Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The local races: Madrona retains the upper hand

Looking at the results in the municipal level, one cannot avoid the conclusion that the challenge for change and reform did not make much relevance to Romblon voters’ choices in the May 10, 2010 elections.

This is in contrast to the big win in the provincial level, personified by governor-elect Lolong Firmalo and vice governor-elect Mel Madrid who, from the looks of it were catapulted to their positions on the strength of their principled stand for change and, if I may add, on the gravity of the people’s desire to banish back to Timbuktu the corrupt and irresponsible governor Natalio Beltran III.

It can be recalled that during the last three years, Beltran had been the consistent object of public scorn due to his gross mismanagement of the capitol. Add to this the fact that the young governor, while refusing to answer directly the criticisms against him, also dismissed these as “politically-motivated”, not knowing that such casual dismissal is the usual refuge of scoundrels.

That he was allied with Cong. Eleandro Jesus F. Madrona and the unlamented former district engineer Dodoy Perez, who themselves are not without critics, made matters more untenable for change and reform in Romblon. A trio of see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, and speak-no-evil politicians, thus, were ripe for the picking when the campaign for the elections started, so the pundits opined.

And so this was the situation that the reformists—Firmalo and his political ally, vice-governor Alice Fetalvero—faced. It was not so much of a change in policies, governance styles and political culture that they sought to effect. It was also the faces and personas of the current power holders that they sought to replace. It was the malignant tumor of corruption and indolence that they sought to excise.

But how deeply the municipal candidates of both the administration and opposition parties understood the relevance of the May 10 elections to the cause of change and reform could not be ascertained. It could be that they were aware of what were at stake. Or, it could be that they were not, but were only too willing to take sides and fight to hide their ignorance. Worse, they could not really care whether they knew or not.

In Alice’s and Lolong’s part, they knew. They knew too well that the May 10 polls would be a referendum on Madrona’s and Beltran’s performance, as well as a judgment on Perez’s idiocy. They knew that the three are formidable opponents, with access to huge election resources and entrenched grassroots machinery. And they knew that if they fail to dislodge the trio, chances are it will be impossible to unseat them in 2013.

In fact, anyone who is in his right political frame of mind will not dare fight Madrona—whether he is alone or in the company of highway robbers—without risking a big bruise—or a fat loss. I found this out in 2001.

Yet, for all Madrona’s perceived impregnability and commanding (broken) track record, he is not unbeatable. We all knew that Lolong out-dueled him in 2004. But even so, Alice and Lolong knew that they needed to rally on their camp as many municipal mayors as they could, for on them would hang the balance between failure and success of their change and reform crusade. If they win, and they don’t have any ally in the 17 municipalities, it would be next to impossible to carry on their new policies and programs.

Well, there is a danger this may be so, gauging from the results of the local races where Madrona won the battle and retained his grip on municipal politics. How?

It must be noted that Madrona was able to do this only because of his being a political chameleon. He always runs astride two or more political parties without the benefit of any formal coalition, an anomaly for which he is yet to be punished. He did it in 2001, 2004 and 2007. He did it again in 2010 with abominable results.

For instance, in the May 10 elections, he rode at the back of the Nacionalista Party and the Lakas-Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino-Christian Muslim Democrats. This could have reinforced the suspicion that Manny Villar, Madrona’s patron, is the candidate of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, so much so that Villar lost heavily in Romblon. A different outcome could have arisen if Madrona chose only one party, although that is wishing for the moon.

This brings the question of who did Madrona campaigned for as president. Was it Gilberto Teodoro or Manny Villar? If it was Teodoro, then what makes Madrona and Secretary Bernie Fondevilla and his Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) candidates led by Alice Fetalvero who also campaigned for Teodoro? Weren’t they bedfellows, however strange?

If on the other hand, Madrona campaigned for Villar, as he must have promised when he and Gov. Beltran rushed to the NP’s headquarters after pledging allegiance to Teodoro, wasn’t this a betrayal of the highest order that deserves the voters’ outrage?

Apparently not, for Madrona’s mayors won in majority of Romblon’s 17 towns. These towns are Alcantara, Banton, Concepcion, Corcuera, Ferrol, Looc, Magdiwang, Romblon, San Agustin, San Jose, and Sta. Fe. The winners in these municipalities all filed their certificates of candidacy as members of Partido PaLaKa, the same party under which Madrona filed his CoC.

In the towns of Sta. Maria and San Andres, the winners are also Madrona’s lapdogs, but who filed their CoCs under the Nacionalista Party, under whose banner defeated vice gubernatorial candidate Rolindo Perez and SP members Sam Romero and Michael Arevalo also filed.

There is a Tagalog saying which goes this way: “Ang naghahangad ng kagitna, isang salop ang nawawala.”

I don’t know if this is true, but looking at Beltran’s and Perez’s defeat, as well as in the defeat of some of their SP candidates, Madrona’s gamble of embracing all available political parties just to ensure that he will have his cake and eat it too, backfired. Another way to look at it, though, is to say he was also successful. Tingnan natin.

Madrona’s mayors, save for a few, are the same old bunch of politicians that have stuck with him through thick and thin. Just sample the names: Madrona, Arboleda, Visca, Faderanga, Manzala, etc. They have been winning elections not because of their progressive leadership styles, or because they promise change, but because of their association and loyalty to Madrona.

They don’t have any record of spectacular achievements or of superior performance, if we use as a measure the socio-economic situation in their respective municipalities. In short, they are the same local traditional elites that resist intrusion into their self-proclaimed political fiefdoms. Pa-wardi-wardi. These elites do not regard lightly any attempt to erode their influence and, therefore, use all of their power to retain power.

One of the few exemptions is Concepcion Mayor Lemuel Cipriano, a non-trad Madrona convert whose industry and excellent leadership have brought Sibale to a record of growth and prosperity. The only thing that tars Cipriano’s accomplishments is his falling as victim to Madrona’s political double-talk. In the last election, he slugged it out with another Madrona acolyte, Adrian Feudo who, like Cipriano, was promised by Madrona “unlimited campaign support”. The promised support came in an empty “supot”. Unfortunately in Romblon today, there are still some, like Cipriano and Feudo, who are slow to learn of Madrona’s classic divide-and-rule tactic.

On the other hand, the cause of change and reform found a new adherent in Cajidiocan where Festo Galang Jr. slew a giant in Mayor Nicasio Ramos, another Madrona apostle. In Odiongan, Calatrava and San Fernando, progressive mayors in the persons of Baltazar Firmalo, Robert Fabella and Dindo Rios won.

Note that I did not say these “progressives” are Lolong Firmalo’s mayors. More likely, their loyalties are to their constituents who must have seen their performance during the time they were holding the reins of power.

For example, Mayor Firmalo of Odiongan has spectacularly transformed Odiongan into a progressive commercial enclave, while Mayor Fabella has won the hearts of Calatravanhons for his efforts at fostering food sufficiency and agricultural productivity.

In the end, whether or not the loyalties of these mayors are to Sec. Fondevilla or to Alice Fetalvero or to Lolong Firmalo hardly matter. What is important was that they were seen by the voters as change agents, and that’s a plus that Firmalo as governor should factor in his bid to change and transform Romblon’s cacique political culture into a modernist and non-traditional one.

But as experience tells us, local politics is characterized by atrophy and a seemingly immovable resistance to change. However, local politics has also the character of impermanence in personal relationships. So, I am sure that when the dust of the May 10 election settles, we may yet to see political re-alignments that would change the balance of the political equation in Romblon.

The re-alignments will most likely involve Madrona’s mayors who, knowing that a Noynoy Aquino is a Firmalo ally, would think twice about NOT going with the current. Those who will go against the tide could do so at their own peril. It would be like committing hara-kiri or seppuku without the cha-no-yu, or tea ceremony.

So, Madrona, while having the upper hand at the moment in the municipal level, should not fall asleep but watch his rear. So does Firmalo. He, as governor, should not lose precious opportunity to enlist more mayors, vice mayors, and councilors, even barangay captains. This is the only way he can effectively move forward his agenda for change and reform which the present representative and his cohorts, particularly Gov. Beltran, has been holding back for obvious reasons.

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