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.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Romblon's disjointed opposition

Now that the election is over, I can bare my chest off on some issues left unsaid during the campaign.

They were left unsaid because of strategic reasons; more so because I didn’t want Rep. Madrona and company to capitalize on these issues and use them against vice governor Alice Fetalvero and former representative Lolong Firmalo.

One of these things that perhaps Alice’s and Lolong’s opponents didn’t know was the fact that the opposition in Romblon was far from united as others believed it were.

Yes, Virginia, there was no united opposition to the Madrona-Beltran-Perez troika during the campaign. The “united” was “disjointed”, unorganized and in disarray. Had Madrona and Beltran knew it, they might have pounced on Alice and Lolong and the outcome of the election might have been different.

The “disunity” was fostered by no less than Secretary Bernie Fondevilla who had only contempt and immense dislike for Firmalo. It was actually Fondevilla who drove a wedge between the opposition in Romblon by being selective in dispensing his goodies only to allies who bow before him.

Last year, when the Alice-Lolong team was looking for a party, it was Fondevilla who orchestrated the oath-taking of Fetalvero and several of Firmalo’s mayors before the Nationalist People’s Coalition, despite the very fact that the NPC had no presidential candidate.

These mayors, such as Juliet Ngo Fiel of Looc, Dr. Fernald Rovillos of San Andres, and Bong Fabella of Calatrava, orchestrated with vice governor Fetalvero, SP member Mel Madrid, Atty. Jim Fondevilla and a few others in exerting pressure to Firmalo for him to also join the NPC, despite the fact that Firmalo had earlier swore his oath of party affiliation with the Liberal Party. It was reported that even Mayor Fabella had allegedly said in public he will not campaign for Firmalo.

Well, they had reason to pressure Firmalo because, sadly, the former representative himself did not inform them he was joining the LP. They begrudged the doctor for “going it all alone.”

But this was only a minor matter. Of grave import was the question of who was wielding the baton over Fetalvero et al. The answer was Bernie Fondevilla who, while undersecretary of agriculture aspiring to become secretary vice his boss, the controversial Arthur Yap, was already playing politics. Question: Did President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo at that time know that Fondevilla was playing footsie with the NPC, and not with Lakas-NUCD which supported Gilberto Teodoro? Probably not.

So, the opposition in Romblon went in two separate ways—one going with Alice Fetalvero who filed her candidacy as NPC, and one going with Lolong Firmalo who, with second district SP member Benjamin Irao Jr. and another SP aspirant Dr. Venizar Maravilla, filed as LP. In the first district, only Rodne Galicha remained in Noynoy Aquino’s party.

Prior to the campaign, efforts were made to patch up the opposition to no avail. Playing a pivotal role in ensuring that a “unity ticket” materializes in Romblon was Dr. Tato Sison who initiated meetings between the Fetalvero and Firmalo camps.

Sure, both Alice and Lolong showed no animosity towards each other, but that was only in the surface. At the backrooms, there were obvious attempts, particularly on the part of the mayors to “ostracize” or even isolate Firmalo.

That there was no single campaign organization, no campaign plan, no campaign headquarters, and no campaign message for the opposition was indication of this disunity. Even the campaign color, which was supposed to be yellow, was dispensed with, with the group coming out with the red color which it justified as indicative of the group’s “fighting” or “palaban” stance.

Prior to the campaign, I said that the division of the opposition along two parties will pose problems. True enough, when the campaign began, Bernie Fondevilla asserted himself mightily as the man in charge to the consternation of Fetalvero. I heard that in the dispensation of campaign resources, Fondevilla directly distributed money to the mayors, not to Fetalvero, so much so that her campaign manager, Ramon Reandelar, when asked about his plans, allegedly could only answer in desperation, “I am only an office boy here,” showing his helplessness due to lack of funds for the Fetalvero campaign.

Before the election, I said that because Fetalvero et al were kowtowing to Sec. Fondevilla’s wishes, chances are that the Fetalvero congressional campaign will be seen as very dependent upon the whim and caprices of Fondevilla, and this will not sit well with the voters.

True enough, and as the results of the election will show, Madrona’s margin over Fetalvero was such that one would think Bernie Fondevilla deliberately played his card for Alice Fetalvero to lose. This is possible, because Bernie Fondevilla, as I have observed before, is entertaining a dream bigger than himself. He might challenge Madrona in 2013.

Unfortunately for Bernie, the platform from which he could launch his challenge is now punctured with large holes largely due to his ill-conceived strategy of isolating Firmalo and casting his fortune with a loser like Gilberto Teodoro. Also, unfortunately, his mayors and SP candidates who joined him in trying to belittle Firmalo heavily lost in their own bids. That’s karma.

That’s also a monumental mistake on the part of the opposition. And what is this mistake? It is to wage a campaign for reform based solely on the motivation of the alleged availability of campaign resources from Bernie Fondevilla, and not on the efficacy of the Romblon reform agenda. That’s beginning a right cause on the wrong foot.

The signs were easy to recognize. The May 10, 2010 election is a banner year for the opposition. The drama that was sure to be played was the battle of epic proportion between good and evil, lightness and darkness, good governance and ineptness, honesty and corruption, compassion and abuse, reform and the status quo, and progressive and the traditional.

Had Alice and his mayors didn’t misread these signs, they would not have sided with Bernie Fondevilla.

Had they, as advised, hewed consistently on the themes of the yellow revolution—the slogan “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” and the genuine change and reform agenda, the outcome would have been different.

Had they not danced to the traditional political music of Bernie Fondevilla, who is out of touch with ground realities, the outcome would have been that Budoy Madrona could be now licking his wounds like Beltran, her mayors would have renewed their respective mandates, and the opposition would have been more united.

But those are “ifs”--supposition--fit only for discussion. As I said, the election is over, so let’s begin the campaign for the election of 2013 by working hard for the people of Romblon.

Good luck to us.