Saturday, August 29, 2009

Beltran's 'sacristans'

Romblon vice governor Alice Fetalvero must be very, very frustrated.

As presiding officer of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, or SP, I am sure she is forced by circumstance to hobnob in council sessions with a bunch of elected provincial lawmakers who have different personal backgrounds, different motivations, and different levels of abilities.

As a co-equal branch of the provincial executive, the law designed the SP in such a way that it must be peopled by representatives OF the masses, BY the masses, and FOR the masses, so much so that the SP every three years, again as deemed by law, must welcome a group of people with varied persuasions elected by their constituents.

Romblon’s SP is no different from Congress. It is designed to formulate laws, and to serve as foil to an overbearing and abusive provincial executive. By law, the SP must do its work through collective action and debate, unlike the governor who is alone, and whose main job is to execute, or implement, the laws and ordinances issued from the chambers of the SP.

It is against this background that we examine the Romblon Sangguniang Panlalawigan.

Alice Fetalvero knows her work, and it is this knowledge that is one of the sources of her frustration. As former mayor, she had dealt with a Sangguniang Bayan in Calatrava and she knows that without the imprimatur of the municipal councilors, she cannot move an inch. In her case as SP presiding officer, she has to deal with a pliant—because it is spineless—Sanggunian. This is why she is frustrated.

Check and balance. That’s how the local legislative bodies were designed. That’s what the SP is all about. If only this design by the law is followed, the province, or indeed, the country, should by now speeding through the superhighway of progress.

Alas, the SP, as presently constituted, has abandoned for all intents and purposes its basic responsibility as a check-and-balance mechanism of governance. It is an “Amen” and “Hallelujah” Sanggunian, a Sanggunian that doesn’t “sangguni” (or consult), but a Sanggunian that merely goes along with the wishes, whims, and caprices of the provincial governor.

The Sangguniang Panlalawigan is no more than a rubberstamp Sanggunian. It has become a tool by the governor to lend a face of legitimacy, or regularity, to all things illegitimate, and irregular, that he has done for the last two years.

This is not merely an observation of a citizen. This is a view of someone who, in 2007, lent a few words of advice to some of the members who now sit cozily on their chairs in the provincial legislative.

Shortly before the start of the election campaign in 2007, Rep. Budoy Madrona invited me to give a pep talk to his SP candidates. Budoy then was up to a big challenge: unseating an incumbent administration led by Dr. Lolong Firmalo, and he made sure that his candidates reflected his dream of taking back the reigns of power from the neophyte legislator-doctor who abruptly ended his dream in 2004.

I remember the following faces who listened to that briefing: Nelson Lim, George Ramos, Gil Ll. Moreno, and Geminiano Galicia. Governor candidate Jojo Beltran was there, but he arrived very late, a reflection of his bad personal habits. He sat at the back, and pretended to know the subject at hand. I knew his mind was somewhere else.

In that only encounter I had with the SPs-to-be, I outlined the economic situation of Romblon and the message that they should bring to the people during the campaign. I said that as members-to-be of the SP, they carry a big burden on their shoulders to change for the better the socio-economic condition of the Romblomanons. I said provincial unity and hard work is the key that would unlock the province’s potential. They should work for that, I told them.

Either the candidates were not listening, or they were dense, or they had this prejudice against the wisdom of islanders, that they soon forget the encounter. Rep. Madrona seemed not to care, too, for he didn’t forcefully drive the message. The next day, they all went back to Romblon because it was the start of the campaign.

I recall this episode because as we see today, the SP is not functioning as it should. By sheer number, it affirms the governor and rams through our throats whatever it is that Beltran wishes to ram.

Sure, there are opposition members in the SP—Manuel Madrid, Benjamin Irao, and of course, Alice Fetalvero, but their collective force is no match to the overwhelming number of Beltran’s henchmen—Lim, Ramos, Moreno, Dorado, and Galicia. How about Pat Manalon? Is he or isn’t he?

There, too, are the ex-officio members Gerry Tansiongco, the representative of the barangay captains, Felix Ylagan, the representative of the municipal councilors, and Mark Philip Tandog, the youth representative. Their presence not only makes the SP a humungous crowd. They make sure that any question regarding Beltran’s proposals would be met—with defeat. What Beltran desires, the SP provides.

I have not attended any session of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, so I cannot attest to the quality of the debates, if there are debates at all, that transpire in the provincial legislative body. But I can attest to one thing: none of the members of the SP, except Alice Fetalvero, has ever corresponded with this writer on any issue that I have raised concerning Romblon. She calls to clarify issues that I write. Irao and Madrid, too.

As to the rest, they take it as business as usual. And their business? Peddling silence, deafening silence. They have been mute and deaf on issues that matter to the people.

I can also attest that on occasions I have read, or have learned, that the SP has acted or moved, it was to act or to move AGAINST the people of Romblon. I can as well attest that nothing thus far that has emanated from the SP, in terms of laws or ordinances, has changed the life quality index of the Romblomanons. I know, I have been tracking this index regularly. Has the SP, for example, considered legislating opportunities for emergency employment immediately after the global financial crisis hit Philippine shores? SP Irao, please answer this question.

And so, it came to pass that we are now nearing a decision point whether or not to send these members of the SP back to their comfy chairs in the capitol, or to banish them to oblivion. I am speaking of the May 2010 elections, when I am sure these elected clowns in the provincial Sanggunian, masquerading as servants of the people, will again conduct a visitation and beg us for our votes. Are we to re-elect deodorants to the governor or elect SPs with balls and imagination?

The choice is clear: Junk Beltran’s “sacristans”.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A bold prediction: Lolong by a mile over Beltran

I have not seen Dr. Lolong Firmalo as serious as he was last Sunday.

Over Californian, Spanish, Italian and Australian wine, sinigang na kanduli, chicken adobo and Boer goat meat courtesy of Dr. Tato Sison in his resort in Pililla, Rizal, Dr. Firmalo and his wife Leonie, their daughter Trina, retired judge Cesar Solis, Gilbert Miniano, former San Fernando mayor Dindo Rios and his wife Ruby, former Romblon municipal councilor now Sun columnist Lyndon Molino, and myself talked about Romblon politics, a topic that sends people to convulse because it is the most potent brew ever invented by man.

Pililla seemed an out-of-town hideaway to discuss politics, but it is ideal. For one, Dr. Tato’s resort commands a spectacular view of the eastern part of Laguna Lake and the mountains of the Sierra Madre. For another, it is safe from eavesdroppers who might leak things said at the meeting, although, I said to the group that I will write about it for the benefit of discussion.

A gracious host, Dr. Sison quipped that he wouldn’t mind slaughtering more Boer goats—he has plenty—to ensure the opposition in Romblon, led, of course, by Dr. Firmalo, unseats Rep. Budoy Madrona and company in the May 2010 election.

This quip sent the group to a frenzied discussion.

The essence of the meeting was the one tough question that many have been asking: Who, in the opposition, will fight Budoy Madrona in 2010?

Romblon, it seems, has run out of politicians because no one, at least as the discussion went, wants to stand in Budoy’s way to a second term in the House of Representatives.

But before this question was dissected, the discussion revolved around Gov. Jojo Beltran. Beltran is a goner if Lolong decides to fight him as governor, many in the group agreed. The reason is obvious. The young Beltran, as observers opine, is far—very far—from the mold of his late father.

Using as a campaign motto what was supposed to be the last wish of Natalio Beltran Sr.—“Anak, huwag mong pababayaan ang Romblon.”—Jojo cheated the hearts of Romblomanons in 2007 straight to the capitol by repeatedly engaging in this tear-jerker of a huling habilin.

And true enough, waya gi pabad-i ni Jojo ka Romblon. He ransacked it. Way to go, Gov. Jojo.

So with this state of things now, Dr. Firmalo MUST fight Jojo Beltran, who embodies the pervasive personality of a traditional politician—lazy, unimaginative, and corrupt—and therefore, represents more harm and devastation to Romblon than any of the previous governors combined.

Well, there is an exemption to this view and he is Budoy Madrona who, when he was governor, mortgaged Romblon to the Land Bank of the Philippines, reason why we are drowning in debt.

The group is of the view that if Lolong fights Beltran, Beltran would not know what hits him.
This, Trina Firmalo said, is also the consensus of Lolong’s municipal leaders, who believe that Firmalo versus Beltran will be a no-contest. Lolong will trounce Beltran by a mile. “Milya-milya gid ang layo”, Lyndon remorselessly quipped.

Lyndon also said that if Firmalo decides to run for governor, Budoy, who is a take-all-or-nothing political animal, will be deathly worried. He doesn’t like the idea of the capitol occupied by an oppositionist, more so by his mortal political nemesis, Lolong, for fear that all the skeletons in the closet, the dirt of misgovernance past, will come tumbling down at his very doorstep if Lolong wins as governor.

A double whammy? Lolong beating Jojo means beating Budoy, too? So, what happens to Agriculture undersecretary Bernie Fondevilla?

Ah, Bernie, who is drooling over the prospect of becoming the next Romblon congressman and who, by the way, figures in the political equation only because he doled-out goodies in 2007, is nearing political extinction if he doesn’t act fast.

He has one week, to be exact. You see, Bernie is playing games, saying one day he will run, and then hiding the next. Is he afraid to spend his money or afraid of Budoy? Maybe or may be not, but the standard reply coming from Fondevilla, I was told, was that he is waiting for the green light from Malacanang. Come on, Bernie, you know that’s crap. Who, in heaven’s sake, would believe that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, your patron, regards Romblon with such importance that she determines your fate, your political career, and that she will make the decision for you?

This is the problem with Bernie and other Romblon traditional politicians. Because of lack of clear ideas and principles, they can’t decide, deluding themselves that the presence of a national patron and the availability of truckloads of money will get Romblon out of the rut. Will Arroyo’s raising Bernie’s hands in May 2010 solve our joblessness, poverty, and the other problems inherited and multiplied by Madrona and Beltran? Bernie, I’ll give you A-plus if you answer that question correctly.

Judge Solis was right. He said that in national politics, Romblon, a backwater province led by backwater politicians, has no leverage that it is well nigh impossible that Fondevilla, who is Agriculture secretary Yap’s lapdog and barker, would be asked or not asked by the President to run or not to run.

I am of the opinion that Fondevilla is playing coy about his plans because he, too, has become a traditional pol. He is also playing decoy to the opposition, delaying his decision using Malacanang as pretext to derail Lolong’s plans and moves. Is he sincere as an oppositionist? I doubt, but I believe Trina when he said that Bernie promised to help the opposition even if he doesn’t run.

I now say, Bernie don’t run. Just help Lolong and company. Anyway, you have a bright career ahead of you even if your bosses, Yap and Arroyo, would be hauled off to jail after the election. But if you run, make sure that Madrona doesn’t steamroll you. He is loaded. Are you?

On the other hand, I don’t doubt Lolong’s sincerity, particularly when he said that in the absence of Fondevilla’s final word, he is moving forward “to save Romblon”.

“Save Romblon”. Well, Romblon, like Private Ryan, is worth saving. It is OUR province, and we must do everything in our power to prevent Romblon from going to the dogs. The question, however, is who will lead the saving? Should it be Bernie? And save it from what? I am not too sure everybody understands whom or where to save Romblon from, and for whom shall we save it. For ourselves, the greater many; or for the traditional politicians, the fewer few?

I also don’t doubt Trina’s sincerity when she asked me later I must have time for Romblon. Trina—who just recently returned from Princeton University where she studied public affairs and international relations and is now doing consultancy work on rural development in Romblon—has the making of a progressive-minded public servant, but that’s for another topic.

In the meantime, I told her I have been devoting time for cultural work in the province, my polite way of saying that I don’t entertain the idea of being in politics again, unless I am shoved, and promised her I’ll invite her to have coffee.

That would be soon, Trina. And please, tell your Dad that if he intends to save Romblon, he should do it properly and quickly.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Asi? The Concert and the coming of age of a language

I didn’t take note of the names and faces of those who came to the Asi? The Concert last Saturday at the Arellano University Gym, but from the number of people who stayed up to the last number, I can say with unabashed pride that it was a success. Lyndon Fadri, the prime mover of the event, can now recover his lost sleep.

Language—the Asi language—was the cause célèbre of the concert. Its aim was not to make tons of money, but to tell the world the Asi also sing and that they sing in their own tongue.

It was kind of daring for the Banton High School Alumni Association (BHSAA), of which Lyndon is also president, to “invade” a city where performance acts of singing artists of all hues and shades and ideologies are dime a dozen and to subject the Asi language to a commercial test. To bring Asi singers unknown outside of Romblon to a city known for either catapulting singers to instant fame or burying them to oblivion is bravery. BHSAA was brave.

Did the concert pass that test? Only time and the BHSAA can tell, but from where I sit—and the place where I am is the salt mine of Asi language and culture promotion—I can say that BHSAA’s daring paid off. Congratulations.

Asi? The Concert was unique in that all the songs performed by the artists were all in Asi the language. In my lifetime, this has not been done. If it has, I have not watched or heard any.

And I have not watched a concert divided into pitong hugna, that’s seven sets for you lovers of things English.

In between Hinigugmang Banwa (Town Beloved); Hanrumanan (Remembrances); Ugar sa Tagipusoon (Heart Wounds); Panaghoy sa Kagabhion (Night Lamentations); Pangpukaw sa Tagipusoon (Heart Stirrings); Pangkibot (One to Jolt); and Kayupugan (To Rock) were songs that captured the essences of the Asi’s existence, way of life, faith, passion, love, aspirations, courage and bravery, beauty, tradition, politics, emotional contradictions and turmoil, and sense of place and identity.

The situ of the concert was foreign to Asi—Manila is a melting pot of numerous regional and international cultures—but the atmosphere was distinctly Asi. That night, one could feel and smell Banton, Simara, Sibale, Calatrava and Odiongan coming together in a big dinner table to partake of the only fare in the menu that unites their soul—the Asi language. The spirit rejoiced to hear for one night the songs that make us as a people. If it was a real dinner, I have had more than my fill. I staggered home drunk from the fountain of Asi songs.

Leah Fietas-Beltran, Sarah Jane Fatallo-Drio and Candy Fegalan sang songs that rocked our cradles--rudan--when we were children. It was a delight to hear again the songs that lulled me to dreamland. Songs of Nathaniel Musico, Julian Faderon and the lyric translations of Claro Formadero, Cleto Fojas and Filmer Fegalan tugged at the heart and transported us back to lost memories of yesteryears.

Today’s generation of Asi, which has already been the product of various cultural influences, showed us why our culture is flexible. This flexibility is reflected by the abilities of Ivan and Al Jandy Fadriquela, Yiene Famaran, and the 1622: Unang Usbor to traverse from the reflective, melodious Asi tunes to the upbeat and modern-day trends of popular music, from Gaha, Kabuyong, Mag-amigo, and Pamusiag to Kuto’t Baylehan, Tiog 1970, Biniray Ray, Malatumbo, and Pailig.

The Asi is not incapable of producing world music. Orimos, Muyat Anay, Turna, Oho, Tubong, and Unang Paghigugma are tunes that soar and whose lyrics are rich in metaphor that one needs to visit the Asi places where these songs developed roots to be able to appreciate their magic. Kabataan, Subatey is pure in its message of social relevance and Ludgie Faigao’s serious rendition of the Lyndon Fadri composition reflects the responsibility of today’s youth that many Asi refuse to bear.

My new singing group from Sibale, the InGsaBat Band, certainly inspired by 1622: Unang Usbor, performed four songs at the concert. The band story deserves another piece.

The sound system glitch that briefly halted the performances was not enough to temper audience enthusiasm over the classic Tamboy Tamboy Agong, which I was told was performed by Joey Ayala and his colleagues, Onie Badiang and Chong Tengasantos in Banton when the group conducted a music clinic there a few weeks ago for 1622: Unang Usbor.

Ayala, Badiang and Tengasantos were at the concert, together with Ms. Nota Magno, who has been mightily helping the Asi Studies Center for Culture and the Arts, 1622: Unang Usbor’s manager.

Unlike commercial sponsors of big, mainstream musical events, the patrons of the Asi? The Concert may not profit financially from their investment in the BHSAA-organized concert.

But it might be comforting for RDL-CLEAR, Greenhorns, Kusog Sibalenhon, Arellano University, Manuel Martinez Scholarship Foundation, Matias-Serena Fadrilan Family, Romblon Vice Governor Alice Fetalvero, La Verne Academy, BHS Classes 84, 87, 88, 2001 and 2009, Nasunogan Youth Organization, Mr. & Mrs. Joemel Ferrancol, Dr. Lolong Firmalo & Family, Mr. & Mrs. Jospeh Fadri & Family, Mr. & Mrs. Darimar Fabellon, Ms. Malie Fonte, and Engr. Adel Ferrer to know that they had planted the seeds of the Asi language outside Romblon in a way that future generation of Filipinos may look back at it as a big effort in showcasing the power of Asi music.