certain Caloocan beauty queen named JR Ejercito, who claimed that she was sired by then Mayor Joseph Estrada.
It has become public knowledge that Pres. Estrada had strewn wild oats in his wilder days, and he never hid this fact. He was after all a former movie actor, a box-office king at that, and liaisons dangereuse came with the territory. Probably the only difference between him and actors of today’s milieu is the use or non-use of “rubbers” or some such preventive device or drug.
The presidential spokesman then was Gerry Barican, an accomplished lawyer, writer, and former student activist. As far as I could remember, Gerry went to the principal before he faced the press the day when PDI came out with its story. The alleged scion had the “unmistakable” Ejercito eyes, and at first blush, she really did look like Erap’s progeny. President Erap denied such to Gerry, although he admitted knowing the mother from long past days.
The follow-up story alleged that Erap as mayor and senator did send the mother checks regularly in the past, which was interpreted as admission of parenthood, and therefore, sustenance. For a few days, Gerry Barican stewed, wondering whether his president had lied to him. And Gerry does not take to lying easily, and fully understood the requirements of his job as public trust.
He denied JR because Erap denied fatherhood to his spokesperson. In one of our lighter moments at the presidential yacht then moored at a Mindanao port, I casually asked the president about that incident. “Hindi ako sigurado”, he said. And propriety dictated that I ask no further, for that would have been intrusive of personal privacy which even a president was entitled to.
In any case, the brouhaha died down after a week, and I attribute that to the public’s appreciation that President Erap was not a known prevaricator. He had bared open his life to the public, never hiding patrimony of several, nor relationships with several. So if he or his spokesperson said that JR was not his, the public accepted that as the truth.
So what is the lesson in these two different episodes in the life of two presidents? Simple. When one lies repeatedly, anything he or she says, even if that may be true, will still be doubted. When one is not known to be a liar, what he says is accepted as fact until otherwise proven false.
* * *
But incompetence rears its ugly behind once more when the once respected NBI enters the picture, and “investigates” the supposed leakage of medical records. It tries to hide Malacanang’s hand by saying that they were investigating at the instance of the Asian Hospital, which has understandably kept mum, neither confirming nor denying NBI’s yarn.
Sure physician-patient privilege may have been violated, not necessarily by the attending physician, but is there any criminal aspect to such violation? Civil liability perhaps, but only if the patient goes to court. And if Dona Gloria felt violated, then she should file charges and ask for damages in a court of law. Or she could go to the Philippine Mediacl Association, perhaps even the Professional Regulatory Commission, and file against her physicians for a breach of the ethics of their profession, much in similar manner as Katrina Halili went to the PMA to complain about Hayden Kho’s video voyeurism cum narcissism.

* * *
But then again, the president’s health is a matter of not just public interest, but one with national security implications. In which case, should her National (In)Security Adviser, Norbert the banana-eater, step in? How does Norbert balance the issue of personal privacy with the public’s right to know his president’s state of health? Finding that middle ground will confound Norbert as much as the public is confounded by his recent pronouncements about a “revolutionary” transition government.

* * *

Now the NBI should know (but aren’t they supposed to be lawyers out there?) that Article VII, Sec. 12 of the Constitution that their Dona has yet to amend states that “in case of serious illness of the President, the public should be informed of the state of his health”. In the situation that faced Barican, an adult claiming to be the president’s daughter is neither injurious to the president’s health nor is it a matter of national security, and so, a denial would easily put the matter to rest, being in the realm of gossipy prurience more than anything else. But in the situation faced by Remonde, and now the NBI which has gleefully waded into the matter, there is a clear constitutional precept that makes this particular person’s health of public interest.

Now surely both Remonde and the NBI know that per the Sotto Law, columnist Jarius Bondoc cannot be made to confess who or what his source of information was, and any attempt to pry such from him would be a violation of one of the cherished freedoms enshrined in the Constitution, which is that which protects the freedom of the press.

Or is this one of the reasons why Malacanang is moving heaven and earth to Cha-Cha? To create a new gloriannic order where media pests could tremble in fear, as in the days of Ferdinand?

* * *

What should worry Remonde, Lorelie, Anthony, Gary, even Ed Ermita, is why the “invasion” of her privacy did not elicit any public sympathy. Why the usual women’s groups did not bristle when one of their own felt violated? Why no public concern about her health did not register, as it normally should for the leader of the land? That is sad.