Monday, November 30, 2009

Philippine Politics at its Worst

The way I see it, the Maguindanao Massacre was a "massacre waiting to happen." It was bound to happen because practically every household in Maguindanao has a gun and every political clan has their own private armed group. Even before last week's gruesome murders, politicians in Maguindanao have been killing each other for several decades. No one notices it because they kill singly or in small numbers. People generally are not interested if one politician or one mediaman or one human rights lawyer is killed, especially so if it happened in far-away Mindanao. But if say an entire village got razed or, like in the Maguindanao Massacre, 50 persons got killed, then it merits front-page treatment. If it bleeds, it leads.

Pundits are quick to blame the country's supposed "culture of impunity," or Maguindanao's "gun culture" or "culture of violence" as the problem. My favorite Inquirer columnist Randy David also wrote a very thoughtful article along the "Philippines-is-a-weak-state-therefore-families-rule" line. They are in a sense correct but to me the root cause of the problem lies with our system of "political dynastyism."

The framers of the Constitution believed that power concentrated in the hands of a few is intrinsically evil and accordingly included a provision calling for a ban to political dynasties. The problem is Congress has been unable to pass an enabling law for this provision so dynasties continue to proliferate today. In fact, political dynastyism is more the rule rather than the exception in Philippine politics nowadays.

Personally, I believe there are "good" dynasties and there are "bad." Dynasties exist not only in politics: in showbiz there are also dynasties (i.e. KC Concepcion, Richard Gutierrez), in business you have the Ayalas, Gokongweis and Ortigases, even the armed forces has its traditional military families like the Brawners. One example of a "good" dynasty to me is the Roxas clan of Capiz province. Members of the clan (President Manuel Roxas, Senator Gerry Roxas, Congressman Dinggoy Roxas and now, vice presidentiable Mar Roxas) all served with competence and integrity and because of their admirable personal attributes (above-average intellect, diligence in their work, good looks, wealth and political savvy), almost every Roxas during his time has been considered "presidential timber." At the other end of the spectrum are the Ampatuans - their clan patriarch Datu Andal Sr. is semi-literate (he only finished Grade 4), they all look chubby, etc. In fact the only thing they have that could be considered an "asset" in politics is their reputation for explosive violence (this is because in politics and in life in general no one will mess with you if you are known to have a capacity for violence). So if the Roxas clan represent one end of the spectrum and the Ampatuans the worst, I would say that most of the political dynasties fall somewhere in between of the spectrum.

Political power is not only corruptive, it is also very addictive. And a family who has been in power for so long would cling to power much like a drug addict who would beg, steal and kill just to get his fix. The Ampatuans have been so addicted to power that the mere thought of losing it have sent them into a fit of murderous rage.

A family who has been in politics for so long will eventually amass enemies. Thus, dynasties need arms to protect them from people who carry a grudge against them and usually have a string of bodyguards to deter would-be assassins. The so-called "gun culture" exists not only in Maguindanao and muslims are not the only people noted for their love of guns. Ilonggos for one also love to play with guns and most Ilonggo politicians also have a stable of armed bodyguards like the Ampatuans. The only difference is the scale: whereas most politicians here only have a squad-sized or even a platoon-sized group, the Ampatuans have a mind-boggling 300 men under arms which is about the size of a battalion! The sad thing about all this is that even if government incarcerates all the Ampatuans the politics of violence in Maguindanao will not change. The gun culture and dynastyism are so ingrained that it is unrealistic to expect the people to change overnight. Even if the Ampatuans are somehow erased in Maguindanao's political landscape some other warlord will just step in to fill the power vacuum. Ultimately, it is the people of Maguindanao who should be blamed for allowing themselves to be cowed by the guns and wowed by the gold of their politicians.

I have written before here that the only way to put an end to political dynasties is to amend the Constitution limiting to only one term all elective positions. Each term could be changed to four years or six years or even twelve years, but after that, the elected person can no longer seek reelection or run for any other higher (or lower) post again. In this way political dynasties will simply run out of sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, cousins and wives which they could field as candidates and I predict that 20 years after this amendment, all dynasties will be just a memory. The political field will then be dominated by temporary, "short-term" politicians, not the dynasts who in a sense we could describe as "long-term" political professionals.

But the question is: do the people want it? I believe not.

The Filipino is not a democrat or a republican. You can see and sense it in the very hierarchical and stratified relationship structure of our society. And I am talking here not only about the usual "rich-and-poor" hierarchy because even in squatter areas there exists subtle ranks or pecking orders among individuals. While our textbooks tell us all men are created equal, our society teaches us that some men are more equal than others. Deep inside the Filipino is an aristocrat. Why else, for all our society's inequalities, injustices and impoverishment, have the Communists and other so-called reformers failed to get the masses to rise up, riot and revolt?

Aside from an "aristocratic" streak, the Filipino also want political dynasties to stay because he benefits from them. Filipinos expect politicians to solve their problems for them (and in most cases this means their personal problems). One of the reasons why political dynasties are so dominant today is because they are often more willing to go to great lengths to help their constituents than the "short-term" politician. This is because political dynasties think long term: a politician who has no intention of putting up a dynasty only thinks of the next election while a political patriarch thinks about how to secure the election victory of his still teen-aged son. Thus, he is more willing to spend resources in organizing his supporters, quicker to help needy constituents in order to chalk up life-long debts of gratitude, and more careful to commit political mistakes.

Of course, "going to great lengths" is very relative and it could mean a lot of things to a lot of people. It could mean working harder than most, being more accommodating and friendlier than most and so forth. For Ninoy Aquino "going to great lengths" meant offering himself as the proverbial sacrificial lamb so that our people can be rid of a tyrant while in the case of the Ampatuans, "going the extra mile" meant massacreing their political opponents. By offering his life for his country Ninoy Aquino (wittingly or unwittingly) created an unassailable political dynasty while by killing their political opponents in a most gruesome and shocking way the Ampatuans effectively committed political hara kiri. Today, even their powerful friends are powerless to protect them in the face of intense media glare and public pressure.

Monday, November 23, 2009

It's All About Who Gets What

Earlier I wrote in this blog that the 2010 elections in Iloilo City will be fought along Liberal vs. Lakas Party lines. I always presumed that Mayor Jerry Trenas and Vice Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog after their break-up with the Gonzalezes will unite and run under the Liberal Party because both have ties to former Senate President and LP Chair Franklin Drilon, the acknowledged LP stalwart in Iloilo City. Jed is said to be a distant relative of Drilon, Trenas at one time worked with Drilon at the ACCRA law office, and all three are from Molo. I was dead wrong.

As the last few weeks have shown, it is now apparent that the party higher ups are not willing (or are not able) to bankroll the campaign of LP candidates in Iloilo City. With Senator Mar Roxas out of the presidential race, the LP suddenly lost its most valuable campaign financier and since campaign contributions to Senator Noynoy Aquino’s campaign have yet to start pouring in, the LP’s finances are still uncertain. Since Iloilo City is touted to be his bailiwick, the responsibility of building up the LP rests in the hands of Drilon. The problem is Drilon is said to be tight-fisted (ku-om kamot) more so now because he needs to concentrate all his financial resources on his own Senate reelection bid. I have it from a good source that the reason why Mayor Trenas opted to join the Nacionalista Party instead of the LP was because Senator Manny Villar offered to give him P20 million to help his campaign while Drilon had nothing to offer but just the spectre of an Aquino presidency (and all the “perks” that goes with it). I guess Mayor Jerry’s answer to Drilon’s offer was: “your proposal is good Frank, but I need cash.” Mabilog for his part is said to be contemplating joining the NPC (Nationalist People’s Coalition) but I frankly do not know if he was promised anything by Danding Cojuangco. Undersecretary Larry Jamora, who is closely associated with Congressman Iggy Arroyo, is with Kampi and is lobbying the GMA administration to declare Iloilo City a “free zone.” While some pundits are predicting a possible Trenas-Jamora team-up (especially after the Trenas-Mabilog negotiations bogged down), I honestly cannot see it happening because Joe III Espinosa (Mayor Jerry’s bilas and vice mayoral candidate) has an axe to grind with Congressman Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo because he is the person responsible for breaking the centuries-old stranglehold of the Espinosa family in the Muelle Loney Port.

Not many people realize this but I believe the root cause of all the party hopping and political free-for-all in Iloilo City can be traced to the failure of the redistricting bill to pass in the Senate. If the city was successfully split into two districts, the Trenas-Gonzalez alliance would still be intact because one party would not have to sacrifice his personal ambition for the other. The blame for the bill’s demise rests entirely on Senator Noynoy Aquino, the Chairman of the Committee on Local Government, and former Senator Drilon whom Secretary Raul Gonzalez pointed to as the one who convinced Aquino to stonewall the bill in the Senate. Senator Aquino has repeatedly said that Iloilo City is not yet qualified because its population has yet to reach 500,000 and he has refused to abide by the previous Supreme Court decision on the Makati redistricting case which clearly establishes that Iloilo City is entitled to another representative. Whatever the case, Noynoy can simply refuse to calendar the bill because that is his prerogative as Chairman of the Local Government Committee (which is precisely what he did). Since there was no hearing held, people will never know whether Iloilo City is indeed entitled to another congressman and we will just have to content ourselves with rhetorical and hypothetical discussions on the matter.

For years, Drilon has been plotting the demise of the Gonzalezes and has been aching to be acknowledged as the sole kingpin of Iloilo City. Recall that in 2007, Drilon attempted to run for congressman but seeing perhaps that the field has been totally dominated by the Gonzalez-Trenas group thought better of it. It must have been utterly humiliating for no less than the chairman of a party to have to admit to his partymates that he is not capable of winning in his own bailiwick and I heard that Drilon’s credibility within the Liberal Party suffered because of this. This may partly explain why DENR Secretary Lito Atienza and other party stalwarts questioned his leadership which led to the splitting up of the Liberal Party into an Atienza-wing and a Drilon-wing.

Of course, it should be noted that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the Liberal Party plotting to defeat the administration Lakas-Kampi-CMD in Iloilo City. Putting Gonzalez out of commission is a perfectly valid and legitimate ambition on the part of Drilon. After all, that’s what politicians and parties are all about: the attainment and (ideally) the judicial use of political power.

But what I find objectionable is Drilon’s “sneaky” manner of attaining political dominance via the “divide and conquer” method of recruiting an enemy to conquer their enemy. “Divide and conquer” as a tactic is as old as politics itself and is usually employed by parties who face a very formidable opponent (the Spaniards and the Americans used it with much success on us Filipinos). The LP in the past has tried and failed to dominate Iloilo City and it is obvious that the only way they can win is by driving a wedge between Mayor Trenas and the Gonzalezes. By blocking the passage of the redistricting bill, the LP effectively created a scenario where Trenas had to choose between his loyalty to the Gonzalezes and his loyalty to himself. Drilon the political animal probably knew Trenas well enough to guess that the latter would certainly choose himself. What Drilon failed to see was that Trenas the political pragmatist would choose Manny Villar’s money rather than his appeal to his sense of delicadeza and debt of gratitude to Cory Aquino (it was Cory, after all, who gave Trenas his first big break in politics by appointing him OIC councillor in 1986). But if Trenas could overlook his debt to Gonzalez (who resuscitated his moribund political career in the mid-1990s), I could not see why he would have any residual loyalty to Cory Aquino’s son Noynoy because it seems that Mayor Trenas’s sense of gratitude does not extend to the sons of his “debtors.”

In the coming weeks, we can expect the candidates to regale us with their plans and lofty reform programs. But let’s not kid ourselves. At the end of the day, it’s all about who gets to wield the power and enjoy the perks of government.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Debt and Gratitude: How Gonzalez Jumpstarted the Political Career of Trenas

As a small boy my father taught me never to get caught in a situation where I will find myself indebted to another person. My late father was an extremely proud man and as a child he often admonished me whenever I took something or accepted a favour from someone. “Indi ka mag-molestiya” I remember were the words that he repeatedly drilled into us his children which to him means not only getting into financial debt but also includes paying your own way, earning your keep, advancing thru your own merit and not being a burden to others. But as I became older I found out that it is virtually impossible not to get into someone else’s debt in one way or another. "No man is an island" and as we go thru life we indubitably accumulate debts of gratitude along the way. Thus, life is not so much about learning how to avoid but how to honor your debts.

I got into thinking about this subject of debt and gratitude because people in Iloilo City are currently talking about how Mayor Jerry Trenas is a big ingrate who does not know how to pay his debt of gratitude to the Gonzalezes. Mayor Trenas himself admitted during his press conference that he “owes a lot” to the Gonzalezes and this got me curious enough to investigate how exactly did he get himself indebted to them. Here is the inside story:

Even at a young age, Buenaventura Geronimo “Jerry” Perez Trenas already displayed above-average intelligence and leadership qualities that seemed to pre-destine him to a life in politics. After placing 11th during the 1982 bar examinations, he joined the prestigious ACCRA law office of Senators Edgardo Angara and Franklin Drilon in Makati City. He then went back to Iloilo City to manage the law firm founded by his grandfather, the Trenas, Trenas & Rubias Law Office. Since his father and grandfather have been lawyering for the Iloilo’s landed and merchant families since the time of President Manuel Quezon, Trenas easily established a name in local circles. He made a good living out of his law practice because he inherited not only his father’s and grandfather’s law office but most of their “old rich” clients as well. Aside from that, Trenas also married well: his wife Rosalie belongs to the Sarabia clan which owns a chain of optical shops, pawnshops and other business interests in Iloilo and Manila.

In 1986, Jerry Trenas made a very auspicious start in local politics when Cory Aquino appointed him councilor of Iloilo City (along with Mayor Tita Caram) in gratitude for his efforts during the anti-Marcos struggle. Because of his impressive credentials, was earmarked early on as a “mayorable.” But after such a promising start, things began to slowly unravel for the boyish-looking politician from Mandurriao. When he first ran for mayor he was defeated by the populist and popular politician from Molo, Mansueto “Mansing” Malabor. I remember this clearly because my clan supported his candidacy by virtue of my uncle being his law partner. I also remember that the reason he lost was because the people perceived him to be “elitist” due to his being a senator’s grandson, his being an Atenean, his being married into one of the richest families in Iloilo City and his aloof demeanour which Ilonggos tended to misinterpret as arrogance or snobbishness.

After his electoral fiasco, Jerry Trenas was in a political limbo. He was bitter, suffering from depression and he lost all his enthusiasm for politics. Seeing its damaging effects to him both psychologically and financially, his family swore that they will never again allow him to run for any public office. Most of his supporters have also abandoned him, thinking he is a “has-been.” Disheartened and disillusioned - this was the mental state of Jerry Trenas when Raul Gonzalez, Sr. (who was then a congressman) found him quite by accident eating at the foodcourt of MaryMart Mall sometime in 2000. At that time, Raul Senior was scouting around for a candidate to replace Malabor who was then serving his third and last term as mayor in 2001. Previously, Gonzalez had invited Congressman Paeng Lopez-Vito and Vice Mayor Guilling dela Llana to run for mayor under his ticket but both turned down his offer. With the 2001 elections fast approaching and still no mayoral candidate in sight, Gonzalez on impulse offered the slot to Trenas right there and then in the middle of MaryMart Mall. Trenas initially was non-committal (he did not refuse but he did not accept either) to the offer. He said that he had lost his appetite for politics and that he had already promised his loved ones that he will retire from politics. He also added that he was practically insolvent having spent all his money on his two previous attempts. But after several more meetings and subsequent negotiations, Trenas was eventually prevailed upon by the elder Gonzalez to run but only on the condition that they will share campaign expenses 25%-75% (that is, 25% Trenas, 75% Gonzalez). The elder Gonzalez agreed and the rest, as they say, is history. With his political base (mainly the Ilonggo middle-class) plus the Gonzalez machinery vote, Trenas handily won as mayor in 2001, then in 2004 and overwhelmingly in 2007.

I am sure that Gonzalez presently is ruing the day he made that decision to invite Trenas to his camp because, by resuscitating his moribund political career, he unwittingly bred a serious opponent for his son. Gonzalez Senior did everything to support Mayor Trenas and did absolutely nothing to antagonize him. He treated him with due respect, used his national influence to assist him in running Iloilo City, shouldered most of the political bills and even attempted to create a new congressional district for him when his term as mayor was up. So it would be perfectly natural for the Gonzalez camp to feel bad and call him an ingrate. Civil society (NGOs, Catholic Church, middle class groups, etc.) has a hoity toity word to describe this behaviour of politicians who don’t know how to pay their debts of gratitude and who abandon long-time allies for their personal advancement. I believe the term they use is “political opportunism.”

In hindsight, I still think Raul Senior did not err in choosing him because Trenas proved himself more than equal to the task of running Iloilo City. Trenas “raised the bar” so to speak for all the succeeding mayors to surpass and I think the people after having “tasted” his brand of leadership would not stand for another “Malabor-like” politician (i.e. someone from Molo again) to head City Hall. Ultimately, the people of Iloilo City benefited from Raul Senior’s fateful decision back in 2000 to revive the sputtering career of Jerry Trenas. And if Mayor Jerry became too big for his shoes, well that’s par for the course in the great game that is politics. Still, Gonzalez Senior did not deserve the treatment that he got from Mayor Trenas after all the things he had done for him.

Ilonggos innately do not like people who do not know how to pay their debts. In Iloilo City, individuals who have a “sense of entitlement” and “debt amnesia” are treated like pariahs, shunned and avoided by people. I am told that Mayor Trenas in the last couple of weeks has been trying to “collect” from his barangay captains, reminding them of past favors and the innumerable assistance he extended them and even threatening to fire their casuals in City Hall. To his chagrin, most of the barangay captains refused to honor their debts of gratitude to him. In effect, Trenas is currently getting a dose of his own medicine for how can he expect to “collect” when he himself doesn’t know how to pay back his own debt to the Gonzalezes. Failing to pay your debt makes it easy for people in turn not to pay their debts to you. Ilonggos do not like ingrates and come election day, I believe the voters will demonstrate what they really think about persons who do not know how to honor their debts of gratitude.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hitler Hates Erap

Watch this. Truly hilarious.... but right on the money.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Political Battle Lines Drawn in Iloilo

With barely a month before the COMELEC-appointed deadline for the filing of certificates of candidacies, the political battle lines are firming up in Iloilo. Most recently, outgoing Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Trenas proclaimed that he is vying for the city’s lone congressional post thus setting the stage for an exciting battle royale between him and his erstwhile political ally Congressman Raul Gonzalez, Jr. In the coming weeks, people expect to see further realignments and the completion of candidates’ slates.

Earlier this month, House Majority Leader Art Defensor formally declared that he will again run for governor pitting him against Barotac Viejo Mayor Raul Tupas, son of outgoing Governor Niel Tupas, Sr. Held at the posh Hotel del Rio, Defensor’s coming-out party was an impressive “show-of-force” since it was attended by four out of the five incumbent congressmen of Iloilo, almost the entire Sangguniang Panlalawigan and 32 out of the 43 mayors of the province. For his part, Governor Tupas announced that he intends to run for congressman in the Fourth District against Representative Ferjenel Biron while another son, Niel Tupas, Jr. is vying for reelection in the Fifth District against the come-backing Rolex Suplico. Provincial Administrator Manuel “Boy” Mejorada, Tupas’s right-hand man, is planning to contest the Second District seat of Congresswoman Judy Syjuco along with Pavia Mayor Cadio Gorriceta. Governor Tupas has yet to proclaim a bet for the First District and it seems that Janet Garin will be the only incumbent representative which will have a relatively easy reelection bid.

It is also apparent that the 2010 elections in Iloilo will be fought along the Liberal Party vs. Lakas-Kampi lines. The Liberal Party has a strong “presence” both in the province and the city and among all the various opposition parties, it is only the group capable of fielding a respectable slate of candidates in all positions to be contested from governor down to municipal councilors. With several “evenly-matched” candidates, the 2010 race promises to be a very exciting one in Iloilo.

Admittedly, I am one of those who wished that Mayor Trenas would run for vice mayor instead and remain with the Gonzalez group because not only will it break the existing “political equilibrium” in Iloilo City but personally, it will also threaten to upset harmonious relationships between family members. Definitely, there is truth to the saying that “all politics is local.” And if all politics is local, then local politics is indubitably personal. In my family for example, my uncle Atty. Greg Rubias is the law partner of Mayor Trenas while I on the other hand work as legislative consultant for Congressman Raul Gonzalez, Jr. and count among my close friends another Gonzalez son. I am sure like me there are many Ilonggos out there who find themselves in a similar situation being forced to choose between the Gonzalez and Trenas camps. Mandurriao ABC President Ricky Mendoza (no relation) in an interview over Aksyon Radyo perhaps captured the general sentiment when he said that “masubo gid kag daw indi ko mabal-an himu-on ko” in reaction to Trenas’s decision. That is why even though someone “in the know” already told me two days before that Trenas is indeed running for congressman, I refused to believe it and I was still hoping that Mayor Trenas will see the “wisdom” of Secretary Gonzalez’s plan i.e. that in case something happens to him midway into his term (assuming he wins), City Hall would remain in good hands and not inadvertently fall into the hands of a “clueless” person. In fairness to the old man Gonzalez, he tried everything to avert a fight - everyone in Iloilo City knows that the bill re-apportioning the city into two districts was tailor-fit for Mayor Jerry – and was nothing but supportive of Mayor Jerry's political career til now. But perhaps it was wishful thinking on my part to expect a politician to set aside personal ambition for the sake of sentimentality and such “foolish notions” like loyalty, camaraderie, harmony, etc. because we all know that a politician’s loyalty to a group ends where personal ambition begins.

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Ati Calling the Negro Black

Last week, Iloilo City Vice Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog (who has declared his intention to run for mayor) strongly denied in local media that he is a traditional politician. His exact words were: “I am not here to perpetuate myself in power but to serve and help others serve in the future. I am not a trapo as others are saying because I don’t make politics my source of livelihood. Our family has no intention to put up a political dynasty. The ultimate indication of traditional politics is perpetuation in power.” He also added that he will retire from politics when he is 50 (he is 44 years old today).

If he intends to honor this promise, then that means he will serve as mayor for only two terms. I somehow find it hard to believe that someone who is seemingly in such a hurry and so atat na atat in becoming mayor would so easily give it up when, as he said, “he reaches 50 years old.” But what happens if there is a so-called “public clamor” (which is so easily manufactured in this country, especially if you have money and media savvy) for him to complete his three-terms? Will he then succumb and use this “clamor” as an excuse for breaking his promise?

At 50 a man is just at the height of his powers. But at this age, Mabilog would like us to believe that he would retire unceremoniously. I somehow find that totally incredible because if history teaches us anything it is that power is intoxicating and even the most steadfast of men easily succumb to its allure. In the movie Lord of the Rings, we saw that the ring of power was not given to the Race of Men, Dwarfs or the Elves but to the Hobbit precisely because Hobbits are simple creatures and lack the ambition to dominate others. But even the happy-go-lucky Hobbit Frodo Baggins did not give up the ring of power so easily (he had to be forced to do it by his sidekick Samwise Gamgee) and even Frodo’s uncle, Bilbo Baggins, was destroyed by the ring of power. Alas, Hobbits exist only in fantasy but the movie Lord of the Rings offers a perfect analogy of the corrupting influence of political power.

In real life, we have as a perfect example the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Marcos, whom even his detractors would grudgingly describe as a brilliant guy, was elected president in 1965 when he was only 47 years old and again reelected in 1969. His term should have ended in 1973 but the problem was, in 1973 Marcos would have only been 55 years old. He rightly felt that he was too young to retire – and many Filipinos at that time sincerely agreed with him - and this was one of his personal justifications why he declared Martial Law and perpetuated himself in power. I still hear oldtimers say that Marcos started out as a good man and that he became corrupted after staying too long in power; a record-breaking 20 years. Today, whenever I hear the word trapo, I think of Ferdinand Marcos. He has become the perfect embodiment of a traditional politician.

So how do you define a trapo? The concept of the trapo is very hard to capture in words but, much like pornography which likewise eludes definition, Filipinos usually know a trapo when they see one. Trapos we are told are politicians who have no ideology and are interested only in acquiring power for personal gratification. Thus, he switches parties and abandons allies when it is no longer convenient to his political ambitions. They are persons who will do anything and say everything just to get elected even though they lack the necessary qualifications, intelligence and track record to govern. As such, a trapo is someone who engages in mere tokenism and is not really after instituting reforms and improving the lot of the people. Also, trapos love to call attention to themselves and often surround themselves with sycophants (or mga sipsip).

Vice Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog is a trapo is because his pronouncements often do not jive with his actions. For example, he said that he will not engage in mudslinging because “that is the trapo way.” But in labelling Secretary Gonzalez a trapo, isn’t he engaged in mudslinging already? People cannot be expected to trust someone who says one thing and does another. And because of his “aggressive” style of politics, people get the impression that he will say and do anything to win as mayor. Mabilog calling Secretary Gonzalez a traditional politician is like the ati calling the negro black. In fact, even hard-core trapos in Iloilo City are hesitant (nahuya) and not quite capable of doing the things that Vice Mayor Mabilog has been doing for the past six years to further his political career. I mean, handing out medals which have your face plastered on the back is definitely raising the bar of trapo-hood a notch higher (or lower if you like). At least, when Secretary Gonzalez was Mabilog’s age he was definitely not a trapo: he was busy fighting the Marcos dictatorship and lawyering for jailed opposition figures (like Ninoy Aquino) then. At least Raul Gonzalez, Sr. had the courage to stand up for his convictions back when it was not politically convenient and dangerous to do so. Mabilog, on the other hand, served actively the Marcos regime by heading its youth organization Kabataang Barangay in Molo. Even at a young age, he was already a trapo.

Since he is vying for the highest post in the city, Mabilog should expect his track record to be scrutinized. It is not my intention to denigrate Mabilog but I would be amiss in my duties as a columnist if I fail to point out what I see as his failings as a leader because in the end, it is the people of Iloilo City who will eventually suffer if we elect, for lack of information, another “clueless” person to head City Hall. I am not engaging in mudslinging; far from it, I am raising these points merely to elicit information and draw out answers from our vice mayor. Kung wala kalayo, indi maluto ang bibingka and it is only thru the heat of intense media scrutiny that issues are joined and the people enlightened. This is why I would like to end this entry with a challenge in the form of a question. “What life-altering things have you really done for our people besides handing out “tokens” and palliatives like birthday cakes, t-shirts and caps, medals and the like, and being “extra-friendly” and very accommodating to people? What concrete steps have you done to address the real, “big-ticket” problems of the city such as the periodic flooding, the brown-outs, the lack of economic opportunities, the squatter problem and urban congestion, the burgeoning illegal drug trade and the deteriorating public school system in Iloilo City?” If your excuse is that as Vice Mayor you do not have the power and resources to address these problems, then my next question to you is: “As Presiding Officer of the City Council, what noteworthy ordinances and policies have you personally initiated and enacted that have helped improve the plight of Ilonggos? ”

Please, please Mr. Vice Mayor carefully explain to us, enlighten us, convince us why you deserve our trust and our vote as mayor of Iloilo City.