Sunday, October 4, 2009

After Ondoy: It's a relief to see the relief efforts

We, who are on dry land, have seen the devastation of Typhoon Ondoy on television, on the pages of the newspapers, and in the Internet. Therefore, there is no need to describe the tragedy here. We know and we commiserate.

We also know the failure of the government in many respects—from the moment it failed to save lives that should otherwise have not been lost to its omission to act with dispatch immediately after the deluge simply on the pretext that it lacks resources.

Nature has its way of demonstrating man’s shortcomings. In this case, Ondoy showed how ineffectual the government is. It was caught in a non-act, with clothes off.

In the face of tragedy, however, blame should take a backseat. It should not even be allowed to peer through the mud now blanketing so many villages in the eastern part of Metro Manila.

The hour calls for unified action to relieve the victims of their misery. It is a relief to see this happening. The general feeling in the country’s capital, in the provinces, and even in many parts of the world is that something must be done.

And indeed, things are being done. Relief missions are aplenty. Donations are pouring in, people are helping one another, and soon things will start moving even slow at first, and then life for everyone would hopefully return to normal.

While it has not yet, let me share to you, dear readers, some stories of heroism involving Romblomanons.

You see, Ondoy, when it decided to dump water on its path, did not have time (and did not care!) to discriminate whether its victims were black or white or Tagalong or Visayan or Mindanaoan.

Unlike in the biblical story of the plague before the Flood where the Lord sent angels to put a mark on the doors of the Israelites’ houses so that they would not be consumed by fire and brimstone, Ondoy did not have messengers of salvation to do exactly that. All it had was rain, which it poured out in mighty torrents to inundate all houses on its path.

These, unfortunately, included the houses and livelihood and material possessions of Romblomanons in Pasig, Quezon City, Marikina, Cainta, and Laguna.

I haven’t read an account yet as to how many exactly were the Romblomanon families that suffered from Ondoy’s wrath. The provincial government is not around—it’s in Romblon—so no one has wrote a report, or made a tally.

All we have is the information that last week, when the weather was calmer, the Banton Biniray, Inc., or BBI, and the Banton High School Alumni Association, or BHSAA, have begun the ball rolling to come to the succor of Banto-anon families affected. The relief effort is known as Bantoanon para sa Bantoanon. The Bantoanons’ fund-raising efforts were also set into full gear, with BBI vice chair Cely Fonte and BBI president Darry Fabul at the forefront.Last Sunday, the twin organizations mounted a relief drive where it distributed P1,000 in cash to each family beneficiary, plus old clothes. Lyndon Fadri, who is the current BHSA president, said that families who waived the benefit were given a gift pack containing a BHSAA t-shirt and a Subatey CD. As I write this, I have information that 80 families were to benefit from the Biniray and BHSAA relief mission.

Meanwhile, the Internet has been abuzz with full-length discussions on how to help. The yagting@yahoogroups and the RDL-CLEAR discussion group have been throwing back and forth information and views on Ondoy’s aftermath. The focus of these discussions is how to help.

RDL-CLEAR, led by the indefatigable Nic Musico, has rolled out a fund-raising drive. Check donations to RDL-CLEAR can be made in the name of Dely F. Ferrera, 3N 209 Howard Avenue, Elmhurst, Il 60126. Donations to RDL-CLEAR are tax-deductible.

Another Romblon organization, the Children’s Livelihood Education Assistance and Relief Foundation, or CLEAR Foundation, has sent in six boxes of hand-me-down clothes, which arrived on September 28, I was informed.

According to its executive director, Delia Famatigan, the Foundation has also donated clothes and food to non-Romblomanon victims in the districts of Sto. Niño and Project 6 in Quezon City.

Sibalenhons have also thrown their lot to help alleviate Sibalenhons waylaid by Ondoy. Last Sunday, the Sibale Development Foundation, or Sibale Def, went to the calamity area to distribute clothes, food and grocery items.

Prospero Fabregas, former Sibale Def president, and several officials, mounted the relief mission. They were joined by Romulo Señorin and Rose Fornal, Ragipon president and secretary, respectively, as well as by Sibale Academy Alumni Association secretary Ma. Theresa Felisilda, who sent in a few photos of the mission.

All these relief efforts are not lost on Romblomanons who, while they are unable to pitch in at the moment maybe because they, too, find it difficult to make both ends meet, must be praying that a similar tragedy will not happen. I am sure they are also praying Ondoy’s victims will recover quickly soon.

On a personal level, I am looking at the situation with immense relief that citizens, particularly the Romblomanons who are in the frontlines of various relief missions, share the Samaritan spirit that has descended upon so many in the aftermath of the calamity.

Sadly, I can’t say the same of the provincial government which, as of this writing, has not been heard from. Perhaps, the top officials of Romblon are somewhere else, or they might be in the comfort of their war rooms making plans on how to win the next election, or worse, may be thinking that the Romblonanons hard hit by Ondoy are not registered voters?

Paging Congressman Budoy Madrona and Governor Jojo Beltran. Have hearts and do something quick.

The sorrows of Bernie Fondevilla

I am not a mind reader, but I can guess from the body language and facial expression of Department of Agriculture undersecretary Bernie Fondevilla that he relishes—or will relish—his decision not to run for congressman in the May 2010 election.

The occasion was a meeting at Discovery Suites over a month ago, convened, purportedly at his behest, to make known his long awaited decision about his political plans in Romblon.

The story goes like this: Two weeks before several ‘discoveries’ at Discovery Suites, Dr. Tato Sison hosted a meeting of opposition politicians at his farm resort in Pililla to sort out the political woes of Dr. Lolong Firmalo. I was invited to the meeting, but I don’t know in what capacity for I am neither a politician nor an oppositionist. I am a critic.

The problem discussed at that meeting was who will run for congressman opposite the incumbent, Budoy Madrona.

This problem would not have cropped up had Bernie not made a feeler in the aftermath of the Firmalo debacle in the hands of Madrona in 2007.

The rumors—yes, rumors—that circulated then were that Bernie will cast his political net and run for congressman in 2010. The rumor further indicated that if he will not run, Lolong will take his place and the incumbent vice governor, Alice Fetalvero, will move up the political ladder.

Having believed in that ‘rumor’, Firmalo (Lolong is so unsuspecting a politician and reposes his faith in the inherent goodness of men!) set his eyes to run for governor, and accordingly acted towards getting the post occupied by the boy Jojo Beltran who, after almost three years in the capitol, has shown to have a long learning curve and turned out to be a great dishonor to the office.

2007 then being three years away from 2010, Romblomanon voters did not seriously (or did they?) pay attention to this Fondevilla political comedy act, but no matter. He went around the province, using as vehicle his position as undersecretary and distributed goodies to Romblomanons who rightly did not ask where or how these goodies were obtained.

These were, of course, funded by taxpayer money, but Bernie’s signature authorship was written all over them. He delivered, and to the naïve, that was enough. Suddenly, Bernie was a viable politician. Everyone, except me, believed he will fight Budoy.

Sibale, heretofore not minded by politicians either from the mainland or Manila merely because it has only 2,000 votes, suddenly got Bernie’s attention. It received five HP Robin engines which benefited 45 fishermen. Thank you, Bernie, but a lot more Robin engines are needed to save majority of Romblon’s 260,000 plus population from drowning in poverty. Tulina, pana-o pa.

Oh, but I digress.

In that Pililla meeting which I have wrote about previously, the question posed by Tato’s guests was, “Will Bernie run?”

Because Bernie wasn’t around and the guests obviously could not answer the question, they being not Bernie’s spokespersons or confidantes, I suggested that Bernie be given a deadline of one week: Decide or else. I was thinking that if Bernie is serious, he will see the logic of the ultimatum and will know the price of inaction and dilly-dallying. He faced the prospect of being relegated to the sidelines of the 2010 drama.

The group agreed and left it to Dr. Sison and Gilbert Miniano to seek out the undersecretary and ask him the question point-blank.

I was correct in my supposition, for in one week Dr. Tato and Gilbert reported to the group that Bernie, finally after almost three years, has come to a decision. The answer, according to the two, was something like, ‘No, I will not run, because I might be appointed secretary of the department of agriculture.’ Hah!

They also reported that Bernie was hosting the group to a meeting so he can personally break to them his decision. The meeting was set on a Saturday in a restaurant at the Discovery Suites.

I had many ‘discoveries’ in that enclave of the rich and famous.

One was that Bernie is a very serious person that he refused to look at us—Arlene Servanez, Gilbert, Mel Madrid, Alice, Lolong, Tato, and myself –directly in our eyes because he was busy fumbling his mobile phones during the meeting. It was an impolitic behavior unexpected of a high official of government and aspiring politician.

Another ‘discovery’ was that he was not serious in hosting the meeting because there was no reservation made on his behalf. When we arrived at the appointed time, we were like interlopers in the place so that Lolong and I retreated to a room in a corner with our coffee cups and smoked ourselves to death.

I knew what the rest did: they restlessly talked in whispers, glancing regularly in their wristwatches, waiting for Bernie to materialize. The undersecretary, who might be using a timepiece set in Singapore time, arrived so late and without a bit of air of worry that like him we also live under a 24-hour-a-day schedule. I later quipped to Gilbert that he should be called ‘the late Bernie Fondevilla’.

Indeed, in that meeting he said he will not run because of his ‘impending’ appointment vice Sec. Arthur Yap, who is rumored to run for the Senate. Good luck, secretary-to-be Bernie.

Well, this is precisely my beef. I said to myself that if he really had decided not to pursue his dream, why decide so late in the day that he left his allies to twist in the wind and suffer the agony of waiting?

I also ‘discovered’ he didn’t like to share his knowledge with anyone, for when the discussion dealt on the need for the opposition to have a platform of governance and I asked him what his platform would be if he is the candidate, he said: “I have a platform, but that is mine. What’s yours?” Ha? Nio kuno?

This arrogance of an aspiring cabinet official was not lost on the group. Later, when we re-grouped to have cakes at the Starbucks on the Podium opposite the Discovery Suites (there was no food in the restaurant where we met, or there was, but I terribly lost appetite!), Bernie’s behavior was hot topic.

Being a writer, I have dealt with and encountered men of various persuasions and ideologies, likes and dislikes, motives and dreams, temperament and inspirations, but I cannot forget Bernie in that meeting because his behavior defied description.

He was sorrowful and pathetic. If he becomes a politician, he will discover, as I ‘discovered’ him, that voters like their leaders to be a little bit humble, not humbug; approachable, not aloof and arrogant.

Well, this episode about Bernie Fondevilla was not without a bright note. He pledged support to vice governor Alice and Dr. Lolong in their candidacies, although he did not categorically say in what form or capacity. So the pledge doesn’t mean anything—yet.

And what could be that support? Money? Votes? Can Bernie, as secretary of agriculture, influence a large chunk of Romblon voters to go for Alice and Lolong? Maybe. I hope so.

For example, when Lolong said he already has a mayor-candidate in Simara, Bernie was quick to promise to ‘deliver’ Simara to him. ‘Don’t worry about Simara. I’ll take care of it. I’ll deliver it to you,” he said.

When I heard this, my jaw dropped. Ha? I believe Bernie can be a politician, but I didn’t believe he can be this traditional. If I were a Simaranhon in that table, I would have been insulted, for who is Bernie Fondevilla to say that he can decide who the Simaranhons can vote for?

Indeed, when I sounded out this quip to a friend in Simara, she was aghast and said Bernie might eat his words.

Well, this is the sorrow of most traditional politicians, including Bernie Fondevilla. Because of their naked ambition for political power, they will say anything, even the inane, under the sun to endear themselves to the electorate. This, in fact, is not a warning. The elections are coming, so Romblon voters could expect many more ululations from politicians in the mold of Bernie Fondevilla.

He has another sorrow to bear and this is the fact that he unduly raised false hopes among Romblomanons, in the process setting back a great deal whatever plans the opposition might have of putting itself in the center of political power in the province.

Bernie, ask Barangay Captain Jun Bernardo about this, and you will know what I mean.