Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Badly wanted: A Firmalo information officer to respond to Madrona and inform the people

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.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Food first

When President Benigno S. Aquino III asked Agriculture secretary Proceso Alcala three times a few weeks ago whether the country will have sufficient rice supply in the next two years, Alcala was said to have unequivocally, without winching, assured the President that yes, we will be sufficient in the commodity.
According to my source, Alcala told the President that by 2013, we will be even exporting rice.

Aquino’s persistence on the issue of rice indicates the administration’s priority: a Philippines whose citizens’ stomachs are full.

The previous unlamented administration also has food as an item on its agenda, but Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s officials interpreted it in a complex manner. They thought Gloria’s “food on every table” campaign pitch should begin with the planting cycle, thus they conceived of millions of hectares of lands planted to rice and drowned in fertilizer, so they diverted money, loads and tons of it, into their pockets and bought cheap liquid fertilizer and dumped these into farmers’ backyards.

Stumped, because the farmers knew nothing about liquid fertilizer, they used it to water coconut trees. That’s what happened in Romblon, a non-rice producing province.

The result was a nation getting a headache, not a full stomach, from the infamous fertilizer scam which to this day remains unresolved, the culprits unprosecuted.

Food first. That’s what Aquino III must be saying. In 2010, he went around the country, peddling this:

“From a government that merely conjures economic growth statistics that our people know to be unreal to a government that prioritizes jobs that empower the people and provide them with opportunities to rise above poverty.”

And this: “From treating the rural economy as just a source of problems to recognizing farms and rural enterprises as vital to achieving food security and more equitable economic growth, worthy of re-investment for sustained productivity.”

The voters agreed. I agree then as I agree now. Without food, we are weak and disoriented and become susceptible to diseases.

A hungry man hallucinates and entertains morbid thoughts, like marching on the streets and denouncing government. Foodlessness breeds social unrest and we can’t afford to have it now that we are embarking on gigantic socio-economic reforms.

Food production, of course, is complex and subject to competing policy interests. Do we, for example, allow more land to become commercial or let it remain a forest or a farm?

Do we, for instance, plant more crops, like cassava, for fuel and animal food or invest more in staple crops, like corn and rice, so we attain for Aquino his dream—our dream?

These are thoughts that bothered me after reading that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization had reported that its index of food prices in 2010 has registered the highest in the last 20 years.

The UNFAO said food prices soared 15 percent from October 2010 to January 2011 alone, thus “throwing an additional 44 million people in low- and middle-income countries into poverty.”

Are we seeing food riots in Manila’s streets soon?

No, if Secretary Alcala is to be believed. “We have plenty of rice. Our farms are bursting with harvest,” he said over radio station DZMM when interviewed by Noli de Castro, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s partner in leading the Filipinos believe from 2001 to 2010 that “food on every table” is at hand.

The former vice president, in his program, was fretting over an unverified report of the not-so-intelligent National Intelligence Coordinating Council, or NICA, that the administration of P-Noy is facing national security troubles because of foreseen rising rice prices and, possibly, rice shortages.

That Malacanang had quickly belied the report and that Sec. Alacala had debunked it should have signalled de Castro to stop dignifying the story. Better, it should have compelled the NICA head, whoever he is, or the author of the supposed report, to resign, out of delicadeza, or commit suicide.

But the NICA is dense, even if its function is only to “coordinate” (the worst word in the lingua franca of bureaucracy), intelligence gathering, not to gather it. It didn’t know that Alcala was doing his homework.

So was de Castro, who for two days in his program continued to make the trivial major or significant. Only when Alcala, and another ally of the previous regime, the mayor of Candaba, Pampanga, came out to present de Castro with facts, i.e., that the country is awash in rice and therefore, there is no need to import—or worst, die now of hunger—that the former No. 2 politician backtracked, his dirigible-sized ego punctured by a pin.

The newsreader-turned-vice-president-turned-newsreader should confine himself to reading the news, not to making a mountain out of molehill.

But I suppose he, like the rest of us, eats rice. Justified therefore was his worry about the rice shortage.

And I agree that we should worry.

I also agree that P-Noy should now step up his food sufficiency program and go round the country once again and use the Cory magic he inherited to inspire farmers to plant more. He can bring along his agriculture officials and be a Magsaysay: provide instant ground solutions to problems of access to technology, funds, and farm inputs.

He should think of food first, by electrocuting hoarders, breaking supply chain barriers by castrating cartels and poisoning middlemen impoverishing our farmers by their cut-throat prices and usurious rice planting financing schemes.

There is today in the United States a growing call from the Americans to slash the salary of the members of Congress to reduce the US budget deficit. We don’t have that kind of attitude here yet, but the President can take the cue. Put more money in agriculture so that the country can attain food self-sufficiency.

Food first. Thailand and our other neighbors have this policy and they now export rice and other food stuffs. In Thailand, for instance, the OTOP or one-town-one product strategy has worked wonders that there is today in Bangkok a mall which sells food produced by the kingdom’s rural towns. Thailand has even surpassed us in the export of patis, a Philippine original food ingredient.

Rising food prices can do us in, I assure myself. So while there is still time, let’s go back to the drawing board and consider food—and that means self-sufficiency in our staple stomach needs—an urgent priority.

Monday, April 4, 2011

In Sibale, the opposition has become obdurate

Rep. Eleandro Jesus Madrona must know this.

The 2013 election is still two years away, but the way his political wards in Sibale (pop. 4,500; voters, 2,200 plus) are acting seems they are already campaigning.

I can’t blame them. Dislodged from power over four years ago, what was once a formidable Budoy army has become a rag tag band of whiners and obstructionists, unable to accept the fact that nothing in politics is permanent; that there comes a time when the people may find it no longer fashionable to elect and re-elect non-performers; and that, therefore, new blood should be injected into the arthritic veins of local governance.

And this is what they did in 2007 and 2010. The people of Sibale—“poor, because” according to the famous Sam Romero, a mainlander politician grossly ignorant of Sibalenhon affairs, “Nicon has not helped”—elected and re-elected the energetic Lemuel Cipriano, thereby announcing to all and sundry the end of the Madrona era in the island.

Once in office, Cipriano did the unthinkable and unbelievable. He delivered. He made potable running water climb into the faucets of Sibalenhon households. He brought back the municipal coffers in the black; paid off the town’s debts; paved the roads; motivated the Sibalenhons to plant so they would have enough to eat; and returned ethical conduct in government service.

He also played Janus-faced politics to get re-elected, so he can continue his good governance program, to the chagrin and frustration of the opposition which fielded Adrian Feudo, a classmate and friend, only to be monstrously defeated because his campaign funds were siphoned off by the more experienced bit players and dishonest voters who hang around him like albatross during the campaign.

Well, Cipriano had also committed a misstep. In 2010, against his friends’ advice, he toyed with fire by dancing briefly with Madrona who he thought (he thought wrongly) would support him to the very end. As it turned out, Madrona, the ever green “balimbing” of Romblon politics, divided his largesse into two halves—one-half for Feudo and the half for a long-time ally, Merenciano Fabregas, and Cipriano was left holding the proverbial empty bag.

To be fair, Feudo did not totally lose. He managed to get his councilors elected, and they are now in control of the Sangguniang Bayan. In retrospect, this was a punishment for Cipriano. Today, he finds it irritatingly difficult to wiggle through the opposition-dominated local legislative chamber.

SB member Rey Feudo, a staunch Cipriano ally, has reported that the SB has been blocking every legislative proposal of the administration. “They do this without compunction, logic, or plausible reason,” he said.

A red-hot issue at the SB is Sibale’s Annual Investment Plan, or AIP, which enumerates the administration’s programs and projects to be funded out of the municipal development fund. As a spending measure, the AIP needs SB approval. SB member Feudo says the 2011 AIP is languishing in the SB because the majority is opposing its passage every step of the way.

“The opposition, led by SB member Monico Firmalan and Association of Barangay Captains president Medrito Fabreag, is questioning the validity of the public consultations held for the AIP, as well as the non-government representatives to the municipal development council that adopted it,” Feudo reported.

“They want to repeat the consultations. They even want to re-cast the membership of the MDC, but its structure and composition has been there since they were last in power and they didn’t question it the first time. So why only now?” he fumed.

Putting the AIP to a vote will surely mean its defeat and its return to the drawing board, which would mean further delay. So, it is being put on hold, with the administration biding for time while the SB is waiting for a Solomon to decree a messianic resolution.

In the meantime, Cipriano has no AIP. He cannot spend the 20 percent municipal development fund for his programs and projects, otherwise he would be courting a backlash, or worse, a legal challenge, from the SB.

What should Cipriano and his allies do?

If I were him, I will bring the case directly to the people by making public the obstructionist and obstinate ways of the opposition. If I were him, I will make the following small political speech:

“Fellow Sibalenhons: You know very well that as your mayor, I have been doing the best I can, despite so many natural and man-made constraints, to deliver to you government’s basic services to improve your lives.

“Lately, however, the political opposition, a minority among us but a majority in the SB, has been trying to prevent me—and that means you—from spending P4 million in taxpayers’ money to build more wells, pave more roads, and buy more medicines, for the simple reason that its members don’t want my administration—and that means you—to succeed.

“I am not complaining. I am only telling. I am only letting you know that if they insist on their own obstructionist, delaying, and nitpicking ways of engaging in the politics of vengeance simply because they are already bankrupt of ideas on how to improve the lot of every Sibalenhon, that’s their call. You can judge them later with your votes.

“On my part, and as your leader, I know so many ways to serve you and that’s what I will do, with or without the AIP. By not acting on the AIP, they are denying you—not me—with much-needed public funds.

“But lest I be accused later of not being candid about the situation, I would like you to know that the opposition, because of its intransigence, has declared war on good governance and I am engaging them, for I don’t back out from a good fight. I am fighting them as your elected leader because I don’t want you to become victims of their kind of politics which you already soundly rejected in 2010.

“So please write your SB members. Visit them and tell them that what they are doing are contrary to your wishes as voters who elected them; that you will not allow them to trample upon your rights as citizens by denying you what is rightfully yours; and that you will later hold them accountable for posing obstacles to Sibale’s development.

“Thank you and God bless Sibale and the Sibalenhons.”