Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Drilon Drops Congress Bid

The buzz today is that Senator Frank Drilon is backing out of the congressional race in Iloilo City. I first heard the rumor from a former Senate colleague last Wednesday but I did not want to believe it. My acquiantances at the Liberal Party refused to confirm the news but neither did they deny it (all they wanted to say is that Drilon "is considering not running" in Iloilo City). But last night Novi Guazo, a local radio blocktimer in Iloilo City, has announced that Senator Drilon definitely is not running and is instead considering endorsing lawyer Rex Rico for the post.

I know this piece of information must be a big surprise (especially to the Manila press who think Drilon is very strong in Iloilo) and a big disappointment (especially to those who want to "frame" the local race as a referendum on GMA's rule). But as it was already confirmed by several sources, it seems to be that. Kanugon (sayang)!

In football or basketball, players prevent the star player of the opposing team from scoring by isolating him. "Isolation play" usually involves two to three players guarding and "harassing" the opposing team's star player to prevent him from scoring a goal. In politics, isolation play means eliminating most if not all of your opponent's allies and alienating him from his supporters. This I believe was the administration gameplan against Drilon.

A confluence of events conspired to make Drilon's bid in Iloilo City untenable. First, former opposition congressional candidate Atty. Romeo Gerochi (a logical ally) joined the Gonzalez-Treñas camp early last year. Then, Councilor Linda Liberiaga announced that she is running for Congress, potentially splitting the opposition vote in Iloilo City. Also, his supposed teammate former Mayor Mansueto Malabor was rumored to be getting impatient with him for not being active in organizing their slate and not being "visible" enough in Iloilo City. Also, rumors that Drilon is not in the pink of health (he admitted he has gout) hounded him. To date, not one among the 150 or so barangay captains allied with the Gonzalez-Treñas group has been reported to have shifted to his camp. And while most aspirants took advantage of the long Christmas break to go around their districts, Drilon chose to fly abroad, perhaps the final indication that he is not serious about his candidacy. And with the impending dismissal of his close and most powerful ally in Iloilo, Governor Neil Tupas, this March (when his 60-day TRO expires), the isolation of Drilon is truly complete.

There is no longer any politically-significant group or personality in Iloilo City left for Drilon, except probably for Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, the Jaro bishop and CBCP president. And the recent "awesome display of power" at the Capitol must have had a chilling effect on politicians who are thinking of throwing their lot with the good senator from Molo. Now, politicians aspiring to run for councilor must be having second thoughts running under Drilon's ticket for fear that they would also suffer the same fate as Governor Tupas. Dismissal and perpetual disbarment from government service, after all, is every professional politician's worst nightmare.

Anyway, let me turn to the man rumored to replace Drilon for the congressional race. I know Atty. Rex Rico well because we campaigned together for the late Senator Raul Roco in Panay island during the last three elections (1995, 1998, and 2004). Atty. Rico hails from from Mandurriao, Iloilo City and is a product of the Central Philippine University (where he was a champion debater) and San Beda Law School (where he was a student of Roco). I remember that Roco always kidded Rico (whose wife is distantly related to the late senator), telling everyone who would care to listen that the "Ricos used to be Rocos until they became rich." Rex also has political blood running in his veins - his father, who was very close to the Lopezes, used to be Councilor and later Vice Mayor of Iloilo City.

But in as much as I want to see him win, I feel that he is not that well-known yet in Iloilo City. Having been based in Manila for so long (where he has a thriving law practice), many Ilonggos have not heard of him. Also, he lacks the preparation, machinery and resources to mount a solid campaign. I told him so several times and as a friend advised him to run anay for the City Council so that he could establish a creditable track record in public service. But since the opportunity presented itself, I guess Rex had no option but to grab it. Rex is a decent (though at times a very outspoken) man and I wish him all the luck in the world.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Best Dinagyang Ever

Many who saw the Dinagyang 2007 agree that it was the best Dinagyang so far. Kudos to Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas and his hard-working staff for making this year's festivities a resounding success (Dinagyang photos here courtesy of Tara Yap and James Trimañez of THE GUARDIAN-Iloilo). Over a million tourists arrived in Iloilo according to news reports, among them foreign VIPs and dignitaries and even Dinagyang-related criminality declined too (read here). Except for a minor altercation between rival GMA and ABS CBN TV stations, Dinagyang 2007 went on without glitches. Click here to find out this year's winners.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Last of the Old School Politicians

First off, I would like to disclose that Governor Tupas is a distant relative of mine on my mother's side (Majarucon family of Dumangas, Iloilo). I used to just shrug this off as a politician's way to get votes: in Iloilo, the term I believe is "ga-pamariente." Family counts a lot in local politics, especially so in Iloilo where families religiously keep track of relatives. Some families in Iloilo can even trace their roots up to the 1850s. The details of my kinship to Tupas have always been vague to me (no matter how many times my lolos and lolas explain it to me) but suffice it to say that when my aunt Dra. Patria Majarucon-Inayan died last year, Governor Tupas attended her wake (he joined us up to the cemetery) and he seemed to know the older members of my family very well. I was also told that he was always present at family funerals, more recently of my Lolo Kadyo, Lola Basing and Lola Nena (which I failed to attend). As far as I can remember, my maternal relatives have always been Tupas partisans (My relatives on my father side are mostly from Iloilo City, thus unable to vote in the province). My aunts say that back when he was just a Councilor up until he was already a Congressman, Tupas would periodically visit my relatives in Dumangas and Balasan, Iloilo. Understandably, most of my relatives were upset and sympathetic when they heard about Manong Neil's dismissal. I wouldn't be surprised if some of them even went to the Provincial Capitol to show their support for Governor Tupas.

I met Governor Tupas several years ago when I was still working at DTI-OSEC and he made a courtesy call on then-DTI Secretary Mar Roxas. It was my first and (so far) only meeting with him. I still remember it very well because he claimed that it was Senator Gerry Roxas, Mar's father, who gave him his first break in politics. He recounted that back in the 1960s, he was just a simple (but promising) Ilonggo lawyer fresh from UP Law School (I think he was one of the Bar topnotchers). Senator Gerry Roxas, who was the Liberal Party top honcho at that time, handpicked him to run for Councilor in Barotac Viejo town (Gerry Roxas also graduated from UP Law School). Back then, you can be successful in politics only if you are allied with either the Liberal or Nacionalista Party and had the financial backing of party elders. After winning as Councilor, Manong Neil continued on to build a successful career in politics, becoming Mayor of Barotac Viejo, then Congressman of the 5th District and now Governor of Iloilo, the highest position in the province.

Governor Neil Tupas is your quintessential "old school" politician. I don't want to use the word "trapo" (traditional politician) because of its negative connotations but Manong Neil's vote-getting techniques really are, well, "traditional." But effective. A lifetime spent attending wakes, making house-to-house calls, handing dole-outs and spending hours talking to constituents has made him perhaps the most popular man in the province. Today, despite his advanced age (he is 72 years old), Manong Neil is virtually undefeatable in the polls. His political allies claim that this is precisely the reason why he is being "eased out" of the Capitol thru "extra-electoral" means. As Inquirer columnist Manolo Quezon quipped, "if you can't beat 'em, suspend them."

Now that things are slowly going back to normal at the Iloilo Provincial Capitol, allow me to share my thoughts on what media has now termed as the "Capitol Siege." In hindsight, I think the proper thing for Governor Tupas to do was to respect the Ombudsman order and relinquish his post without creating much ado, just like what Batangas Governor Armand Sanchez did, and just procure a TRO later. Iloilo was celebrating the Dinagyang Festival when the DILG tried to implement the Ombudsman order and tourism certainly was affected by the hullabaloo at the Capitol. By relinquishing his post peacefully, Governor Tupas would have then shown that he is not "addicted to power" as most trapo politicians. He would have illustrated that the good of the community and the safety of the people, not his political career, is his paramount concern and he would have become a martyr. To sacrifice yourself for your people - that to me is the mark of a true leader. Political and PR-wise, Tupas would have earned more respect and pogi points if he gave up his post in an orderly manner and just procured a TRO later. By barricading the Capitol and clinging to power like that, Tupas showed that he is no different from other politicians who would do everything to stay in power. To be sure, his dismissal order has "political harassment" written all over it. But Manong Neil, his family and supporters would have been saved all the trouble if they just heeded the Ombudsman order for in the end, it was not their human barricade but the TRO which stayed the PNP's hand.

As a result, every Tom Dick and Harry will now think that he can opt to barricade himself when the police or court sheriff comes with a subpoena. All one needs is favorable media coverage and support from politicians to prevent authorities from implementing a court order. What then will happen to our legal system if everyone cries "harrassment" and choose not to abide by the courts? We might as well scrap our Civil Code and replace it with the Code of Kalantiaw.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Run Carreon Run!

Everytime the election period comes around, I always look forward to seeing Mel Carreon file his certificate of candidacy.

Mel Carreon is a celebrity of sorts in Iloilo City. In fact, one of the ways I can tell if someone is from Iloilo City is if that person knows Carreon. A colorful character, Carreon is a perennial candidate in Iloilo City. The man has been running and losing in elections as far as I can remember. As most politicians Carreon has his own political party, the Lakas Loob-Kulba Lang ang Kapital Party (if you're Ilonggo you'll get it) or Lakas for short. During the 1998 and 2001 elections he ran for mayor against then-Mayor Mansing Malabor. In 2004, he ran for Congress against incumbent Raul "Jun" Gonzalez. I once saw him campaigning on board his "mobile HQ" wearing a red sash (ala beauty contestant) with the words: "Mel Carreon for Congressman" written on it. People usually just shake their heads when they see him on the campaign trail but there are some who could not contain their laughter. Many consider him crazy (bu-ang) for making a spectacle of himself and allowing himself to become an object of ridicule in Iloilo City. But I don't think he's crazy. In fact, during "off-election season," Carreon makes a living as an insurance agent. A cousin of mine once had the "privilege" of meeting and talking to the man at a coffeeshop in SM City and he claims that Carreon talked sense. I guess people don't take him seriously mainly because he is poor. As they say, in this country if you're poor you are called bu-ang, but if you're rich you are called "eccentric." Compared to some jokers masquerading as politicians, Carreon talks more sense and the only reason why people take these jokers seriously is because they have money and/or celebrity and Carreon does not.

Anyway, I was driving around the city a couple of days ago when I saw Mel Carreon's poster on a lamppost. I saw that this time around, he has set his sights on a much lower position, that of City Councilor. Someone told me afterwards that when asked why he opted to run for a lower post and not for Mayor or Congressman as many people expected him to do, Carreon replied (in Ilonggo): "Well, running for Councilor is cheaper than running for Senator!"

The man has a point.

Friday, January 19, 2007

"Third Force" Can Put a Closure to GMA-Erap "War"

Over the past few weeks, the idea of a "Third Force" ticket was floated in the national media and has been the subject of much discussion in the blogosphere. According to media reports, the so-called "Third Force" will be composed of the Wednesday Group of reelectionist senators comprised of Manny Villar, Kiko Pangilinan, Ralph Recto, Joker Arroyo plus Congressman Noynoy Aquino and Mrs. Sonia Roco. Talks are reportedly ongoing with the other 3 reelectionist senators (Lacson, Angara, Loi Estrada) and possibly with other interested parties towards the formation of a common "Third Force" slate this coming May 2007 elections.

Understandably, the idea of a "Third Force" was quickly shot down by both administration and pro-Erap opposition forces. Political analyst Lito Banayo called it the "Third Farce" while GMA political adviser Gabby Claudio downplayed its chances in the polls. Of all the detractors, it is perhaps Inquirer columnist Belinda Olivares-Cunanan who succinctly and most-effectively summed up the "put-down spiel" for a Third Force. In her column titled "Third Force Often Ends Up Third," she argued that all third force tickets in the past from Recto to Roco lost the elections. She concluded that a "third force" is not a viable proposition in this country.

But if we analyze the current mood of the people, I believe that a "Third Force" ticket has never been a more attractive and viable idea, especially in the context of the malaise that is plaguing our politics today. And the only way our country can start getting out of the GMA vs Erap war which has been poisoning our politics since 2001 is by the "Third Force" sweeping the coming senatorial race.

In her column, Cunanan cited presidential "Third Force" candidates, but not senatorial candidates. Although I agree with her observation that a "Third Force" is not viable during presidential elections, the same cannot be said in a senatorial race. A senatorial campaign is vastly different from a presidential campaign. In a one-on-one presidential fight, a "third force" candidate is often dismissed as a spoiler or viewed as a "vote-splitter." But in a senatorial election wherein voters pick 12 candidates, one is not forced to choose between Candidate X and Candidate Y (to borrow Billy Esposo's line) but can pick as many as a dozen candidates (and with the present crop of senatoriables, I cannot even make myself decide on 12). While a presidential candidate hopes to get only 51% to win while a senatorial candidate targets 100% of the voters to land in the Magic 12. Hence, a presidential run is a zero-sum, "pula-puti" game while "name-recall" is the name of the game in a senatorial campaign. In a presidential race, all you have to do is present yourself as the "lesser evil" and people will vote for you (Filipinos have this habit of voting for the "lesser evil" if only to make the candidate they hate most lose). In a senatorial race, candidates who make the deepest impression on the most number of voters wins.

I feel that the current mood is ripe for a "Third Force." Never before have I seen such hopelessness, pessimism and cynicism in our people - and we are supposed to be an inherently optimistic people! Most people I talk to are neither for GMA nor for the Erap-led opposition. I can sense Filipinos are already tired of the bickering and want to put some closure on the GMA vs. Erap war which has been going on for the past 6 years. Ordinary Filipinos today are apathetic towards politics and their apathy is manifested in the low number of new COMELEC registrants and the low voter turn-out during elections. I think the people will opt for a ticket which is neither pro-GMA nor pro-Erap, a group that will be independent of GMA and Erap, a "third force."

If there is no "third force," people will be forced to choose between senatorial candidates who are either pro-GMA (pro-Cha Cha, anti impeachment, etc.) or pro-Erap (pro-impeachment, work to free Estrada). Without an alternative "third choice," the internecine GMA-Erap warfare will continue up to 2010 and beyond. Our country will never be able to put closure and get out of the rut. A "third force" victory at the polls will send a clear message to pro-GMA and pro-Erap forces: people are already tired of your poisoned politics! If the "third force" will fail this elections, we will see more of the "eye-for-an-eye" brand of politics in this country wherein each action by the opposition is met by an opposite reaction by the administration.

Having only two sides to choose from is problematic especially for those senatorial candidates who are hoping to become President someday (and believe me, most of them have a moist eye on Malacañang) because casting their lot with GMA or Erap is a dead-ender. 2007 is a dress rehearsal for the 2010 presidential elections and should Senator Villar, for example, run under the United Opposition ticket, he would be hard pressed to present himself as a "unity" candidate come 2010 because he would be mired in the bitter, "take-no-prisoners" GMA-Erap war. The same would happen to him if he decides to run under GMA's ticket. So if I have the wherewithal to raise P500 million for my own campaign, why would I allow myself to be hemmed in by the administration or opposition?

I think Villar would stand to gain the most by bankrolling a "Third Force" senatorial ticket. This is so because if he manages to get all of his Wednesday Group reelected (Pangilinan, Recto and Joker Arroyo) plus Noynoy Aquino and Sonia Roco elected, he would effectively expand his Wednesday Group and solidify his hold on the Senate presidency. With at least 6 senators and Vice President Noli de Castro (who pundits claim has no plans to run for President) by his side not to mention a "revived" Nacionalista Party, Villar could become a solid contender in 2010 provided he lands within the top 5 list of winning senators.

Thinking ahead to the 2010 presidential elections, a Manny Villar vs. Mar Roxas fight will be good for the country not only because both are perceived to be level-headed, business-friendly politicians but because both are not closely-identified with either Erap or GMA. Our people are already tired of Erap and sick of GMA. They are looking for other alternaatives besides the current politicians who cannot seem to let go of the past and only want to prolong the acrimonious atmosphere in politics. It would truly be a shame if the "Third Force" slate would not push thru for it is the only way out of the quagmire that is Philippine politics today.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Tupas Gets a TRO

Things are starting to get back to normal at the Capitol. Yesterday, hundreds of anti-riot policemen and SWAT teams swooped down on the Capitol to dislodge Governor Neil Tupas. Manong Neil's family members and supporters tried their best to delay and stop the police from accosting the governor but were soon overpowered by the authorities. A police squad was about to reach the Office of the Governor at the third floor when the governor's son and namesake, Board Member Niel "Jun Jun" Tupas, came out brandishing a TRO issued by the Court of Appeals in Cebu. Now, it is back to status quo antebellum and the concerned parties have 60 days to present their legal arguments and counter-arguments in court.

What a difference a week makes! Just days ago, Manong Neil's hold on the Capitol was rock solid and not one among the names that were floated by the administration could hold a candle against him in the coming May 2007 elections. But in just a matter of days, his grip on the Capitol became untenable and he is now fighting for his political survival. Such is politics in this country - unpredictable, violent, "magical surreal."

Pagunsan Misses the Cut at PGA Sony Open

I was saddened to hear (after reading Councilor Peter Laviña's blog) that Ilonggo golfer Juvic Pagunsan, who was named "Asian Rookie of the Year" recently, missed the cut at the PGA-Sony Open in Hawaii. You can actually view Pagunsan's Sony Open scorecard here (just one of the wonderful benefits of the internet!). In hindsight, Pagunsan I think should have picked to play at this year's Philippine Open in Wack Wack and not the Sony Open. With his dismal showing at his first PGA event, it became apparent "na medyo hilaw pa siya" and I fear that it might affect his confidence in his swing. But no matter, Pagunsan is still young and can only get better.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

"Ghost" Seminar, Measly P80k Did Tupas In

Up to now, people in Iloilo are still not clear on why their Governor was dismissed from public service by the Ombudsman. The details of the case are still hazy but this is what I have gathered so far based on local media reports:

1. Governor Niel Tupas Sr. faces not one but two dismissal orders from the Ombudsman. The cases stemmed from the two administrative cases filed by the People's Graftwatch of Iloilo, Inc., a local socio-civic group, against Governor Tupas and Board Members Domingo Oso and Cecilia Capadosa for illegally disbursing P80,000 for trainings seminars of the Provincial Board Members League of the Philippines (PBMLP). The amount was taken from the Governor's Community Direct Action Fund, which represents 20% of the Annual Development Fund for 2004. The Ombudsman, in its decision, said the respondents failed to present proof that the PBMLP activities indeed transpired.

2. Governor Tupas was dismissed for allowing the release of the funds despite the lack of specific allocation for the said purpose. Board Member Capadosa, then the PBMLP treasurer, was implicated for receiving and depositing the amount in her personal account while Board Member Oso was dismissed for receiving part of the money as reimbursements for seminars and trainings he attended. Ironically, Oso's younger brother, the outspoken Monsignor Meliton Oso, was one of the complainants in the two administrative complaints filed by the People's Graftwatch of Iloilo that has now resulted in the perpetual disqualification of his brother in public service .

3. The lawyers of Governor Tupas alleged that they were not given due process and that their client is being harassed for siding with the opposition. They argued that the Ombudsman order is not yet final and executory since under the rules, they have 15 days to appeal and procure a TRO from the Court of Appeals. The lawyers also argued that they must be furnished with an original copy and not mere xerox copies of the order. They refused to accept the xerox copy of the dismissal order which was served by DILG Regional Director Evelyn Trompeta around 4 pm yesterday.

4. According to Director Trompeta, the orders were deemed served nothwithstanding the respondents' refusal to accept the documents and their lawyers' arguments that they must be furnished an original copy. DILG Undersecretary Andanar administered the oath of office of Vice Governor Roberto Armada as governor and Board Member Emmanuel Gallar as vice governor at the DILG regional office past 4pm yesterday.

5. Ombudsman Guitierrez issued the decision on December 4, 2006 and it was transmitted to the DILG for enforcement on January 12, 2007. Thus, DILG officials argue, Tupas' 15-day window to get a TRO is deemed to have expired.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Ombudsman Dismisses Iloilo Governor

There were two big stories in Iloilo over the weekend. First was the announcement of former 1st District Representative (now Philcoa head) Oca Garin that he is supporting Governor Niel Tupas' reelection. Second, the dismissal of Governor Tupas for malversation (read news reports here, here and here). In his blog, Boy Mejorada, Iloilo Provincial Administrator and trusted aide of Tupas, points to Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez as the one behind the Ombudsman decision. Secretary Gonzalez denies his accusation .

Oca Garin's announcement took everyone in Iloilo by surprise because he was seen as a strong GMA ally in the province. Moreover, Garin ran for governor and lost to Tupas in the last elections and people thought that he is still sore at Manong Niel for the loss. Although he supported Erap in 1998 and FPJ in 2004, Garin somehow managed to be in the good graces of Malacañang and was even appointed to head the Philippine Coconut Authority. Garin's political "judgment call," made just days before Tupas' dismissal order came out, may prove costly for him and his family. Manong Oca may very well lose his Philcoa post. His children, Richard (who is currently Mayor of Guimbal, Iloilo) and Janet (currently Congresswoman) who are running for Vice Governor and 1st district Representative respectively, may lose administration support this May 2007 elections. So will his wife Nimfa, who is currently the Mayor of San Joaquin, Iloilo.

Earlier, there were rumors that Governor Tupas will be dismissed from office but no one particularly paid serious attention to it. Note that Tupas is being "dismissed," not only "suspended" from public office and if found guilty, may be barred perpetually from holding any government post. To prevent his ouster, Tupas' supporters are currently massing up at the Provincial Capitol to protect their idol thru "people power" but unless his people can get a TRO from the Court of Appeals (ala Binay), I don't think his supporters can hold off indefinitely and prevent DILG officials from implementing the order.

It is quite unfortunate that the Ombudsman had to time the release of Tupas' dismissal order during the Dinagyang Festival when there are many visitors arriving in Iloilo. Now, the impression tourists will get is that Iloilo politics is magamo (magulo). But on the other hand, politics in this country really is magamo so what the heck, let them think that way. It cannot be helped. But I just hope that everyone will just keep their cool so that no untoward incident will happen in the Capitol.

By the way, the Guardian has this interesting news item today: "Dinagyang to Generate 28 Truckloads of Garbage."

Friday, January 12, 2007

Liberiaga Candidacy a Boon to Gonzalez, a Serious Setback for Drilon

Amidst the Dinagyang fever currently gripping the city, Councilor Erlinda Liberiaga suprised everyone by declaring that she will vie for Iloilo City's lone congressional post this May 2007 elections, thus setting the stage for a three-cornered fight between her and incumbent Congressman Raul Gonzalez, Jr. and Senator Frank Drilon (who has yet to categorically declare his candidacy for the post). Just days before, Councilor Liberiaga vehemently denied that she is running against her political betters. She even argued that her lawyer husband, Bert Liberiaga, owes a debt of gratitude to Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, Sr. for appointing him as PAO (Public Attorney’s Office) Regional Director in Western Visayas. But yesterday, Councilor Liberiaga took back her words and confirmed that she is indeed running for Congress under the banner of Aksyon Demokratiko, the late Raul Roco’s party.

So the question in people’s minds right now is: what happened in the intervening days that made the Liberiagas change their minds? Various local media reports say that Councilor Liberiaga decided to break away from the administration LAKAS party because Mayor Jerry Treñas supposedly “does not like her husband Bert” and that they were disappointed because “Bert was excluded from the Treñas-Gonzalez slate” for City Councilor. Local pundits also point to the colorful Mark “MJ” Jimenez as instrumental in convincing the Liberiagas to challenge their erstwhile political patrons. MJ is not exactly shy about expressing his hatred for both Gonzalez and Drilon, and he has been running around Iloilo City bragging that he will be bankroll the candidacy of any politician who will dare oppose the two Ilonggo titans. Finally, MJ got his wish in the person of Ma’am Liberiaga, who made her name in Iloilo as a school teacher.

Since I used to work for Roco and consider myself still a member of Aksyon Demokratiko, I was completely surprised by the Liberiaga announcement. For one, I was not consulted about her candidacy. Other old-time Aksyon members I talked to likewise said they were not consulted regarding Liberiaga’s candidacy. So it seems to me that the decision to field Liberiaga was a totally unilateral decision on the part of Mark Jimenez. It is all the more surprising to me because Mrs. Sonia Roco, the widow of Senator Roco, will be running for senator under the Liberal Party (Drilon Wing)-Nacionalista-Aksyon coalition (the so-called “Third Force”) and I always thought that Aksyon will be supporting Drilon in Iloilo City. It turns out I was wrong.

I predict that this unilateral decision of Jimenez will turn-off most of Aksyon’s members and supporters in Iloilo City which is mainly comprised of middle class professionals, the youth, the “thinking” voters. I for one will not support Liberiaga because, aside from the fact that I was not consulted, Ma’am Erlinda is not even a bonafide member of Aksyon Demokratiko. I am not even sure whether Mark Jimenez consulted Dr. Jaime Galvez-Tan, the incumbent Aksyon chief, or Mrs. Roco, our titular head.

In the end, a Liberiaga candidacy will prove to be a boon to Gonzalez Jr. and a serious setback to Drilon. This is so because while the administration machinery vote will solidly be behind Gonzalez, Drilon and Liberiaga will be fighting over the same opposition vote. We have seen it happen before here. In 2004, the hugely-popular Mansing Malabor lost to the young Gonzalez simply because there were too many opposition candidates angling over the same opposition vote. Then and now, Gonzalez Jr. was consistently lagging behind in the media surveys but was able to pull off a “come-from-behind” victory because his camp was able to effectively mobilize their supporters on election day while support for Malabor pettered out at the last minute. It seems that we will see history repeating itself this 2007 elections.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Come Visit Iloilo

If you are planning to visit Iloilo City, now is the best time. There are many things happening in the city this month of January. For starters, there is the Arevalo Fiesta on January 21 (Sunday). After attending the Sunday mass at the Arevalo Parish Church, you can witness the “grand” fireworks display held at the Plaza right in front of the church (but don’t expect a fireworks spectacle approximating the one in the SM Mall of Asia recently: I am using the word “grand” here relatively). Firecracker manufacturing is a backyard industry in Arevalo, and it is said that all the firecrackers which the manufacturers weren’t able to sell during the New Year they expend during their fiesta. So when you do visit Arevalo, expect loud firecracker explosions everywhere. Simply put, the Arevalo fiesta experience is like the New Year celebration, multiplied by two. But during the rest of the year, Arevalo is peaceful and beautiful – it is full of flower gardens (landscaping being the other source of livelihood of locals) earning for it the monicker “Flower Center of Iloilo City.” Arevalo, or Villa to locals, is also famous for its seaside eateries along Villa Beach like Tatoy’s Manukan, Breakthrough Restaurant and Villa Regatta. One can buy a “caltex” of sisi or talaba (oysters) for P20-P30 (Steamed oysters are sold at roadside eateries there using old plastic cans of Caltex motor oil, hence the term).

After the Arevalo fiesta is the week-long Dinagyang Festival. Starting January 22 up to January 29, Iloilo City transforms itself into a mardi gras city and you can just feel the electricity all around. The streets are festooned with buntings, people are in no mood to go to work and students are absenting from school. A week before the festivities, one can hear constantly the “distant drums” of Ati tribes practicing their Dinagyang numbers all around the city. The highlight of the Dinagyang Festival is the Kasadyahan Competition on January 27-28 (Saturday-Sunday) where 15 groups vie for the honor of being named Best Ati Tribe of the Year. Their bodies painted black with uling (charcoal), each participating tribe has its own distinctive costume (usually made of indigenous materials), drum beat music and dance moves calculated not only to impress the judges but also to win over the general public. When watching the parade of Ati tribes, don’t get offended if a complete stranger suddenly dabs your face with uling (charcoal) – it is part of the fun. You can, in fact, choose to follow a tribe of your fancy and join in their merrymaking.

After the Dinagyang, you can “de-compress” and get away from the noise of the city by going to beautiful Guimaras island or traveling to the countryside. Guimaras is just a 10-peso, 15-minute boat ride away from Iloilo City and there are regular Iloilo-Guimaras boat trips (in 30-minute intervals) from the Ortiz Wharf and Parola. Catching a boat to Guimaras is easier than catching a taxi in Makati. Or if you are traveling with a large group, you can all chip-in to rent a motorboat and go island-hopping and cove-hunting in Guimaras. Not only will you see the natural splendor of Guimaras but you will also be able to see for yourself whether Petron had really cleaned up the province as they claimed. If the sea is not your cup of tea, you can take a trip to the “interior” to see Iloilo’s beautiful countryside. There are many splendid Spanish-era churches in the “interior,” most notably the one in Miag-ao, Iloilo (about 45 minutes drive away). Also, the University of the Philippines has a beautiful, sea-side campus in Miag-ao. Or if you’re a golfer, you can always play 18 holes at the Sta. Barbara Golf and Country Club, the oldest in the country (the club is celebrating its 100th year anniversary this year).

If you still have time, I suggest you stay on in Iloilo for the Jaro Candelaria Fiesta which is usually held every first week of February. You can attend mass at the century-old Jaro Cathedral, walk around the Jaro Plaza located just in front of the Cathedral (I recommend you buy the Dumangas Bibingka being sold there - yummy!), then view the old mansions of the Ilonggo sugar barons near the church. You can also watch the Candelaria Cockfight, one of the biggest and most prestigious cockfighting events in the world, at the Jaro Arena. But if cockfighting is not your thing, you can just shop for your pasalubongs at Biscocho Haus which is conveniently located near the Jaro Plaza. Jaro, which is near the airport, is the perfect “last stop” to your trip to Iloilo.

If you’re coming from Manila, I estimate that the entire two-week stay in Iloilo would set you back by around P15,000 to P25,000 (this already includes P5,000 for the round-trip plane fare plus hotel accommodations). Traveling as a group would certainly help to bring your expenses down. A full meal in a local “fancy” restaurant usually costs between P100 to P300 tops. If you’re traveling on a very tight budget, I suggest you take the jeepney when going around the city. Not only is it cheaper; it is also very convenient – everything in Iloilo is just one jeepney ride away.

A last word of warning: don’t go to Iloilo on some last minute impulse. Plan your trip ahead. At this time of the year, hotels and airlines are usually fully-booked so I suggest you make your reservations this early. As the malls, restaurants and resorts will be crowded this time of the year, always be mindful of your belongings.

See you in Iloilo. Hala Bira!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Dinagyang 2007

News Round-Up:

Tourist arrivals in Boracay for the past 2006 exceeded the half a million mark, according to the Malay town Municipal Tourism Office. "Domestic tourists" comprised the bulk of visitors to Boracay (around 320,000) while foreigners accounted for the rest. Among the foreign tourists, Koreans comprised the most number, with some 110,000 of them visiting Boracay last year (read more here).

Now, even beauty contests are being politicized (read: "Dinagyang Beauties Laud GMA for Keeping Economy Sound"). More here.

The Dinagyang Festival is less than three weeks away. Preparations for Iloilo grandest mardi gras are well under way and this year's celebration promises to be one of the biggest in years. The event organizers, Iloilo Dinagyang Foundation, Inc. (IDFI), are thinking of reducing the number of participating Ati tribes from 20 to 15 this year to reduce costs and also to maintain quality (read more here). But the real downer for me is the report that Tribu Bola Bola will not be joining the main event of this year's festivities (read here). Tribu Bola Bola of the Iloilo National High School has been a consistent crowd favorite (and is my personal favorite) and it is truly disappointing not to see them this year.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Mother Claims Aswang Killed Her Daughter

THE Guardian, a local daily in Western Visayas, today has this most intriguing news report from Antique province entitled "Witch Killed My Daughter" written by their correspondent Albert Mamora:

HAMTIC, Antique – Mystery shrouds the death of a 13-year-old girl in a village here amid speculations that an aswang or flesh eating ghoul may have snuffed her life away. Estelita Adrada, 48, of Brgy. Asluman here had the shock of her life when she discovered her eighth child April Rose already lifeless inside their nipa hut early morning yesterday.

What shocked Estelita more was the wound on April Rose’s lower right jaw as if an animal bit her face off (see photo). Bruno Adrada, 24, April Rose’s elder brother, said April Rose was already feeling ill days before. Instead of eating a full dinner, April Rose only took bread and milk because of the fever and headache she contracted. Estelita said she was hugging her daughter while they were sleeping because the latter was not feeling well. All went well inside the Adrada residence until 4am yesterday when Estelita felt April Rose already cold and not moving.

The caretaker of a nearby beach resort home said their three dogs were barking at the Adrada house between 10pm and 11pm Wednesday but he did not see anything unusual in the area. Dr. Maria Eva Pacificador, Hamtic municipal health officer, who conducted an initial autopsy on April Rose’s remains, said the victim died between 10pm Wednesday and 1am Thursday.

Read the rest of the story here.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A Case "Of Particular Importance to the Philippines"

For some time now, the Subic rape case controversy has merited much discussion and debate in national media. The "midnight" transfer of Lance Corporal Daniel Smith from the Makati City Jail back to the US Embassy has become THE issue of the day. Now, media reportage is delving into the legal interpretation of the VFA i.e. who really should have custody of Lance Corporal Smith, with some quarters calling for the disbarment of several Cabinet secretaries and even some lawyers' group suggesting that the case may spark a constitutional crisis in the country.

Back in 1999 when the Philippine Senate was deliberating the VFA, I was then working as a legislative aide for Senator Roco. I was fortunate enough not only to hear the plenary debates but actually study the VFA and help Roco come up with a stand on the VFA. I still remember it clearly for three reasons: one, because it was one of the few occasions where he was openly impressed with my work; two, it was one of the few occasions wherein I disagreed with his position; and three, it was the first time I heard the word "interoperability."

Back then, the internet was still a novelty and our office had just had an internet connection. Thru the web, I was able to source all the other VFAs and SOFAs (Status of Forces Agreements) entered into by the US with other countries. I even compiled them into matrix form complete with my annotations. After reading my "comprehensive" and "well-researched" work, I remember that Roco was suitably impressed enough to say it out loud (one of the few times he did so).

In the course of my "internet-based" research (my very first), I learned that the main goal of joint US-RP military exercises is to achieve "interoperability" - meaning that the two armed forces must be able to operate as one army during times of conflict or war. After all, that is what allies do: fight against a common enemy. And allies must be able practice in order to operate together seamlessly (i.e. use each other's equipment) and also to prevent accidents (i.e. "friendly-fire") in wartime. Well and good. But previous incidents involving American servicemen and "natives" neccessitate that some form of agreement, a "visiting forces agreement," must be in place to govern the conduct of American servicemen in the Philippines. In other words, before they send out their troops to the Philippines, the Americans wanted some clear-cut commitment and rules on how their troops will be treated in case of "accidents" and incidents like the one involving Smith today.

I ended my report by recommending to Roco that he ratify the VFA. I argued that with our limited DND budget, the only opportunity our troops will have to target practice and hone their military manuevering skills is during the periodic RP-US "wargames" which the Americans will be funding for the most part. Besides, Filipinos at that time wanted the VFA - no less than 55% of the population according to SWS wanted the Senate to ratify the VFA. I thought that since Roco said he was happy with my work, he would heed my recommendation. I was wrong.

Watching the plenary debates in the Senate, I was torn between doing my job of providing my boss with data to support his position and intellectually agreeing with the other side. As a professional, I performed my job and never told anyone outside our office of my views. In the Senate floor, I remember that it was Senator Blas Ople (then Chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee) who was the staunchest and I may say ablest defender of the VFA. He most eloquently argued for the VFA, first be laying down the context: visiting US soldiers in the Philippines are not tourists. They are in the Philippines not of their own accord but upon orders of their government. And since visiting US soldiers would not have found themselves in the Philippines if not for their government, American officials justifiably feel that they have some responsibility and obligation to protect their soldiers from unjust charges. Thus, the need for the VFA.

But Senator Roco objected to the VFA's provisions on the criminal jurisdiction of American troops, particularly Article V section 3 (d) which states:

"Recognizing the responsibility of the United States military authorities to maintain discipline and good order among their forces, Philippine authorities will, upon request by the United States, waive their primary right to exercise jurisdiction except in cases of particular importance to the Philippines. If the Government of the Philippines determines that the case is of particular importance, it shall communicate such determination to the United States authorities within twenty (20) days after the Philippine authorities receive the United States request."

Roco claimed that this provision is a "red herring" (another new expression for me then) designed to confuse our people into thinking that we have the option to keep the offending American. He argued that in reality, the above provision has absolutely no chance of being implemented for no Philippine President can and will say no to the Americans. More than 8 years before the Smith case, Roco saw what will happen.

How I wish I could go over the old Senate transcripts now. If someone (a reporter perhaps) could just read the transcripts, he/she would find that the Smith rape scenario has been foreseen and debated upon by our senators some 8 years ago. At one point, frustrated that the debate on the VFA seemed to focus only on the rape scenario, Roco quipped to me (in private, of course) that perhaps the reason why Filipinos are so obsessed with rape and are too afraid of foreigners raping our women is because we do it to our women, what with gruesome rapes being reported in the tabloids everyday.

In the end, Roco lost together with four (4) other anti-VFA senators namely Pimentel, Guingona, Sergio Osmeña and Loren Legarda. The senators who voted for the VFA are the following:

1. Rodolfo Biazon
2. Blas Ople
3. Franklin Drilon
4. Marcelo Fernan
5. Francisco Tatad
6. Rene Cayetano
7. Tessie Aquino-Oreta
8. Robert Barbers
9. Robert Jaworski
10. Ramon Magsaysay, Jr.
11. John Osmeña
12. Juan Flavier
13. Miriam Santiago
14. Juan Ponce Enrile
15. Tito Sotto
16. Ramon Revilla, Sr.
17. Nikki Coseteng
18. Gringo Honasan

Senators Ople, Fernan, Cayetano, and Barbers have long since passed on but the rest of the senators who voted for the VFA are still with us. With the possible exception of Senator Enrile, all pro-VFA senators are conspicously silent on the issue. I am most particularly interested to hear the opinion of Senators Biazon, Miriam Santiago and Drilon (who are usually outspoken) on the legality of Malacañang's move to transfer back Smith to the US Embassy. In my mind, it is clear that the American request was justified under the VFA because Malacañang do not consider the Subic rape case "of particular importance" to the Philippines. Of course, no Malacañang official will be so brazen as to say it out loud. But the Subic rape case, while sensational, is not big enough for Malacanang to sever its ties with the Americans. GMA is not about to displease Dubya again (remember OFW truck driver Angelo dela Cruz and the Filipino troop withdrawal from the Coalition of the Willing?) over some girl named Nicole, especially when public sympathy is mixed between her and Smith.

The question then is: what would make a case of "particular importance" to Malacañang? That was the question Roco asked in the Senate floor some eight years ago. My answer to that is: if the case is big enough to threaten or bring about the ouster of the occupant in the Palace, then the case would become "of particular importance" to the Philippines.


In case you are interested to read more about the VFA, here are some recommended readings.

1. SWS survey (here)
2. The Visiting Forces Agreement (here) (courtesy of Chan Robles)
3. Wikipedia has a concise backgrounder on the VFA (here)
4. But if you want a more detailed version, I suggest you read the Supreme Court case file (here)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Year That Was in Western Visayas

Without a doubt, the biggest newsmaker in the region for 2006 was the Petron Oil Spill in Guimaras. Several months after it occurred, the tragedy is still being reported not only in local but also in national media outlets. By now, most of the victims have received their monetary claims and the affected shoreline cleaned up and people are ready to put the incident behind them. But up to now, the oil lying in the bottom of the ocean has not been taken out yet as the officials concerned continue to dillydally and bicker on the best method for sucking the oil out. In other words, the bomb is still ticking and the danger is still there but the people are happy (pacified might be a better word) because they have money. Many may have already forgotten that there is still oil in the hull of the ill-fated MV Solar I and it can again wreak havoc on the environment anytime. For my part, the only long-range solution I see to this problem is for government to order the oil companies to use only double-hulled tankers in transporting their oil. This and this alone would prevent further oil leaks in the future.

2006 also saw Milenyo and Reming batter not only Western Visayas but the entire country, with the Bicol Region hardest of all. In a country periodically wracked by typhoons, Milenyo and Reming were among the strongest and most destructive in a long time and thousands of poor people were displaced, hundreds died and millions of crops and properties destroyed. In this sense, 2006 was a year of calamities, both natural and man-made.

But there were bright spots. The 1st Philippine Mt. Everest Team, which was spearheaded by an Ilonggo (Art Valdez of Bacolod City), reached the summit of Mt. Everest. Manny Pacquiao, who is from South Cotabato and speaks Ilonggo fluently, won convincingly over Morales in Las Vegas. Tony Meloto (another Ilonggo from Bacolod/Molo, Iloilo City) of Gawad Kalinga won the Ramon Magsaysay Award and the diwal (a delicious mollusk found only in Capiz) is making a comeback. In her SONA, President Arroyo declared that she will make Western Visayas the tourism capital of the Philippines and promised to earmark funds to improve the region's tourism facilities. Tourist arrivals in Boracay were at an all time high, this despite the hullabaloo created by the government's plan to title and auction off prized lots in the island paradise. The sugarcane planters and millers of Negros are also hopeful that the Ethanol Bill will signal another "boom" in the sugar industry. Lastly, almost all economic indicators are positive - revenue collections are up, inflation down, the peso strong, foreign investments and domestic savings picking up, tourist arrivals at an all-time high, etc. - all of which contributed to merit a credit rating upgrade for the Philippines from international rating agencies.

So with things seemingly looking up, I was not really surprised to read the other day the recent SWS survey finding that 9 out of 10 Filipinos are hopeful that things will get better for them in 2007. This, despite the fact that another SWS survey said that hunger in the country is at an all time high: SWS claims that 19% of families (or 3.3 million Filipinos) experienced "involuntary hunger" in the past 3 months. It only confirmed what is already well-known: that the Filipino is an eternally optimistic person. Even when he is hungry, he is happy. Our optimism, our sunny disposition and rosy outlook of life I think is what differentiates us from the rest of our Asian neighbors and makes us more Latin-European rather than Asian in outlook. Our sunny optimism is both our greatest asset and biggest flaw as a people. I say it is our biggest flaw because it allows us to easily forgive and forget just so we can "move on." And I say this not only for the CDE but the AB class as well: ask the Makati Business Club to conduct a survey of its members and I'll bet many CEOs will agree to free Erap because "he has suffered enough." But at the same time, I believe that our optimism is our greatest asset because it has allowed us to continue surviving as a nation no matter what the calamities, problems and setbacks that come our way. Filipinos laugh in the face of tragedy and we sing even when we are hungry. How else can you explain the popularity of Xtreme Magic Sing when hunger is at an all time high in the country?