Thursday, December 4, 2008

Leonie Firmalo: The wife also rises

Those of you who read my take on the role of the Romblon Sun in our provincial affairs may have noticed that I wrote two sentences about former congressman Lolong Firmalo, in connection with my observation that there is today no organized opposition in Romblon, thus, making it possible for those who are in power to run roughshod over us.

In that piece, I asked: “Where is Firmalo, by the way? After his bitter defeat, he hibernated, disappeared, hid, and so became a ghost of his old self.”

Now, this observation is not true after all. Dr. Lolong Firmalo, I was told, is not hibernating. He has not disappeared. And he is the same Dr. Lolong.

Who told me? His wife, Leonie, to whom I am sharing this space to prove that Dr. Lolong is still very much around. Or, should I say, still very much in contention, Madam?

I have not met Mrs. Firmalo in person. I very much wanted to, to tell her I have genuine affection for people who long for “the day honesty and integrity in government service in Romblon will come to light again”, as you will notice from Mrs. Firmalo’s letter below, which I edited only for clarity to do justice to a loving wife’s views:

Dear Nicon,

I am Dr. Leonie Firmalo, wife of former Congressman Lolong Firmalo. I came across your article in the October 20-26, 2008 issue of the Romblon Sun, and would like to respond to your query, “Where is Firmalo, by the way? After his bitter defeat, he hibernated, disappeared, hid and so became a ghost of his old self.”

I write this strictly as a personal note to you because I feel that it is unfair that he be pictured as such.

We were not bitter after his defeat; the best word would be “heart-broken” because in spite of all the sacrifices of the whole family, there was no appreciation of what true public service is. Even after he lost, he spent his last month in office coordinating with various government agencies in ensuring that the projects he started for Romblon would continue even after his tenure. At present, we still continue to extend medical help, even to those who did not vote for him.

Dr. Lolong did not disappear; you can find him three times a week at De los Santos Medical Center, attending to at least 150-200 Romblomanons a week not only for their medical needs, but also for their other concerns. He still retained his medical coordinator to continue helping patients with admissions in Manila hospitals, and even finds the time to visit them. I also see many Romblomanon children in my clinic at Fe del Mundo Medical Center, also without compensation.

As his birthday offering, we had a two-day medical mission last October, when we saw about 2,000 patients. Some medicines were donations, but a majority of it came from our personal funds. Lest this be construed as a political strategy, I can assure you that it is not. He served officially as Congressman from 2004-2007, but for a total of 32 years since he became a young doctor, he has already been extending unwavering service to Romblomanons.

He is very much alive as a Romblomanon in heart and mind. He’s a gentle and good person, not loud and not a politico; not looking for attention. Every time he hears corruption in Romblon, he bleeds a little. I should know, because I’ve been with him for the last 30 years. I see how he becomes depressed because he’s not in a position to do more, yet they continue to lambast him over radio and print without any basis.

For us, he will never be a ghost; he is the pride of our family, and I hope of Romblon, too.

More power to your column in the Romblon Sun. I know we are one in hoping for the day that honesty and integrity in government service in Romblon will come to light again.

Respectfully yours,

When I read this letter—sent over e-mail—I threw a prayer that may the Good Lord bless Leonie and curse our politicians who do not write rejoinders to opinion pieces published in the newspapers.

I expressed the hope that our politicians would be like Mrs. Firmalo, who will respond in defense of what they firmly believe is defensible. Mrs. Firmalo is very articulate for a politician’s wife, and this is a sincere compliment.

Alas, as I correctly observed in that column, many elected Romblomanon officials have become mute. They refuse to answer reports, even expressions of opinion, about their conduct. They think public criticisms of their official deeds will be reduced to a whimper when they remain silent? Think again. Newsmen and journalists eat paper and drink ink for breakfast.

And for the love of objectivity, I would like to tell Mrs. Firmalo that I did not write that Dr. Lolong was bitter in his defeat. I said his defeat was bitter, which meant differently. In fact, that I viewed his getting vanquished a bitter pill only correctly summed up the feeling of his supporters—that he should have won. That they could not believe a non-traditional politician will get swallowed whole by crocodiles clothed in the finest barong tagalog.

Well, one can “disappear” in many ways. Dr. Lolong has not been heard often expressing his views in public, although, as Mrs. Firmalo said, he is not loud, not a politico, and not looking for attention. That he continues to treat Romblomanons for free is a testament to his good heart. But he should speak more—in public, that is.

This is where Mrs. Firmalo, or even Dr. Lolong, and I differ greatly. Good governance does not mean only healing people’s physical defects. It also means healing the people’s political souls. You have Romblomanons ailing—and dying—precisely because of neglect and incompetence and you have a problem. The solution is not to only treat them medically, but to excise the tumor that makes them sick in the first place. That is, to remove, through the use of a scalpel, if that is necessary, the root cause of it all—the political neglect and the incompetence which those who replaced Dr. Lolong now publicly displays.

I admit that when Dr. Lolong was not yet a congressman, I offered him advice on political reform. He heard, but I am not sure he listened. That is another difference.

As a writer, I make it my official calling to listen to people’s woes. I, myself, have woes of my own, but I subsume personal feelings under the greater weight of public interest. That should be the official credo of elected officials.

Honestly, did Dr. Lolong make this his creed when he was congressman? I did not hear from him since, but I suppose Mrs. Firmalo was right: that Dr. Lolong “bleeds a little” every time he hears official corruption in Romblon.

If it’s comfort enough, Leonie, Dr. Lolong is not alone. I, myself, bleed profusely every time I hear of the inanity of our public officials. The bad news is that our officials also bleed. They bleed our coffers dry. This is the kind of bleeding that Dr. Firmalo—and all meaningful Romblomanons—should now try to stanch.

On the issue of family pride, I can tell you without “bleeding” that this is one trait we all can unite in. You are proud of Dr. Lolong as every Romblomanon is proud of their husbands and wives and children.

At least, we stand on common ground. I just don’t know if family pride can lead Romblon to prosperity. The last time it surfaced, we saw a husband and wife team drawing our dreams and it led us to Bakhawan in San Agustin, where Congressman Budoy Madrona redraw Romblon’s political map.

If you are to ask me, I will go one step further. I am proud that Romblon has Dr. Firmalo as one of its sons. If I were you, I will ask him to run again for public office, so that your hope “for the day that honesty and integrity in government service in Romblon will come to light again” will be actualized. You, too, could consider running.

If that happens, then the title of this column will be justified.

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