Monday, May 6, 2013

The election that should make us politically mature, but will not, unfortunately

On Monday, 13 May 2013, voters all over the archipelago will troop to the polling stations to choose from among a mixture of the serious and the buffoon; the rich and the poor; the ignorant and the educated; the authentic and the false idol; the generous and the greedy; and the honest and corrupt candidates who will lead this country for the next three years.
The choice is ours, no one else's.
So, if the election results to the victory of the buffoon or the false idol and he or she brings us to the abyss of hopelessness; if the greedy and the corrupt wins and he or she moved Romblon backward, not forward, then we only have ourselves to blame, no one else. Our choice is a mirror of ourselves.
Of course, our choice is influenced by many factors, including personal affinity to a candidate, past favors given or received, or, in the political currency of the times--by a promise of something that is yet in the future. Politicians in many parts of the country, Romblon not an exception, thrive on promises. Very few, after they have won, live to redeem them, validating the observation that 'promising' politicians tend to be very forgetful.
Regardless of the outcome, the election in Romblon will be a gauge of the Romblomanons' political maturity. It will--even if we refuse to acknowledge--boil down to one single question: Have we outgrown our immature political ways and embraced the cause of genuine reform?
The answer is, 'No. Not yet.'
Ask Rep. Eleandro Jesus F. Madrona who continues to dance politics his way like a maiden pirouetting in the music of traditional folklore.
Ask Gov. Eduardo Firmalo who has abandoned all pretensions of principled politics and entered into a marriage of political convenience with Madrona that every time he explains it, his explanation only buries him deeper in the quicksand of disbelief and to further questions about his motive.
Ask former Agriculture Secretary Bernie Fondevilla who prances about as if a savior, reminding Romblomanons of past favors he freely dispensed, but with an eye of collecting this back in the form of vote dividends.
The problem is that Romblomanons could no longer remember Fondevilla's favors, but are instead asking questions where he got the resources to procure these favors in the first place. Now, Fondevilla is a shell, hollow and ringing empty, lost in the wilderness of Romblon's thick political forest. He has no plan, telling Cajidiocanons last week during a fiesta that he has in mind something to do if he wins, but could not tell what it is. He is not only secretive. He is also regarding Romblomanons with contempt, while aloft in his high horse thumbing his nose in us.
Ask Natalio Beltran III, the former governor, whose lieutenants say he is in the running. In the running for what? He has spent three years spending the people's money and he believes he needs another three years, this time in the House of Representatives, to dip his childish hands into, well, the people's pocket.
Ask all the other candidates if we have politically matured as a people and chances are great they will hold their breaths for a second and . . . .
Well, readers may say that asking Romblomanons to become mature politically is wishful thinking. But isn't this the reason why losing politicians who are outspent by their winning opponents come back and try to bounce from a bad loss?
Look around you, didn't the losers in the election of 2010 lament, after their opponents were declared victorious, that Romblomanons need change and reform so that vote buying could be minimized?
This is what Madrona said when Firmalo outmuscled him in their first fight. This is what Firmalo said when Madrona defeated him in their return bout. This is what most losing politicians shed crocodile tears: they hope voters would not be bought in the election. Yet, when it is their turn to win, they easily forget what they hope for. Not only that. They also buy their way to political office.
This is why in the campaign for the 13 May election, I resisted the temptation of giving money to the candidates whom I pray for to win. I don't have money to buy votes in the first place. But I wanted them to win fair and square, on the strength of their platforms of governance and advocacies for change and reform. I wanted them to win on the strength of their sincerity and ability to serve, not on their capacity to drown pseudo leaders and their wards in liquor. Instead, I provided them free advice and encouragement and some proven and tested strategies on how to mount a credible campaign.
And there are only very few of these candidates, most of whom are independents, non-mainstream, and faithful to God and to the people. I chose them over their opponents not because they are friends or relatives , but because I can see in them the characters of transformative leaders--simplicity in their ways, studious, compassionate, with unshakeable moral integrity, fiercely independent, authentic public servants, and are without greed for power for power's sake. They are also genuinely interested in Romblon's development.
Foremost among them is our mayor in Sibale, Lemuel Cipriano, whom Madrona, Firmalo, and Fondevilla are trying to sway to their political side, trusting falsely that because Mayor Cipriano has received favors from them in the past he will be susceptible to their machinations. They are grossly mistaken. Cipriano is his own man, accountable only to the Sibalenhons.
Then there is Briccio Fajutnao, currently the vice mayor of Odiongan. Fajutnao, who is peaking just rightly, is proving to all and sundry that lack of resources is not a barrier to communicating to the people his message of hope. With his industry and integrity, Fajutnao is waking up a lot of Odionganons from their deep slumber to re-discover their true strength in self-reliance, a virtue which Romblon, the capital town, eyes with deep envy because as the province's political weathervane, it has ceded to Odiongan its sense of intellectual superiority, not the least, economic clout. I will not be surprised if Odionganons, despite the wads of money that seems to inundate the town just this time in the campaign, will replace Odiongan's anemic leadership with one who understands what the Odionganons want, who articulate their dreams and aspirations, and who will act on these dreams if he is given the mandate. I will root for Fajutnao because he has a teflon candidacy, unaffected by Fondevilla's comedic run.
It is no secret I have been storming heaven with prayers for my pare, Harold Feudo, to win as a member of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan. Feudo is a year ahead of my class in high school. In our time, he did not stand out in the crowd but he demonstrated courage to stand up for the downtrodden. He is not one who accepts meekly the status quo. Had he won in 2010, the debates in the halls of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan would have been lively and vigorous, not stale as it is now with only Atty. Fondevilla producing the fireworks, however shallow, incredulous, and unbelievable Bernie Fondevilla's brother is.
In Corcuera, I will take Mayor Raquel Banares any time. Direct and exceedingly stubborn, Mayor Banares is a Mayor Cipriano in a woman's garb. She has transformed Corcuera from a lethargic town to a vibrant community using traditional and parochial means to achieve her progressive goals. Local politicians dislike her style, but they could not question her honest governance. They could not even parry her sharp, lawyerly arguments expressed in simple everyday language. I would know. It was I who encouraged her to a life of politics.
Banton has been in the tail-end of development among the Tres Islas because Mayor Jory Faderanga has seen it all but has also been blinded by it all. His tenure as a traditional politician must come to an end in the hands of Decoroso Fadri, who has aroused the participative spirit of Banton's youth with his reformist agenda.
Abandoned by Gov. Firmalo for an expedient alliance with Madrona, Fadri has vowed to 'localize' his politics, an inward focus that can do Banton good. The educated intellectuals in Banton should be happy.
I have only heard about Linda Jean Moreno of San Agustin, but from the snippets about her improbable run as a candidate for mayor, she deserves not just a second look. She must be deserving of full term in the San Agustin munisipyo which has been lorded over by the Madronas for the longest time, and hence, has has not shown any demonstrable progress, unlike its neighbor, Calatrava.
As a port town, San Agustin could have been a model in economic development. However, its growth has been stunted by the likes of Mayor Toto Madrona who is a clone of Rep. Budoy in political practice: parochial and a true-blue trapo.
My column space is limited to enable me to write at length about the other candidates for vice governor, SP member, mayor, vice mayor, and councilor, many of whom are friends, so I just wish them good luck. I could not say I hope you will win for I have no time to read all your platforms, if you have any. But even if you don't, don't despair. There is another election in 2016. I will see you around.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Firmalo-Madrona 'marriage': A coalition? A 'grand collision'? Or a collusion?

My friend, the late Manuel Festin Martinez, one of Romblon's greatest writers and, in my estimation, the most politically articulate Romblomanon, coined the title of his soaring epic of a book about the late former president Ferdinand 'Macoy' Marcos and the late former senator Benigno 'Ninoy' Aquino Jr. as a 'grand collision'.

In The Grand Collision: Aquino vs. Marcos, Martinez depicts the long-running battle between the two giant-protagonists in Philippinepolitical history. Through the power of his pen, Martinez paints, in vivid colors only he can conjure, how Aquino's and Marcos's fortunes, so intertwined, were moved by fate towards an inescapable, irreversible clash of intelligence, wit, and cunning; of clan wealth and political connections; and of deceit and individual versions of truth that were to rend the fabric of Philippine society.

The book, I am afraid, is no longer in circulation, but if by happenstance you got a copy, read it and be illuminated, for Martinez's prose is piercing, precise, and politically very relevant to today's Romblon.

Excuse me. I should say it is very relevant to the election of 13 May 2013 and to its major players in combat, namely, Budoy Madrona vs. Jojo Beltran; Lolong Firmalo vs. Bernie Fondevilla; and Otik Riano vs. Mel Madrid. Its relevance extends to other local candidates, some of whom are running like headless chickens, unable to decipher east from west and clueless about the overcast sky punctured by the rays of the setting Romblon sun.

Sorry, I could not help but be literary for, as I see it, the races are too predictable and too shallow to be called an election.

For an election it is not. If Martinez is only alive, he will call the race in Romblon an erection: a democratic exercise where most of the candidates are standing dazed and erect, unprincipled, and without any scruples, in the quicksand of their political ambitions.

Manong Julius Fortuna, another great Romblomanon writer who should have been congressman in 2010 if not for his early reunion with the Lord, must be turning in his grave knowing that Gov. Firmalo and Rep. Madrona have set aside their past enmity, swallowed their pride, and are now holding hands like groom and bride, as they walk to the altar for their ultimate political union. The two veteran political patriarchs are asking for our blessing by presenting themselves as the saviors of the Romblomanon.

A round of applause, please.

Firmalo and Madrona have entered into a coalition, vowing to end our misery. Subtly, the duo seemed to also seek to end former Agriculture secretary Bernie Fondevilla's pretension as an alternative political messiah.

The coalition, however, is turning out to be a grand collision. It is shaping up as a battle royale between personalities of inflated egos. It is threatening to become a clash of veterans whose wealth and power keep their minions salivating and groveling in the ground, their minds swirling in extreme unbelief that Firmalo and Madrona--after years of running after each other's throats--are now at peace; are best of friends forever; and are on their way to build the political house of Romblon where each one of us may live happily ever after.

Shortly after the start of the 45-day campaign, the coalition began to unravel, shake, rattle, and roll. It is already showing signs of a break-up which, if not remedied, will result to a no-holds barred war of attrition between Madrona's army and Firmalo's hordes. The grand collision is at hand.

In fact, even before the ink has dried on the coalition agreement, pocket insurrections had erupted in both Firmalo's and Madrona's camps.

The first to rise was Vice Governor Mel Madrid, who decamped and crossed over to Bernie Fondevilla's side. He could not stomach Firmalo 'marrying' Madrona. Or, was it Firmalo who could not stomach Madrid as best man?

Next to follow was the mayor-candidate of Banton, Ding Fadri, who has declared himself and his candidates independents after Firmalo left them twisting in the wind. Fadri and his candidates are not supporting the 'marriage' and are campaigning only for themselves, all politics being local.

On the other hand, Madrona's mayor-candidate in Cajidiocan, the ex-policeman Borong Ramos, alleged to have orchestrated the near fatal ambush of current Cajidiocan mayor Festo Galang, is a true-blue bloodied Madrona acolyte and declared himself NOT for Firmalo. And Festo Galang a Firmalo protégé himself, is aghast that the coalition, instead of choosing him, chose not one but two standard bearers, Borong and Engr. Roger Rotoni. Festo might bolt the coalition to secure his puwesto.

In Magdiwang, the vociferous Baring Manzala, has declared to all and sundry that Madrona's political marriage to Firmalo does not bind him and is now campaigning heavily for Bernie whose stand on mining is as murky as the Pasig river. Is he for mining or not? Ask Rodne Galicha.

There are other mayors wavering on their stand on the coalition, mindful of their own political survival if they show their true colors now. One of them is Magdiwang mayoral candidate Jolly "Haruta" Monton, who confessed to this writer that up to this time, his erstwhile ally, Gov. Firmalo, has not even given him a peep. "Ni ha, ni ho, wala" according to Monton.

The fiery Atty. Rachel Banares, mayor of Corcuera; the ultra-traditional Jory Faderanga, mayor of Banton; the ultra-vocal, but moderate Dindo Rios, mayor of San Fernando; and the ultra-conservative Dr. Leila Arboleda, mayor of Looc, are not telegraphing their punches whether they are for Firmalo or Bernie Fondevilla. However, they are rooting for Madrona as representative. Are we not confused already?

As to the rest of the local town head aspirants, they comprise an unruly mix--chopsuey--of candidates which makes shaky and unstable the support base on which the candidates for the top three positions bank on. For example, Firmalo and Madrona have no strong candidate for mayor in Calatrava and San Andres which Bernie Fondevilla claims as his bailiwicks.

In San Agustin, for example, Rep. Madrona is already suffering enough migraine in trying to salvage his brother's candidacy owing to the resurgence and insurgence of a

In Calatrava, the local kingpin, Mayor Bong Fabella, is all-out for his best friend Bernie. Mayor Fabella has already announced in Corcuera his candidacy for governor in 2016 even as he, as Bernie's campaign manager, has still to show in the flesh his candidate for governor in many parts of the province. "Bernie, where are you?" says an Odionganon porter I encountered in Montenegro Shipping's Matilde the other day.

Meanwhile, in Odiongan, Mayor Boy Firmalo is facing a very rough sailing against a very strong, industrious, and intelligent candidate in Vice Mayor Brix Fajutnao who has cast his marbles with Bernie Fondevilla.

Why is the coalition breaking up? Why is it not achieving what the coalition partners--Madrona and Firmalo--envisioned, which is to foster political unity? And why is the coalition, so painstakingly, loudly trumpeted by Firmalo and Madrona as the solution to the political division and subdivision brought about by, well, the coalition itself, threatening to erupt into a collision?

Asi ngani? Asing kaling coalition--nak tuna pa it kag Oktubre 2012 ay ging lalako ey ni Firmalo ag ni Madrona nak imaw it tambay sa pagkakabuyag-buyag ag pag-kakatinunga it mga Romblomanon, pagkakabuyag-buyag ag pag-kakatinunga nak unang-una ay dahil mismo sa coalition--ay pay magiging higanteng collision o banggaan ni Firmalo ag ni Madrona?

Madrona may shout to high heavens that this is not true. Firmalo may protest with his signature coolness that no, this readin is absolutely nonsense and false. And both may swear to every Romblomanon within hearing distance that the coalition, apparently instigated by no less than President Benigno Aquino III himself, is a genuine unification, a coming of the minds of two parties who are after the well-being of the people. Both Firmalo and Madrona may, in fact, declare that this coalition is what Romblon needs at this time and so we should support it, not tear it apart.

Basi pa, ka ako pangabay.

Pero asing sige ka kusog it hinghingan nak sa 'last hour' ('last hour' in the lexicon of our politicians are the last few days before the election), si Bernie Fondevilla ag si Budoy Madrona ay mapisan ag a-badaan sa yawor si Firmalo? Ag asing sige ka kusog it hinghingan nak si Gov. Firmalo ag si Jojo Beltran ay mahapit sa peligrong oras bilang pangontra sa nabibisayang pag-traidor ni Madrona sa coatlition?

I don't usually give much credence to rumors, but rumor mills have a way of making rumors sound like facts.

Rumor No. 1 has it that Budoy Madrona and Bernie Fondevilla, before the start of the campaign, met regularly in Manila.

Rumor No. 2 has it that Lolong Firmalo and Jojo Beltran are now singing the same tune as well.

So what, you will say. Why read too much into meetings between a sitting congressman and a displaced secretary of Agriculture? What if the agenda of their meetings was to finalize the number of votes by which they will cheat Firmalo?

So what, you will say. Why interpret direly a duet between a sitting governor and a disgraced former governor? What if the theme of their duet was to castrate the connivance of Madrona and Fondevilla?

Imaw gani ano?

But the question should be, "Did the meetings take place?" The answer is yes, according to my source, a high-ranking officer of government who is very close to Madrona. Another source, a former candidate who is also a Madrona confidante, confirmed the meeting. So, the meeting was not gossip. It was fact.

My source said that Madrona, despite his profession of true love to Firmalo and his candidacy, is, in the dead of the night and when Firmalo is not looking, instructing his lieutenants in San Agustin and in other towns to campaign for Bernie Fondevilla and to junk Firmalo and his Sangguniang Panlalawigan candidates. A Matilde source likewise said that Jojo Beltran has sent feelers to Gov. Firmalo.

This is a case of the coalition becoming a grand collusion. If true, you will say, then Firmalo should worry. But should he? No. These are political gossip that have not been corroborated, so Firmalo can rest easy.

But not yet. Firmalo and his supporters should watch out for Bernie Fondevilla. What if Bernie Fondevilla and his supporters let out an intrigue that Madrona is supporting him, and not Firmalo? Plausible?

Possible. After all, Madrona is not known for fair play. Look, he has even allowed three mayor-candidates in San Fernando, Cajidiocan, and Magdiwang to mix it up to ensure that he will emerge unscathed. This is Madrona's time-tested formula: to allow as many candidates to engage in a brawl, a melee, as long as they support him.

The junking is apparently on a feverish start already. And Firmalo could not prevent or even stop it. Why? Because when he negotiated with Madrona for the establishment of the coalition, he was alone and was not able to bring along his loyal leaders and supporters because they were against joining Madrona in the first place.

They said, and this is a genuine sentiment repeated to me several times over, that it will be a negation of their principled cause to side and support the politician, Madrona, who was the object of their opposition. It should be recalled that Firmalo himself was vehemently and vocally opposed to Madrona throughout his political career. Now, the strangest of things happened in the strangest of political circumstances. The enemies becoming allies.

But as posited, the political marriage is on the brink. It is on the precipice waiting for just a little nudge before it plunges down the cliff of no return. That nudge, or shove, if you will, is the grand collusion I am talking about--Madrona hatching a plot with Fondevilla to junk Firmalo.
What must Firmalo do? Should he reverse course and declare war on Madrona this early?

It's very unlikely that Firmalo, a very decent man, will do this. He will stand with Madrona, no matter what happens. He will live with his word whatever the outcome of his faulty decision to 'marry' the foxy veteran.

He is a calculating politician with a large support base, and a governor with a solid record of accomplishment. So, whatever cool analysis he has of the situation, only he, alone, knows it. He is known to decide by himself, without signs of betraying the input of wisdom of his advisers (by the way, does he have any?) so the possible corrosive impact of a fallout with Madrona will most likely be limited. Or nil.

As to Bernie Fondevilla, his lawyerly countenance that shows flashes of brilliance at negotiating deals, deals of all kinds, including his political survival, may serve him good in the end. But he should know he is not running for president of a student body organization. Let's see.

Meanwhile, Madrona, as usual and as is his core tradition, will stand with no one but himself. He has always been known to go alone for himself, leaving behind the carcasses of opponents and allies alike to ensure his survival.

And in another re-run, surely later, Bernie will realize that Madrona will abandon him, but only after he had been bled dry of whatever political profit he can contribute to Madrona's cause.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Run, Beltran, run

Natalio Beltran III is a very lucky guy.

After getting thrashed by Dr. Eduardo Firmalo in the 2010 election for governor, Beltran faded away from the province, with his brief, corruption-ridden reign fading away with him.

Political observers predicted that 2010 would be his swan song, the last that can be heard from the son of Natalio "Puti" Beltran, Jr. They said he was already a spent force and will live through the remaining years of his life nursing the pain of being a political discard. Recall that Eleandro Jesus Fabic Madrona disowned him in 2010. It was Madrona who anointed him as if he was hulog ng langit in 2007 over the more qualified candidate, the late Paping Mayor.

But the political observers got their weather vanes all wrong. Beltran has come back, threatening to steal the thunder away from Eleandro Jesus Fabic Madrona's final curtain show as congressman of the province. He came back for political revenge.

By any stretch of the imagination, Madrona himself, like former Gov. Beltran III, could not live with the insult of history, and that insult is what many Romblomanon say of the latter being "so young, yet so corrupt". Madrona doesn't want company. He doesn't even want to be considered primus inter pares or first among equals. He should be alone. The only one.

And so, it was in the year of our Lord 2010, that Madrona and Beltran III parted ways, like the Red Sea parting to expose dry ground to allow the Israelites to escape the wrath of the Paraoh, all the way from the coast of Egypt to the coast of Jordan, by a mere stroke of the miraculous staff of the patriarch Moses.

And like the Red Sea which again fused after the clashing of the walls of waves to drown the pursuing Egyptian army, Madrona and Beltran are destined to collide here, now, in the 2013 election, after drowning us Romblomanon during the last three years.

It's funny, but the collision is expected to be a classic. Both will be out to prove something. They will go after each other's throat, fight toe to toe; stare each other eye to eye, bite each other teeth to teeth, and pull each other's hair, if need be, to win the race. They might even pinch each other's ears to prove who hears clearly the voters' wailing, and their cheeks to see who blinks first. I expect a very merry fight.

Run, Beltran, run. To the ends of the earth, if you wish, and catch up with Madrona. You will lose nothing from running but your extra fat kilos.

You have to run because if you don't, Firmalo, who is also running like you, although in a different race level, might catch up with you. This will allow the voters to compare both your three years in the capitol and, voila, find out your true weight as a politician: you were weighed and you were found wanting.

There are enormous advantages for the voters if this happens. For one, they will be able to compare Firmalo with Bernie Fondevilla, another "runner". I will deal with Fondevilla later. He has my full attention. For another reason, voters will also be able to compare Beltran with Madrona when the latter was in the capitol.

Let us do a "running" account first of Firmalo’s administration from July 2010 to December 2012.

On health, which is his strength, Firmalo's record shows Romblon hospitals "are now better equipped to provide proper medical services" to Romblomanon because he has installed new X-ray and 3D ultrasound machines at the Romblon Provincial Hospital in Odiongan and Romblon District Hospital in Romblon. The Don Modesto Formilleza Hospital in Looc and the Sibuyan District Hospital have also now X-ray machines.

He has also installed an 11-KVA power generator for Tablas Island District Hospital in San Agustin, showing how unreliable the power supply is in Tablas, and showing further how government priorities can be skewed.

I said this because if only the provincial government has made electric power infrastructure a priority, there would have been no need for an electric generator to power up a hospital. The amount used for the purchase of the generator could have been better spent buying another X-ray machine.

Gov. Firmalo has provided this pen pusher an exhaustive list of the laboratory and medical equipment and supplies, including six units of blood chemistry analyzers, and a dental chair and dental X-ray for Romblon, Romblon.

This is, indeed, good news, which we should be thankful for. Romblomanon can now breath a sigh of relief in knowing that when they get sick, or need to see a doctor or dentist, the hospital they will go to have ample equipment, facilities, and supplies, like medicine.

I need not mention all the improvements in the province's medical care facilities that happened under Firmalo's watch in three years, including the improvements in the health centers in all of Romblon's municipalities. The list, as I said, is exhaustive--height and weight scale, blood refrigerators, computers, examining tables, wheel chairs, IV drip stands, etc--and verifiable if the reader doubts my word.

They can also verify if all of the eight government hospitals in the province have bought karaoke machines with matching DVD players, for these are on the list. What are karaoke machines doing in government hospitals? 

Readers might say: "Ikaw ra Nicon ay spoiler. Pati baga ka maisoting kasadyahan it mga pasyente ag mga doktor ag nars ay i-ismot pa nimo? Badyang ra sinra mag karaoke paminsan-minsan. Mas matulin magtigson ka nagkakanta."

OK. I rest my case, but the point I am trying to raise, and the reader can disagree with me, is this: Firmalo, as governor, caused these improvements, bought these equipment, and installed these facilities in the government hospitals precisely because his predecessors--that's Beltran and Madrona --did not do it when they were at the capitol.

That's a campaign issue that Trina Firmalo should suggest to his father if he needs to blow the wind off Fondevilla's sail.

Question: Can Firmalo raise this issue if he is on the same stage as Madrona?

Friday, March 15, 2013

A conversation with Dr. Arnulfo de Luna

Dr. Arnulfo Formon De Luna, most probably a year younger than this pen pusher, is in a vantage position. As president of the Romblon State University, he commands over an empire, a state institution that has become an orbital center of higher education in Romblon.
A few years ago, the RSU became an infamous focus of public attention when some personages inside its walls and halls proposed to erect a rock monument to Romblon's most famous modern-day politician, Rep. Eleandro Jesus Fabic Madrona.
That proposal has gained traction, initially, but has since been shot down for its indecent timing.
The reason is that Rep. Madrona is still very much alive and in good health. Not only that. He is scheduled and on track to steamroller the former governor Natalio "Jun" Beltran IV in the 13 May 2013 election. He doesn't need the monument now. In the future, maybe.
The horrendous public backlash to the "monumental" plan to honor the author of the law transforming the Romblon State College into a state university with a rock statue had dissipated and its proponents--surely lapdogs wanting to curry favor from the master--had disappeared. Temporarily, I am sure. They could try another time.
But that 'another time' is yet to come. Today is the time to move ahead and today is the time of Dr. Arnulfo F. De Luna.
And at this time of De Luna, I think the RSU is moving past its episodic brush with politicians trying to be rock stars, pun intended. Steady at the helm of Romblon's premier institution of higher learning, De Luna could yet make the RSU a controlling domain of knowledge as it was mandated to be, regardless of politicians wanting to carve their names in solid rock.
I had a brief conversation with Dr. De Luna the other week. Over dinner of kimchi and bulgogi in a Korean restaurant in Malate, he and I mused over topics seemingly unrelated to each other but upon dissection of his agile mind proved to be really interconnected.
Which made the dinner fun, the conversation lovely.
John Rufon, who arranged the dinner date, was an intent listener throughout our conversation and I am sure he made copious mental notes of what transpired during that brief encounter between the academic leader and this itinerant writer. So were Engr. Ryan Fadriquela, RSU's director for alumni affairs; Kenneth Maestro, a student leader; and Heicel Dalisay and Rocky Gonzales, administrative aides to the RSU president.
I invited Dr. De Luna for I was interested to know what's inside the head of a university president whose rank and position could be more powerful than a governor's.
No exaggeration here. If a governor presides over a province of 17 towns and 219 barangays, the RSU president holds the power of intellectual life and death over the 17 towns' and the 219 barangays' young population. Isn't that power?
But De Luna is a simple man who is imbued with power but who is not drunk of it. With a towering intellect on matters that concern the common tao, he could be a good politician, if there is such.
His handle, I saw during the dinner, was his connection to his roots. "The student population of the RSU's Romblon campus experienced an exponential rise during my time because I made sure the university's value was appreciated by the local government unit," he said matter-of-factly. That's making the connection.
My main and singular issue with the RSU is its alienation to the masses. I told De Luna that as a stand-alone educational institution, supported largely by government largesse, the RSU should matter to the common Romblomanons' everyday lives. I said RSU's impact should not be measured solely by the number of graduates who pass through its portals and wore the toga during graduation. It should be measured by how much the university changes the lives of the people--for the better.
Take its researches, for instance. I know that the RSU has plenty of researchers who have conducted--and continue to conduct--very good researches. These good researches have not made the people good, I said. They have only made the researchers feel better because their names are eventually affixed to their researches, adding more luster only to their credentials for future promotion, of themselves, and not of the people's.
Very fortunately, Dr. De Luna agrees with me. He mentioned that on agriculture, the RSU has produced plenty and very good stock varieties of root crops that could be mass cultivated to contribute to Romblon's food security. He wants the people to avail of these stock varieties. In short, he wants the Romblomanons to plant.
The problem, he said, is that people no longer want to become farmers nowadays. Even children don't appreciate the value of farm work. They want everything in RTE packs. That's 'ready-to-eat' in military lingo. But I will dwell on this later.
Out of this world, the RSU is. The problem, I said, is that the RSU does not communicate to the people in a language they understand. It communicates only to itself, in a language laden with technical 'ek-ek'  that contributes to its being perceived as alien. To this, Dr. De Luna responded that he is trying to remedy the anomaly. He said his appointment of Prof. Jun Fetalsana, as one of the RSU's 'spokespersons', is precisely to enable the RSU to reach out to the people.
"I will spend more time next year in the campuses. I will start at the Sta. Maria campus," Dr. De Luna pledged.
"This is a good start. Better write in The Romblon Times," I said back.
In ruling a university, Dr. De Luna rules by the rules of perspective. And his perspective, I believe, is neither gray nor in dark shade. It is clear: to make the university a truly Romblomanon university, embodying the soul of the province, and living up to realize its people's potential and aspirations.
He even encourages municipal mayors to allocate a good portion of their budgets in support for their constituents who would like to pursue higher education. "I would like to build a modern dormitory for students from the islands," he said.
Public support for such policies is necessary. But I told Dr. De Luna, whose expertise is in agriculture education--he has a master in science in agriculture and a Ph.D. in crop science--that that support could only be had if the RSU conducts itself as a good corporate social citizen, by going out of its way to get itself involved in social causes, and by acting as the 'knowledge conscience' of the province, not by confining itself on matters purely academic and theoretical.
The RSU's coming out party will come inevitably. It will come when it is already speaking out about the ills of graft and corruption in high and low places of the provincial government which the present administration seemed to have failed to do. It will come when it is already organizing forums and symposiums on Romblon culture and history and hosting public affairs programs on illegal drugs and illegal mining.
It will come when the RSU no longer concerns itself with useless debates on whether or not it should erect a rock monument for a politician whose credentials as a hero or heel are, well, still debatable; when its researchers and technicians are going out in the field to encourage the people to plant crops and to teach them to fish properly rather than feed their children chemical-laden imported noodles; when its students act on their ideals by helping out educate the people on issues that matter to them; for example, by leading public shunning or boycott of politicians who lie and cheat and buy votes.
When that time comes, and I hope it comes during Dr. De Luna's presidency of the RSU, that's the time we can say the RSU has truly, genuinely become the Romblon State University.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Mercury, the poison; not Mercury, the druggist

Pamoso ang Mercury Drug Corporation, ang pinakamalaking network ng tindahan ng gamot sa Pilipinas. Isa rin ito sa pinakamatandang parmasyutika sa bansa. Isang mayamang pamilyang Filipino-Chinese ang may-ari ng Mercury Drug, at sumikat ang kumpanyang ito sa kaniyang slogan na "Gamot ay laging bago."
Totoo ito. Noong nasa Senado pa ako, pinaupo ako ng yumaong Sen. Blas F. Ople bilang isa sa mga hurado sa isang gawad-timpalak para sa mga kumpanyang pinakamahusay ang pamamahala at isa sa mga finalist ang Mercury Drug Corporation.
Isa sa mga nakasama ko bilang hurado ang editor-in-chief ngayon ng Philippine Daily Inquirer, si Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc. Kapwa namin ibinoto ni Bb. Magsanoc ang Mercury Drug Corporation dahil sa kalidad ng serbisyo at produkto at maayos na pagtrato nito sa mga empleyado. Pinangangalagaan ng kumpanya ang kapakanan, higit lalo ang kalusugan, ng mga kawani nito.
Kung ang pangangalaga sana ng ating mga pinuno sa ating mga Romblomanon ay sing-husay ng pangangalaga ng Mercury Drug Corporation sa mga kawani nito, disin sana'y hindi ko na susulatin ang kuwentong ito.
But the fact that some of our local leaders are only not taking good care of us the way they should, but also expose us to the dangers of mercury, the poison, and mining, the  rapist of our land and mortgagor of our children's future, is reason sufficient and logical for me to write--however repetitive--about the truly tragic situation we are in.
And what is truly tragic in our current circumstances?
We are being poisoned, yes. Slowly, but surely, with organic mercury through the deliberate incompetence and monumental uncaring attitude of some of our leaders, starting with Rep. Budoy Madrona down to the barangay captains who allow organic mercury to be dumped as sludge and waste into our rivers and streams.
I should have added to this the charge of ignorance, but I need proof because most of our leaders are highly-educated. Which means to say their actuations should not be equated with idiocy. Not yet.
You mask ask: Pray, tell, Nicon, why did Rep. Madrona's name crop up in this episode? Or, for that matter, Gov. Firmalo's? Don't you know they are anti-mining? Don't you know that Rep. Madrona had filed a bill in Congress declaring Romblon a no-miner's land? And didn't Gov. Firmalo issue an executive order banning all forms of metallic mining in Romblon? Weren't these enough proof they are true-blue anti-mining souls?
Of course, yes, and I know. But I remember, while writing this piece, Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian Nobel laureate for literature, who wrote: "A tiger need not proclaim his tigritude" as an admonition to his fellow countrymen for making so much noise about their "Negritude".
Indeed, a tiger need not shout that he is a tiger, in the same manner that an anti-mining activist, or any activist for that matter, need not proclaim that he is so. He only has to live it.
And living it means condemning in words and deed the poisoning happening in Magdiwang, right in the national integrated protected areas of Sibuyan. Listen to this:
"When released into the environment, mercury is capable of traveling wide distances and transforming into the more toxic organic form which accumulates in seafood. Finally, once present in the environment in any form, mercury can no longer be destroyed, and instead accumulates in various environmental media and form."
Ano raw? Kapag pinakawalan sa kapaligiran, kaya ng mercury na tumawid ng malalayong distansiya at nagiging higit na nakalalasong organiko na naiipon sa mga pagkaing-dagat. Kapag ito ay nasa kalikasan na sa alinmang anyo, hindi na mabubura ang mercury, at sa halip ay naiipon na lamang sa iba't-ibang bahagi ng kapaligiran.
Who said this? Sinong Ponsio Pilato ang nagsabi nito?
Si Richard Gutierez. Ang artista? Hindi, kundi si Abogado Richard Gutierrez, isang paham na maestro at doktor sa batas na siyang kasalukuyang executive director ng Ban Toxics, at partner sa grupong Health Care Without Harm. Si Abogado Gutierrez and nagsabi nito bilang bahagi ng kaniyang ulat sa mahal nating gobernador noon pang Enero 14, 2011.
Ganito ang kuwento. Inanyayahan ni Gob. Firmalo si Gutierrez na maging tagapagsalita sa isang konsultasyon sa mercury at small-scale mining noong Enero 7-8, 2011 sa Romblon.
Bilang bahagi ng konsultasyon, nagsagawa ng mercury vapor testing ang Ban Toxics sa ilang barangay sa Magdiwang, gaya ng Dulangan, Tagkayo, Ipil, Mabulo, at Espana, kabilang ang Poblacion. Ang test ay isinagawa sa mga kabahayan, minahan, eskuwelahan, at sa mga ilog.
Matapos ang test, gumawa ng report ang Ban Toxics at isinumite kay Gob. Firmalo. Walang nakakaalam, sa aking palagay, kung ilan at sino ang nakabasa ng report.
Hindi siguro ito nabasa ng Romblon Sun o ng The Romblon Times, dahil kung nabasa ito ng mga mamamahayag, malamang na nailathala na ito. Baka headline pa.
Hindi rin siguro ito nabasa ng Simbahan, kasi kung nabasa nila ito, malamang naipahayag na ito sa mga pulpito at sa kanilang mga pangangaral. Ang Simbahan sa Romblon ang tanging may natitirang kredibilidad pagdating sa pagsasatinig ng mga isyung sosyal.
Nasa posisyon sana ang Romblon State University na isa pang tatayo upang dagdagan ang kamulatan at kaalamang pambayan, dahil bilang akademya at pugad ng mga nagiisip na intelektwal, ito ay may sapat na kapabilidad. Subalit nalulunod naman ang unibersidad sa sariling mantika ng internal na pagkakampi-kampi, sigalot, at pag-iinggitan, bukod sa ito'y kinubkob na rin ng pamumulitika, kaya sa halip na maging balwarte ng mataas na antas ng diskusyon at pagpapalitan ng kuro-kuro, nakakulong na ang RSU sa bakal na kulambo.
Kung kaya't malamang na hindi siguro nabasa ang report ng mga guro at profesor, dahil kung alam nila ang nilalaman ng report, baka nagliyab na ang ating mga paaralan sa debate kung papaanong unti-unting nalalason ang Romblon.
How about the government officials, particularly of the LGUs of Sibuyan, and of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources? Have they read the report? Most likely? I don't know. If they had, then most surely they would have conducted information drives and study sessions and warned the people of the imminent danger posed by small-scale mining using mercury. But there wasn't such thing happening as far as I can remember, so most likely . . . never mind.
How about Rep. Madrona? Does he have a copy of the report? How about Magdiwang Mayor Baring Manzala? Did he read the report? If he did, and now I will grant that he really has a copy and has read it, what did he do? File it and pray that some rats chew up the six-page report so no one would know about its existence?
Who else, aside from the governor, has a copy of the report and had read it?
I do. I have a copy of the report and I have read it. To obtain a copy, email me at The first one to request will receive a P10 mobile phone load. Don't forget to include in your request your mobile phone number.
I thank my source, ever vigilant and astonishingly brilliant, for sending me a copy of the report. My source is an authentic Romblomanon, articulate and assertive, and very much in tune with the socio-economic and political developments in the province. Without this source, whose identity I have promised to treat in strict confidence, this opinion column will not have materialized.
What does the report contains? Bomba. It is explosive, as you can read from the headline of The Romblon Times.
Sa mga ngayon lang makakabasa ng The Romblon Times, masuwerte kayo. Kung galit naman kayo sa diyaryo dahil may kompyuter kayo na naka-WiFi, basahin na lang ang blog ko sa
Hindi ninyo mababasa ang report sa website ng Lalawigan ng Romblon. Hindi pa kasi ito tapos. Hayahay.
Seriously now, the report is already a year-old and I grant that there had been changes and new developments, as Gov. Firmalo admitted in my interview of him for this story, which may render some parts of the report out-dated, or irrelevant. But this is not the point.
The point is why was the report not publicly disseminated when its contents impact on the health and well-being of Romblomanons? Why was there not a deliberate effort to share and discuss the report with all Romblomanons so they will know that small-scale mining, with the aid of mercury, is wreaking havoc on the people of Romblon, not the least the environment?
I am just asking questions, but I am also reminded of Conrado de Quiros' famous words: "Never mind the trees. Save the writer."
In this case, I will say it the other way: "Always mind the trees. Without trees, there will be no writers."

Sunday, February 17, 2013

B.M., or Before Mining

Si Woodritz F. Rabino, taga-Simara, ay nag-aaral upang maging titser. Gagradweyt na siya ngayong Marso. Sa Facebook ko siya nakilala noong mag-post ako tungkol sa mga aksidente sa mga minahan.

Ang sabi ko kasi, nitong nakaraang linggo, halos sunod-sunod ang mga aksidente na nangyayari sa mga minahan na ipinagbuwis ng buhay ng mga minerong walang kahina-hinala na ang kanilang hanapbuhay ay balot nang pangamba at banta ng kalagim-lagim na kamatayan.

Noong Febrero 1, bandang alas-11:00 ng umaga, si Jaime Fernandez, 55, at nakatira sa P-1 Gamaon District sa Mangagoy, Lungsod Bislig, ay natabunan ng putik nang gumuho ang isang tunnel sa isang small-scale na minahan ng carbon. Agad siyang binawian nang buhay. Lasog-lasog ang mukha at katawan nang mahukay ang kaniyang bangkay. Isa pang iligal na minero, si Jose Garay, 51, ng P-5 Brgy. Cumawas, Lungsod Bislig, ang kasama niyang nabaon sa putik ngunit himalang nakaligtas. Si Garay ay empleyado ng gobyerno.

Nito namang nakalipas na linggo, Febrero 14, gumuho ang kanlurang dingding ng Panian pit mine ng Semirara Coal and Mining Corporation sa Semirara Island, sakop ng Caluya, Antique. Patay kaagad ang limang minero, tatlo lang ang nakaligtas, at lima pa ang nawawala habang sinusulat ko ang pitak na ito.

Ang sabi ko, palapit nang palapit sa Romblon ang aksidente sa minahan, ngunit ipinagdarasal ko noon pa na sana ay huwag mangyari ito sa ating mga kababayan.

Doon sumagot si Woodritz. Ang sabi niya: "Masunor rey ka Sibuyan." Susunod na ang Sibuyan. Mali si Woodritz. Mali din ako.

Sa site ko sa FB ay may isang Romblomanon na nagsabi na hindi totoong papalapit na ang aksidente sa mina sa Romblon. Ayon sa kaniya, ang kinatatakutan kong aksidente ay matagal nang nangyari at talagang naririto na sa lalawigan. Sa Asi: "Haliy sa Romblon." Di na kailangan pang hintayin o ipagdasal na sana'y huwag mangyari dahil nangyayari na.

Sinabi pa ng aking source ang detalye nang bagay na ito.

I have no reason to doubt the veracity of the information and the integrity of my source who will remain nameless at the moment for reason of confidentiality.

What the source was referring to is the continued proliferation of illegal small-scale gold mining in Magdiwang, particularly in the three Barangays of Ipil, Tampayan, and Dulangan, which the public has only a very faint suspicion about. But which is also public knowledge.

We don't know what's truly happening in Magdiwang and, therefore, we are being had. Pinaiikot lang tayo sa tsubibo.

On or about the third week of September in 2012, seven Magdiwang citizens--a grandfather, a father, two mothers, and three children, all male, aged 18, 16, and five--fell sick and were rushed to the Romblon Provincial Hospital under a cloud of utmost secrecy.

Ang dahilan: lahat sila ay biktima ng pagkakalason ng mercury, ang iligal na kemikal na ginagamit sa pagmimina ng ginto sa Magdiwang. Lahat ay iisa ang sintomas--nanghihina ang katawan at nanginginig. Sumasakit ang ulo. May slurred speech, narrowing of vision, at nabibingi.

Walang dahilan upang magduda na hindi alam ng punong-bayan ng Magdiwang, si Ibarra Manzala, ang pangyayaring ito. Walang dahilan upang pagdudahan na hindi alam ni Gob. Lolong Firmalo ang pangyayaring ito. Pitong biktima ng mercury poisoning sa isang lalawigan na katulad ng Romblon ay isang kahindik-hindik na pangyayari. Isang eskandalo dapat. At walang nakakaalam? Alam nga na nagmimina si Dr. Jose Cabrera sa kabundukan ng Odiongan sa boundary ng Looc, ngunit walang sumisita o nagpapatigil. Bakit kaya?

Kaya ang pagdududa ay may batayan, dahil nakalkal ng ating source ang tunay na pangyayari. Nakuhanan ng retrato ang mga biktima. Nakita nang personal. Nainterbyu. Makalipas ang ilang araw, gumaling din sila, ngunit sang-ayon sa ating source, pagbalik na pagbalik sa Magdiwang ay nagmina na uli.

Kaduda-duda na ang pitong biktima ay pinagsabihan na itikom ang bibig. Naka-zipper ang mga ito at hindi pinagsalita maging sa media. Nino?

Maging ang mga doktor sa hospital ay ayaw magsalita. Pati nars. May mga pangalan ba sila? Meron. Kanino nanggaling ang utos na huwag magsalita? Sino ang gumastos sa pagpapa-ospital?

Mabababaw na mga tanong? Hindi. Umpisa pa lang ito ng pagbubunyag nang anomalya ng pamamahala at pagtrato sa mamamayan ng Romblon na nagiging biktima ng sakuna o aksidente na gawa ng tao. Ang gawain ng pagpapabaya sa kalunos-lunos na katotohanang bagaman may executive order ang ating gobernador na walang dapat magmina sa Romblon, harap-harapan naman ang paglabag dito sa Magdiwang.

In your face ito. Kesehodang anuman ang sabihin, sulatin, o ibrodlkas, bahala na si Batman. Ganoon ba, Mayor Manzala, ang nangyayari sa bayan mo? Itinatago ang bad news at pogi points lang ang dapat lumabas?

Noong Enero 2011, may nagsagawa ng toxic test sa hangin ng Magdiwang upang malaman ang lawak ng polusyon ng hangin at tubig sa naturang bayan. May kopya ng resulta ng test ang ating source. Malala, ayon sa kaniya, ang sitwasyon. May dapat bang ipagduda na hindi alam ng lokal at panlalawigang pamahalaan ang katotohanang ito?

Kung alam, ano ang ginagawa? Kung hindi alam, bakit? Ayaw malaman dahil baka maalarma ang taumbayan at mag-aklas. O kaya'y tumalikod at hindi sila iboto?

Ang sabi ng ating source, napakahalaga ngang malaman ng lahat ng Romblomanon ang nangyayari sa Magdiwang upang makapaghanda at makagawa ng hakbang upang matigil na ang pagkalason ng hangin at tubig sa naturang bayan.

Iisa lang ang alam kong paraan. Ngayon din ay dapat itigil ang pagmimina ng ginto. Ngayon din ay dapat ipatigil ni Gob. Lolong at ni Mayor Manzala ang paggamit ng mercury sa mga ballmill upang mapino ang gintong nanggagaling sa lupa ng Magdiwang. Ano ang pumipigil sa kanila?

Alam ko na ang sagot ng ating mga opisyal. "What is the livelihood alternative that you propose if we stop all mining activities in Magdiwang?"

I have a ready answer: I don't know, Mayor Manzala. I don't know, Gov. Firmalo. You tell me. You are the responsible officials. That's why you were elected in the first place. To help people rise from scratch to a life of decency. So, don't ask writers what to do. We know what we do. We tell the truth. We tell things as we see them.

The argument that I often hear, that we need to propose livelihood alternatives to the small-scale miners in Magdiwang before we can stop this environmental rape, will not wash. It can be answered by a simple question, really.

What do the people of Magdiwang, of Romblon, do to live B.M., or before mining, when the Magdiwang environment was still pristine because some of its politicians are not of the worse kind as they are today?

Don't they fish, or farm, or trade, for a living? Were they not alive even B.M., before mining, when the rapacious and methodical destruction of all things natural in Mother Earth changed the character and behavior of some of our politicians?

B.M., before mining, were not the people of Magdiwang, and of Romblon, lovers all of their natural environment off whose bounty they lived peaceful lives until the intrusion into their shores of the miners who snuffed out Armin Marin's life? Tell me.

Sakmal ng lagim ang pagkakalason ng mercury. Kaya nga bawal ito kahit sa termometro. Sa bansang Hapon ay may lugar na kung tawagin ay Minamata, from whose name the Minamata disease was derived. Minamata is a pollution disease, discovered in 1956, caused by the entry of methyl mercury in the body. It attacks the central nervous system, including the brain. It is a deadly disease, but not contagious, and can be caused by eating large quantities of fish and shellfish from mercury-polluted waters.

Kaya para kay Woodritz Rabino, totoo ang pangamba mo na baka susunod na ang Magdiwang sa tatamaan ng aksidente dahil sa mina. Ngunit kung mababasa mo ito, maniwala ka, may aksidente nang nagaganap, at mas malala pa sa iniisip mo.

Ang aksidente ay narito na. Hindi lang napapansin, dahil pilit tinatabunan. At pilit na itinatago.

Ngunit maniwala ka, Woodritz, may kasabihan ang ating mga ninuno. Lahat nang itinatago, may baho.

Sa ngayon, unti-unti nang umaalingasaw ang amoy ng pusali ng kapalpakan sa ating lalawigan pagdating sa pagma-manage ng isyu ng mining. Kaya dapat tayong maging mapagbantay. At mapanuri.