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.


Anonymous said...

I would like to congratulate you for this article and your website. You are one of most positive, rational and professional reporter I have come across.
You have not only explained politics in our country clearly but also as honestly and fairly as possible. This incident in Iloilo is an example how “old politics” still is a big influence on how our government is run. I am a “true blue ilonggo” though I reside in the United States for over 20 years, my family visit Iloilo every chance we could. I was saddened with this whole incident that I had found myself religiously reading all the on-line newspaper everyday. It only justified how corruption has become our way of life. It breaks my heart.
I totally agree with you regarding the poor response of the Tupas Party on the Ombudsman order and the whole drama in the Capitol. Ilonggos are not stupid. I know for one that it was all a SHOW. The problem with these “old politicians” is they still think they could get away with it. I was 5 years old when Marcos became President and we had put up with it. Do they think they could get away with it? Tupas and party are being investigated for Graft and Corruption charges and he was served a dismissal order. Does he have no shame? My God he is 72 years old. He had made his position into a family business. His lawyers have constantly extended his TRO, costing him millions of the blood money he had acquired.
You are right, though Ilonggos cannot take the word “trapo.” He is totally an “old politician,” who owed a lot of favors and kissed a lot of behinds to get him where he is now. And there is more them out there. Poor Iloilo Province. I pray for our country everyday.

Oliver M. Mendoza said...

Thank you for your words of encouragement.