A doctor by profession, Gov. Firmalo, before he became a full-time provincial chief executive, was a full-time physician. His clinic at the Delos Santos Hospital in Manila was one of, if not the most, frequented clinics in town.
To many Romblomanons, especially the poor, he dispensed his services for free, so much so that when he ran for political office, he had already built an horde of believers voters who swore to high heavens they will vote for him even if he ran for barangay kagawad.
Health is Dr. Firmalo’s turf. Romblomanons with health problems and those who dream of remaining healthy form his political base. When he won as governor, Romblomanons hoped that health services in the province will change for the better. He has three years to turn this hope into reality.
But Romblon is a cauldron with a multitude of problems. Trina, Firmalo's brilliant and energetic daughter, knows this. She has studied abroad and had put her education to practice in non-government work in Africa and in the Philippines, so she understands the immensity of the problems her dad had inherited from the unlamented, incompetent, and happy-go-lucky Natalio Beltran III, Rep. Madrona’s very 'own governor'.
Firmalo knows this, too. Early on, Madrona had painted for him a dire scenario for the province and what awaits him as governor.
In a speech during the first provincial development council meeting in the capitol in August last year, Madrona told Firmalo in no uncertain terms: “Wala kang pera, Governor”, or something to that effect.
I quote Madrona: “And again, I have to repeat and emphasize that if I have the chance, ayoko nang mag-gobernador. Gov, believe it or not, the budget that is allotted to you as governor, isang cash advance ko lang ‘yan as Vice-Chairman of the Accounts doon sa House of Representatives.”
My reading of this statement is that Madrona was telling Firmalo he was bound to fail; that Firmalo needs to level with him if the governor is to succeed in his HEART agenda. Sa sigulanong Asi: “Ako it de ganga; ako it amo. Sunor yang sa ako.”
With these threatening words, who needs a congressman?
We do. But we need a congressman to represent us in Congress, not to bully us, especially the governor and his allies, and to put us on notice that, because he controls the purse strings, his wish is his command. That’s not the essence of democracy. That's trapo.
And so, because Firmalo is alien to the evil ways of Madrona’s traditional politics, he is “estopped”.
He is in some kind of a bind. His hands are tied. He is hindered because of the threat of the sword of Damocles hanging over his head, this sword being the fact that Madrona can—and will—withdraw any financial help for the province’s development projects if and when Firmalo and his allies misbehave.
Why did I say this? Because Madrona’s own mouth spewed this venom. Read:
“This is the very first time in my political life in Congress that I’ll be working with a governor from another party. For my first three terms as congressman, I had the benefit of working with my own governor. When I was governor, I had the benefit of working with my own congressman. And again, when I came back, I had the benefit of working with my own governor.
“Umaabot sa punto na, sa totoo lang po, Gob, ang problema ng governor ko, ako ang pinuputukan dahil ang mga tao hindi alam ang distinction kung ano ang responsibilidad ng gobernador at responsibilidad ng congressman.
“Noong ako’y congressman, pag malubak ang mga provincial roads, ang congressman po ang pinupukpok. May pagkakataon na kinukulang ang mga gamot ng ating hospitals, ang congressman po ang binubugbog. I cannot say: “Oops, hindi ko yata ‘yan trabaho. Trabaho ng governor ‘yan.” Why? Because the governor is one with me, so I have to support the governor. Pag bumagsak ang governor ko ay ikababagsak ko rin. Sometimes, I have to sacrifice because I have to shoulder all the responsibilities of all my municipal and provincial officials.”
The above words were pregnant with insinuations, but they simply means: “You are on your own, Gov. Firmalo, since you are not my own governor. I cannot support you because you are not with me.”
Right after the speech, Firmalo should have reacted to this poisonous political baiting. But because he was civil, he did not. Not even his allies who, like chimpanzees, jumped up and down applauding Madrona for his supposed reconciliatory tone.
By the way, the Romblon Sun got a share of Madrona’s goat in his speech. He said:
“Pero ang Romblon Sun, hanggang ngayon wala nang ginawa kundi tirahin ako. Pag nagpatuloy ang Romblon Sun, ang kawawa ang ating gobernador dahil siya ang nasa puwesto. Eh, ‘yong kanyang mga kasamahang talunan ay nasa tabi-tabi lang at walang responsibilidad sa ating mga mamamayan.”
Well, well. Romblon Sun is now famous because no less than the congressman of Romblon reads it.
But may I ask: “Why has Romblon Sun suddenly cropped up in the equation when what it was doing was merely to convey the news?” Why should Firmalo suffer if it is Madrona who’s the subject of the Romblon Sun’s supposed “tira”? I don’t get it.
Madrona should know that the antidote to a bad press is good deeds, and a forceful elucidation of those deeds. Is he, or are his people, doing the latter? I most sincerely doubt. Ask Tony Macalisang and Awe Eranes if Madrona and his allies, or even Firmalo and his group, have sent the Romblon Sun a single press release.
The antidote to Madrona’s harangue, if one were to ask me, should have been an equal dose of his own words.
And that’s the point I am on to. The work of responding to, or pointing out that Madrona was threatening the governor, or informing the public about what the provincial government is doing for the people, properly belonged to an information officer which the capitol do not have and, therefore, it sorely needs.
Well, again, the governor may protest to high heavens that he has one, but where is he or she? Scratching papers on a table in a lonely nook at the kapitolyo, waiting for the five-o’clock-in-the-afternoon chime so he could go home?
Is he informing the people about what’s happening in the capitol and about Firmalo’s many accomplishments as provincial chief executive? Does he know anything at all about communicating to the public? Does he know that President Benigno S. Aquino III’s transparency policy includes informing the grassroots about the “good news”?
He doesn’t. You need proof? Browse the official provincial government website and you will see that it is Natalio Beltran III who is still the governor there.
What’s happening, Governor? Don't you know that in our times when online social networks and the Internet have become the most potent tools of public communication, the province of Romblon has not even updated its own website?
I have suggested, privately, to Awe Eranes to find out what the provincial information officer is doing and how much pay he receives from the taxpayers, all because I would like to suggest to Gov. Firmalo—and to Trina who is doing a yeoman’s job of managing the traffic at the Office of the Governor—that the position of public information officer, if it exists, be abolished and the budget allocation for the position be donated to the Romblon Sun which, even with its rag tag team of writers and reporters, manages to come out regularly, issue after issue, rain or shine, and with death threats and malicious insinuations hanging over their heads, to inform the people of Romblon on matters that affect them.
Outsource the work, Governor, and declare your information officer redundant.