Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Treñas and Mabilog Owe Their Victory to the Iloilo Chinese Community

The Comelec has already released their final tabulation and the numbers are quite compelling: For Congressman – Treñas 101,304 votes, Gonzalez Jr. 76,478 For Mayor – Mabilog 80,654 Gonzalez Sr. 65,509 and for Vice Mayor Joe III 63,319 Baronda 58,659. Treñas made a clean sweep of the city, besting Gonzalez Jr. in all of Iloilo City’s seven districts, while Mabilog won over Gonzalez Sr. in all but two districts, namely City Proper and Lapuz. Despite having the majority of barangay chairmen (138 to be exact), Gonzalez won in only 41 barangays while Treñas-Mabilog won in 139 out of the city’s 180 barangays. The Treñas-Mabilog victory will surely go down as one of the most exciting come-from-behind victory in Iloilo City election history. Today, coffee shop pundits are having a field day analysing and giving their two-cents worth analysis of how the duo managed to secure their upset victory.

Up until the eve of the elections, almost everyone in Iloilo City expected the Gonzalezes to win. On May 8 (Saturday), the Gonzalezes held a massive show of force thru their Miting de Avance at Freedom Grandstand which was attended by around 35,000 of their supporters. The day prior to that, the local Iglesia ni Cristo Chapter announced that they are supporting the Gonzalez father-and-son tandem (and Councilor Jam Baronda for vice mayor) and this seemed to many observers as the final nail in the coffin for the candidacies of Treñas and Mabilog. All throughout the campaign period, the Gonzalez camp have been busy “dishing out” various propaganda offensives which both Mabilog and Treñas found hard to counter, such as Jed’s transcript of records and Efren Gimeo’s land scam expose. It was also commonly believed that Treñas and Mabilog were having cash flow problems and that they did not have enough money to match the resources of the Gonzalezes. Faced with such daunting prospects, all that Treñas and Mabilog could do in response was to kneel down and pray for God’s help. And God did seem to hear their prayers, if we were to judge by the succeeding events.

Coffee shop pundits claim that Treñas and Mabilog won not so much because they had more money and the bigger machinery but more because the Gonzalez machinery collapsed on election eve. It is said that the 35,000-strong Women’s Brigade collapsed on the eve of elections because, seeing that the other camp was giving out P500, many of its members felt insulted receiving only P300 as “salary.” Brimming with confidence of their impending win, some Gonzalez barangay captains “withheld” the funds intended for election day purposes. In fact, a few days after the elections many of them went to Quintin Salas in order to return the “election budgets” they failed to release to the people.

Contrary to expectations and much to everybody’s surprise, the Treñas-Mabilog camp had money to spend on election day - their ward leaders were distributing P500 to P750 per voter. A source told me that the Treñas-Mabilog camp was in fact awash with cash because the local Filipino-Chinese Community delivered on their commitments and donated heavily at the last minute. And the local Filipino-Chinese community not only extended financial assistance, they actually came out in droves to vote for Treñas and Mabilog on election day, as a friend who regularly volunteers for the PPCRV observed. Thus, the “Chinese vote” effectively nullified the solid “Iglesia ni Cristo vote” of the Gonzalezes. And most Filipino-Chinese business owners had a “multiplier effect” since they compelled all their employees to vote straight for the Treñas-Mabilog ticket.

Thus, the May 2010 elections may very well signal a “paradigm shift” in how politics is played in Iloilo City. Power has now shifted from the barangay captains to the new local “king-makers” – the local businessman. The local Filipino-Chinese community, which control 90% of the businesses here, has demonstrated that they now have sufficient influence and clout to determine the outcome of elections in Iloilo City.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Most Expensive Election Ever

The May 2010 elections will probably go down as the most expensive election in Iloilo City history. Almost everyone I know in Iloilo City received something (from as low as P200 to as high as P1,500), with some accepting money from two or more candidates (a practice termed locally as “double cropping”). Even the Ilonggo middle-class, which traditionally frowns on such vote-buying practices, eagerly grabbed the chance to make a few fast bucks (although the middle-class prefers to have their money delivered to them in their gated subdivisions ala “door-to-door,” unlike their poorer cousins). The very few persons I know who did not get any money did so more because of personal choice – they refused to accept the money offered to them – but the fact that they were offered money is an indication of the rampant and pervasive vote-buying that occurred during the recently-concluded elections.

It is said that the Gonzalezes spent around P200 million while Treñas and Mabilog reportedly spent P200 million and P100 million respectively during the elections. Summed up, it amounts to a mind-boggling P500 million! 500 million pesos – this is more or less the total amount of money which circulated in Iloilo City during the last elections. This is probably the reason why SM City and Robinsons mall are so full of people these past few days. People are buying groceries or shopping for clothes or upgrading their cellphones, and I notice that the neighbourhood tambays are drinking beer instead of their usual whiskey or gin.

In previous elections, people were happy to receive 200 pesos. Today, voters feel “insulted” if they receive P200 pesos. This is because the average “going-rate” for a vote is P500 to P1,000 even, and the ward leader who distributes a smaller amount is automatically suspected of pocketing campaign funds by his people.

Needless to say, this development is very disturbing for me because now elections will be decided on how large a candidates’s campaign kitty is and not based on his credentials and achievements. Money blurs our people’s vision and it affects their judgement. I mean, it was quite obvious that among the three candidates for mayor (Gonzalez, Jamora and Mabilog) it is Jed who is the least-qualified and least-prepared to tackle the problems of our city. Among the candidates for congressman (Gonzalez, Malabor and Treñas), I believe it was Jun Gonzalez who is the most qualified candidate because he would have entered Congress as a senior legislator and would have carried with him the clout inherent to a third-termer lawmaker.

The bitter lesson for all politicians is this: people do not reward good performance. That is why I would not be surprised if Treñas (should he be elected Congressman) would discontinue the Free Medical Referral program instituted by the Gonzalezes. For years Congressman Gonzalez has been helping countless poor people thru this free hospitalization program and look what it got him: nada. On election day, voters remember not the service but only the money. I have always thought that Iloilo City voters are different and more politically sophisticated than their cousins in the interior towns (where vote-buying has long been institutionalized). I guess I was wrong.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Opponents to Announce That Raul Gonzalez Sr. Will “Die” on May 9

With only three days to go ‘til election day local politicians are busy hatching up ingenious disinformation and black propaganda operations designed to mislead voters, the most recent of which was the surfacing of two alleged RPA-ABB hitmen who were supposedly hired by Secretary Gonzalez to assassinate Mayor Jerry Treñas and his brother Francis Treñas. As it turned out, the assassination plot against Mayor Treñas has been proven to be a hoax, a “scenario” concocted by the “Pulahans” within his camp to win public sympathy and boost his electoral chances this coming May 10 elections. The local RPA-ABB leadership has issued a press statement condemning the two supposed “assassins” and denying any knowledge of the supposed plot.

Whoever wrote the script for the assassination “drama” may have stayed in the hills too long to appreciate the realities and present-day dynamics of Iloilo City politics. Politicians here do not kill each other. Voters here are educated and politically sophisticated. And elections here are more like a fiesta, a “happy affair” wherein residents partake of the politicians’ goodies. Hence, when Ka Noli and Ka Nonoy surfaced to expose the “Treñas assassination plot” hardly anyone in Iloilo City gave their statement any credence. Veteran radioman Novi Guazo hit the nail right in the head when he said that “Raul Gonzalez, Sr. may be a shock absorber, but he is no killer.” People may find him offensively outspoken at times and many may not agree with his politics, but people have seen that throughout his public career Secretary Gonzalez has had no history of political violence. This is why the Treñas strategy of labelling the Gonzalezes as the “Ampatuans of Iloilo City” has failed to stick. The label failed to stick simply because Iloilo City is not Maguindanao.

I have it from a good source that political opponents of the Gonzalezes are again concocting a desperate, last-ditch stratagem to win the elections. The plan basically involves announcing on the eve of the elections (thru text messages and local radio) that Secretary Gonzalez has collapsed, brought to the hospital and died. Another variation of the “script” involves Secretary Gonzalez withdrawing his candidacy for mayor (due to health reasons) in favour of Undersecretary Larry Jamora or his wife, Dra. Pacita Gonzalez. The supposed “announcement” will be made on the eve of May 8 (Saturday) and early morning of May 9 (Sunday).

This time-worn strategy of sowing disinformation during the eve of elections may be effective in far-flung municipalities but will not work in urban centers like Iloilo City. For one, news travels very fast in a city as small as Iloilo City either thru formal channels (TV, radio and print media) and informal channels (i.e. “Radio Puwak” grapevine) unlike, say in a municipality like Carles or Badiangan, which has isolated island barangays or mountain barangays. Also, the people of Iloilo City are educated, intelligent and politically sophisticated enough to distinguish true from false propaganda. Aside from this, today’s modern communications technology has made it very easy to counter such dastardly operations and disseminate the right information thru text messaging and mass media.

In answering the anticipated black propaganda, Secretary Gonzalez could perhaps borrow the immortal words of Mark Twain, the famous American author who at one time was erroneously reported by the media to be dead, which goes: “the news of my death was greatly exaggerated.”

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Don’t Overestimate Your Strengths, Never Underestimate Your Enemy

With barely a week to go many are saying that the elections in Iloilo City are all over save for the counting. Mayor Jerry’s campaign is currently hobbled by money problems and internal squabbling while Vice Mayor Jed is presently facing “resume padding” allegations. For his part Undersecretary Larry Jamora’s ratings seems to be picking up at the expense of Mabilog, but with only less than a week to go ‘til election day it is “too little too late.” Maybe if the campaign period was six months, Jamora would have a chance of winning. Thus, many coffee shop pundits are predicting a Gonzalez-Gonzalez-Pesina sweep following the disintegration of the Treñas and Mabilog camps and the meager uptick of Jamora’s rating.

This is probably the reason why almost no one in Iloilo wants to place a bet on Treñas and Mabilog. Ilonggos will bet on anything and there are a lot of “election betting” going on in the city right now. People are placing bets from as low as 100 pesos to several million pesos. My source at the DPWH told me that private contractors were setting up a P2 million pot but that the pro-Treñas and pro-Mabilog contractors backed out of the deal a week ago. The deal fell through because the pro-Treñas and pro-Mabilog contractors reportedly wanted only to bet on who will win in Arevalo, not in the entire city - suggesting that the Gonzalezes already have “locked-in” Jaro, Lapaz, Lapuz, Mandurriao, Molo and City Proper. Now I don’t know about you but I understand that DPWH contractors have very sharp political senses and I would put more credence on their reading of the political situation more than any “scientifically-done” mock poll or two-bit “survey-survey.”

As I see it, Mayor Treñas and Vice Mayor Mabilog made two grave errors: 1.) they underestimated their opponents and 2.) they both overestimated their strengths. These are two very basic rules in politics which even neophyte politicians know which Treñas and Mabilog in their hubris failed to observe. “How has it come to this?” is a question Mayor Jerry Treñas and Vice Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog must be probably ruing today.

At the onset of the campaign period, the two were quite popular and seemed very sure of winning. Recall that at the start of the campaign period, Congressman Raul Gonzalez, Jr. was being depicted by the Treñas camp as “lawlaw” while the old man Gonzalez was being derided by the Mabilog camp for his being “hindi na katuknol.” Since the father is “hindi na katuknol” and the son is “lawlaw,” Treñas and Mabilog must have thought that they could convince enough barangay leaders to abandon the Gonzalezes and join their quest for personal glory. But the Gonzalezes were able to answer the issues against them and their group has remained solid. Today no one is calling Congressman Gonzalez “lawlaw” anymore after he bared his impressive legislative track record (6 laws authored) while Secretary Gonzalez has on several occasions compellingly displayed that while his body is weak, his spirit (or “dungan”) is still very strong. And contrary to their expectations, the “Grupo Gonzalez” political machinery did not “implode” but remains as formidable as ever. It counts among its members 138 out of the total 180 Barangay Captains and majority of Barangay officials in the city, the 35,000-strong Women’s Brigade of Dra. Pacita Gonzalez, and the volunteer youth group ICYGG (Iloilo City Youth for Good Government) led by Dennis Gonzalez.

On the other hand, Mabilog could not satisfactorily answer the “resume padding” allegation against him. His answer – that he is a “late bloomer” – is seen by many as a further indication of his glibness and penchant for exaggerating his self-importance. It is the height of arrogance to compare one’s self to Bill Gates and Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who needless to say are giants in world history. (For the information of the good vice mayor, Churchill was not a drop-out. His grades were not good enough for Oxford University so he went to SandhurstBritain’s equivalent to our Philippine Military Academy here – where he graduated, earning a commission as a second lieutenant in the cavalry unit Our Queen’s Own Hussars. He then distinguished himself serving as a brave young officer in India, Egypt and South Africa during the Boer War. He parlayed his war exploits into a career in politics and the rest, as they say, is history.)

But Vice Mayor Mabilog’s problems is nothing compared to the problems Mayor Treñas is facing presently. It is said that Treñas fabricated the “security-threat” story so that he will have a valid reason to just stay in his house and not go out campaigning because he has already run out of funds. Various Treñas camp insiders have confirmed that Manny Villar’s money is not forthcoming and that the promised financial contributions from his beloved Chinese community was less than they expected. Money is the lifeblood of politics. Without money, the gears of politics will not roll so I don’t know how Mayor Treñas intends to win this election without sufficient money. That is why I believe, with things as they currently are in Iloilo City, that the elections are all but over save for the counting.

Monday, May 03, 2010

The Ten “Do Nots” of Iloilo City Politics

1. Do Not Make Promises You Cannot Deliver. A politician who habitually breaks a promise eventually loses credibility with the people and other politicians. “Word of honor” still counts for something in Iloilo politics and a politico who keeps his word is admired by the people. Before making a promise, you must first make sure that you can deliver on that promise. For example, do not promise that you can deliver 90 barangay captains when you have not yet secured their support.

2. Do Not Abuse Your Power. For example, dismissing 900-plus City Hall casuals just because you think they are “sympathizing with the enemy” is pure abuse of power. And hiring a new set of casuals (who presumably are “loyal” to you) and not paying them for three months is likely to be interpreted as another example of how politicians exercise their power capriciously. Nothing will get people to hate you more than by depriving them and delaying their incomes. Firing old but “disloyal” employees and replacing them with new but supposedly “loyal” ones definitely is not good politics. Good politics is all about gaining friends, not enemies.

3. Do Not Fabricate “Scenarios” Just to Win Public Sympathy. Although Ilonggos are suckers for underdogs and “victims,” they are also a very cynical people who are quick to spot fakers. Ilonggo voters are very sophisticated and they instinctively know when a politician is trying to manipulate their feelings. For instance, claiming that your opponent hired assassins to kill you and ordered goons to bomb your properties may initially elicit public sympathy but it takes more than just “acoustic warfare” to earn their vote, especially if the PNP investigation report suggests that all the supposed incidents were “self-inflicted.” If you really need to make up “scenarios” to improve your electoral chances, better make sure that the people you get to do the job are professionals, not amateurs.

4. Do Not Coerce People to Vote For You. Nothing gets the Ilonggo’s goat more than the “Vote-or-Gabot” style of politics. One modern-day variation of this “Vote-or-Gabot” method is the following: ordering all your traffic aides to apprehend jeepney drivers indiscriminately and when they come to your office to claim their driver’s licenses, tell them that they will not have to pay the 300 pesos traffic penalty if they promise to vote for you. Another variation is by requiring City Hall casuals to attend your pulong pulongs and imposing a “No Attendance, No Salary” policy. Extracting political support thru coercion maybe be effective in Maguindanao but is not applicable in Iloilo City.

5. Do Not Weep in Public. In Ilonggo culture, it is only acceptable for a fully-grown man to cry when a close friend or a beloved family member dies. A man who weeps in public over minor things is perceived to be a wimp since crying is seen in our culture as a sign of weakness. Also, the masses already have enough problems of their own. Therefore, downloading all your woes, telling them about your difficulties and problems will not earn you their sympathy. On the contrary, it will only earn their contempt – “Sala mo na kay nag intra intra ka sa pulitika,” is a common snide remark. This is because people come to a pulong pulong to hear what the candidate can do for them, not to listen to his personal problems.

6. Do Not Flaunt the Law. We Ilonggos hate politicians who feel that they are above the law so much that we even invented a term for it – “waslik poder.” A seemingly minor matter like violating an anti-smoking ordinance can have disastrous effects on a politician’s credibility and public standing. In Puerto Princesa City, Palawan (where they also have an anti-smoking and anti-littering ordinance), people worship Mayor Edward Hagedorn (who is a cigarette smoker) because he abides by the law. Like any other ordinary citizen, he allowed himself to be penalized after a streetsweeper (in the employ of City Hall!) caught him throwing his cigarette butt on the street. Today, Puerto Princesa City is one of the cleanest cities in the Philippines because everyone follows the rules, but only after their mayor demonstrated (in a seemingly trivial way) that no one in his city is above the law.

7. Do Not Believe Your Own Hype. Time and again it has been proven that “investing” in expensive opinion surveys and “retaining” discredited media hacks to boost your public ratings is a total waste of money. Experience has shown that “word-of-mouth” campaigning is still the most effective method of campaigning at the local level. Try asking someone why they are voting for a particular candidate. Chances are he will tell you that he was approached and convinced by someone in his community - a family member, a childhood friend, a classmate, a professional colleague or business partner, his barangay captain, etc.

8. Do Not “Pad” Your Track Record. Exaggerating your achievements, grabbing credit for something you did not do, “padding” your educational credentials, etc. is a no-no in politics because sooner or later someone will find out (especially in a city as small as Iloilo) and tell the media about it. Again, Ilonggos have a word to describe this type of politician – “switik.” A “switik” is a highly charismatic person who passes himself off as something he is not (i.e. a “Harvard graduate” and “outstanding politician”) for personal gain. I believe the English equivalent of the word “switik” is “swindler” or “hustler” and the Tagalog term for it is “mangloloko” or “bolero.” Ilonggos, for obvious reasons, avoid “switiks” like the plague.

9. Do Not Be Loyal Only to Your Self. For political butterflies and opportunists, the name of the game (especially during the final days of the campaign period) is “salbaranay lawas.” “Saving yourself” may be well and good when your ship is sinking but if applied to politics will only result to mutual distrust, disunity, betrayal and eventually, electoral defeat. Thus, “salbaranay lawas” is not good politics in the long run.

10. Do Not Bite the Hand That Feeds You. In politics, loyalty is everything. A politician who betrays his master cannot be trusted. Ilonggos dislike intensely individuals who do not know how to pay their debts of gratitude. Thus, a politician who is perceived to be a “traidor kag wala kabalaslan” will not get far in politics.