Monday, March 15, 2010

One honest woman gone

The story is told of the Greek mythical god Diogenes who goes from house to house in the middle of the day with a lighted lantern in hand and knocking on every one’s door.

When asked what he was doing, Diogenes replied that he was looking for an honest man.

In the Philippines, Diogenes would have stopped looking for his honest man once he’d knocked at Emilia T. Boncodin’s door. Just from the looks of the door, Diogenes would have known that the house’s occupant was honest.

And Emy, as the former Budget secretary was called by friends, is dead. She died of kidney failure at the age of 55, honest as she was when she first joined the government at age 18.

The Inquirer, in its news about Emy’s death, said Emy lived simply.

She did.

When the late Blas F. Ople, another honest man, was elected Senate President in 1998, one of the very first things he did was to ask Emy and her friend, Patricia A. Sto. Tomas, for a meeting at Ople’s office at the Marbella Condominium on Roxas Boulevard. Emy and Pat then were out of government, having resigned when Joseph Estrada took the reins of government after trouncing Jose de Venecia in the presidential election. Emy was teaching at the UP at the same time that she and Pat were doing consultancy work.

“We need honest people to help us in the Senate. Let us meet with Pat and Emy,” Ople told me in summoning the meeting. Also summoned were Willie B. Villarama, Art Brion, Fred dela Rosa, and Fred Rosario. All were Ople protégés and have worked with the country’s longest-serving labor and employment secretary.

Emy spoke softly and with conviction. On occasions when I visited her at her office in Malacanang to run errands for Ople, she saw me promptly, going straight to official business because she was so busy. The Department of Budget, where she served for the longest time, was a beehive and, as the official money adjunct of the government, a nest of whispered corruption. But under Emy’s captainship, it was run as a tight ship. No leak. No whiff of scandal. No corruption. Her honesty rubbed off on every body. Even her dress bespoke of her simplicity and honest living.

As budget official, she knew her work like no other, and Ople was astounded by her phenomenal command of the budget—its details and implications and the policies that govern it. She served gratis as Ople’s consultant in his Senate office, same with Pat, Willie, Art, and the rest of Ople’s people.

Emy is gone.

It might take a long time coming for another Emy, yet with her legacy of honesty in public service indelibly etched on in our memory Diogenes can take comfort and take a respite from knocking on doors looking for an honest man.

Bob Arum on Congress

I am not much of a fan of boxing promoter Bob Arum, but I am a Manny Pacquiao fanatic.
So last Sunday during the Pacquiao-Joshua Clottey encounter, when the world’s best boxer made short work of the Accra, Ghana native and put him on the road towards a possible clash with Floyd Mayweather, a coward masquerading as a trash-talker fighter, I again felt a clash of emotion, as I always do everytime the Pacman has a fight.

The reason was that I had to bear the presence of Arum on the television screen even as I delighted seeing Manny. I mean, wherever Pacquiao goes, so does Arum. I hate Arum and I love Pacquiao, hence the clash of emotion.

Arum may be a boxer’s dream promoter, but he is to me a consummate wheeler-dealer. The man is famous. He makes impossible boxing matches possible. He is moneyed. He is influential and intimidating, just like Don King of another era, but he is to me a sucker. He feeds on raw dreams of boxers wanting to earn a living with only their ferocious appetite for a fight as capital.

But last Sunday, I doffed my hat to Bob Arum when he delivered a political statement that is both so hilarious and true.

Asked by reporters in the post-fight news conference what Manny Pacquaio would do next now that he had demolished Clottey, Arum said the next interesting fight will be a Pacquiao-Mayweather title-header. He said this with the obvious thought of making more money for Manny—and of course—for himself.

And then he said something that almost floored me. He noted that the decision to fight Mayweather also depends on Manny who he said is a candidate for a Congressional seat in Sarangani province.

“He’s probably going to win the election,” Arum said. “But that’s all right because if their Congress is anything like ours, they don’t do anything anyway.”

Arum also a political analyst? Hear that Prospero Nograles and Juan Ponce Enrile.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

If we so decide

March 26 marks the beginning of the end of the rule of the Madrona-Beltran-Perez political triumvirate.

If Romblon so decides.

And that’s how far this bold prediction goes. The decision to put a stop to decades of inept governance, lying, and thieving lies at the soiled hands of the Romblomanons and not in the surveys or in the artful deception of the politicians now enduring the heat of the Romblon sun just so they could sweet-talk us. Talk us down, in fact.

Let’s see what is in store for us during the campaign.

It will rain from March 26 to May 8. It will be a politician-induced rain and the rain will come in the form of promises, recycled, unbelievable and untrue. Promises which we have heard three years ago, but which have remained unredeemed.

Madrona will promise us deliverance. Beltran will promise us how he will clean up the mess in the capitol. And Perez will promise us more 'projects'.

How about the others, the lesser gods of Romblon politics?

The others? Never mind the others. If they are in the mold of Madrona, Beltran and Perez, chances are they will just parrot the three until their batteries, sustained by the money of their masters, will run dry. Many Romblon politicians are not known for thinking by and for themselves. They are known for following strict orders from whoever wields the political strings. At the moment, those strings are tied at Madrona’s waist.

What else shall we see during the campaign?

Chances are we will see Romblomanons more divided than ever, not along ideological lines, but along familial ties. Our politics is local and so the appeal to the voters will be on the realm of relativity.

Vote for me, please, because we are relatives. That’s it. The campaign will be among tribe and clan, family initials and surnames. He or she who has the most number of relations, marital or otherwise, will win. Blood is thicker than water, our politicians would tell us. What they will not say is that it will be our blood they will suck when they are already in office. What they will not tell us is that it is the relatives first who get double-crossed (or the juicy positions) when these politicians acquire political power.

There are some things we would like to see, but will not, during the campaign.

Among these is the exhaustive, intelligent discussion of the issues.

Let’s begin with Madrona. Madrona could talk to death about how he made the lives of Romblomanons better through his 'projects' as congressman and governor during the last decade, which was interrupted when Lolong Firmalo reigned briefly from 2004 to 2007.

Don’t believe him. He is lying. Socio-economic indicators tell us otherwise. In 2000, Romblon’s poverty incidence was 52.2 percent, according to the National Statistics Office. That placed the province 10th among poorest provinces. In 2004, the poverty incidence was 37.5 percent, putting Romblon 26th on the list, but in 2006, the poverty incidence climbed back to 41.9 percent, slipping us down the ladder to be the 25th poorest province. Recently, the NSO adjudged Romblon as the worst-run province. Top that.

This is only the general picture. As they say, the devil is in the details, but since I will run out of space, I’ll reserve them for some time.

When Beltran promises that he will clean up the mess at the capitol, don’t believe him. The boy is lying.

In the first place, the mess in the capitol is his own, not ours. One has just to look into the COA audit reports to find out that this official is unfit to run even a barangay. The tales of graft and corruption involving the governor is unending, I wonder if he is still able to sleep the sleep of the just. Why should we re-elect a grossly irresponsible and corrupt politician? Are we not condoning idiocy in government if we give him another three years?

During the campaign, he may again recall as a sentimental appeal what his late father supposedly told him as a death-wish: for Beltran, Jr. not to leave Romblon alone.

Well, he better leave us alone now, for experience tells us that with Beltran Jr. accompanying us in our journey, he is only leading us to the road to perdition.

And Perez the menace? Oh, I almost forgot that this guy was supposed to have seen an apparition of the Virgin Mary a few months ago. If this is not the election, I would have believed the news. Almost. He must be so hungry for 'project' funds because of the election ban on construction projects that he is now ‘seeing things’.

The ‘seeing things’ are in quotes because I copied the phrase from Seamus Heaney, the Irish Nobel Peace laureate who write outstanding poems for the powerless, not like Perez who write outstanding checks to remain powerful.

But then again, the former DPWH official has been ordered dismissed by the Ombudsman for graft and corruption, but because of his supposed ‘connection’, he still freely roams the province with a coterie of police officials as umbrella-holders and security escorts.

And now, Perez is a candidate for vice governor. Good for him. It would be interesting to see him pounding the gavel during the sessions of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan. Has he promised to behave and stopped sending out feelers to buy-out Awe Eranes for the latter’s scathing commentary against him?

There are so many issues that will be left unsaid in the campaign, issues that the candidates will prevaricate about, evade, and hope that these not be raised. My point is that if we must be true to ourselves as citizens, we must precisely bring out these issues into the open so that the voters will be educated. We must discuss them during the campaign, instead of just hand-shaking and back-slapping voters in the campaign trail. Are our politicians even teaching the voters how to vote using the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines?

I have been lamenting to friends that Romblon is unfortunate. Our province is rich but wretched. Thanks to our politicians who derive happiness from keeping us ignorant. That’s a Raul Manglapus line.

We have a university, yes, but I believe that in the larger sense, it is not helping much to educate the Romblomanons either on the true nature of our socio-economic and political deprivation.

A university, I believe, should perform the function of a leaders’ laboratory, initiating change and reform and leading movements on establishing a just social order.

How about the Romblon State University sponsoring a debate between the congressional candidates so that the Romblomanons can be illuminated on their choices during the election? Can President Sespeñe temporarily abandon his worries about his Ombudsman cases, rise to the occasion, and initiate this voter education exercise?

If he can’t, then my bold prediction at the beginning of this piece—that March 26 will mark the beginning of the end of our misery—will be just that: a bold prediction.

Still, I have hope that if the Romblomanons so decide, they will seize this moment, this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and set aright decades of wrongdoing, by voting out of office the causes of their deprivation and opening up a new chapter for a better tomorrow.