Friday, March 29, 2013

Run, Beltran, run

Natalio Beltran III is a very lucky guy.

After getting thrashed by Dr. Eduardo Firmalo in the 2010 election for governor, Beltran faded away from the province, with his brief, corruption-ridden reign fading away with him.

Political observers predicted that 2010 would be his swan song, the last that can be heard from the son of Natalio "Puti" Beltran, Jr. They said he was already a spent force and will live through the remaining years of his life nursing the pain of being a political discard. Recall that Eleandro Jesus Fabic Madrona disowned him in 2010. It was Madrona who anointed him as if he was hulog ng langit in 2007 over the more qualified candidate, the late Paping Mayor.

But the political observers got their weather vanes all wrong. Beltran has come back, threatening to steal the thunder away from Eleandro Jesus Fabic Madrona's final curtain show as congressman of the province. He came back for political revenge.

By any stretch of the imagination, Madrona himself, like former Gov. Beltran III, could not live with the insult of history, and that insult is what many Romblomanon say of the latter being "so young, yet so corrupt". Madrona doesn't want company. He doesn't even want to be considered primus inter pares or first among equals. He should be alone. The only one.

And so, it was in the year of our Lord 2010, that Madrona and Beltran III parted ways, like the Red Sea parting to expose dry ground to allow the Israelites to escape the wrath of the Paraoh, all the way from the coast of Egypt to the coast of Jordan, by a mere stroke of the miraculous staff of the patriarch Moses.

And like the Red Sea which again fused after the clashing of the walls of waves to drown the pursuing Egyptian army, Madrona and Beltran are destined to collide here, now, in the 2013 election, after drowning us Romblomanon during the last three years.

It's funny, but the collision is expected to be a classic. Both will be out to prove something. They will go after each other's throat, fight toe to toe; stare each other eye to eye, bite each other teeth to teeth, and pull each other's hair, if need be, to win the race. They might even pinch each other's ears to prove who hears clearly the voters' wailing, and their cheeks to see who blinks first. I expect a very merry fight.

Run, Beltran, run. To the ends of the earth, if you wish, and catch up with Madrona. You will lose nothing from running but your extra fat kilos.

You have to run because if you don't, Firmalo, who is also running like you, although in a different race level, might catch up with you. This will allow the voters to compare both your three years in the capitol and, voila, find out your true weight as a politician: you were weighed and you were found wanting.

There are enormous advantages for the voters if this happens. For one, they will be able to compare Firmalo with Bernie Fondevilla, another "runner". I will deal with Fondevilla later. He has my full attention. For another reason, voters will also be able to compare Beltran with Madrona when the latter was in the capitol.

Let us do a "running" account first of Firmalo’s administration from July 2010 to December 2012.

On health, which is his strength, Firmalo's record shows Romblon hospitals "are now better equipped to provide proper medical services" to Romblomanon because he has installed new X-ray and 3D ultrasound machines at the Romblon Provincial Hospital in Odiongan and Romblon District Hospital in Romblon. The Don Modesto Formilleza Hospital in Looc and the Sibuyan District Hospital have also now X-ray machines.

He has also installed an 11-KVA power generator for Tablas Island District Hospital in San Agustin, showing how unreliable the power supply is in Tablas, and showing further how government priorities can be skewed.

I said this because if only the provincial government has made electric power infrastructure a priority, there would have been no need for an electric generator to power up a hospital. The amount used for the purchase of the generator could have been better spent buying another X-ray machine.

Gov. Firmalo has provided this pen pusher an exhaustive list of the laboratory and medical equipment and supplies, including six units of blood chemistry analyzers, and a dental chair and dental X-ray for Romblon, Romblon.

This is, indeed, good news, which we should be thankful for. Romblomanon can now breath a sigh of relief in knowing that when they get sick, or need to see a doctor or dentist, the hospital they will go to have ample equipment, facilities, and supplies, like medicine.

I need not mention all the improvements in the province's medical care facilities that happened under Firmalo's watch in three years, including the improvements in the health centers in all of Romblon's municipalities. The list, as I said, is exhaustive--height and weight scale, blood refrigerators, computers, examining tables, wheel chairs, IV drip stands, etc--and verifiable if the reader doubts my word.

They can also verify if all of the eight government hospitals in the province have bought karaoke machines with matching DVD players, for these are on the list. What are karaoke machines doing in government hospitals? 

Readers might say: "Ikaw ra Nicon ay spoiler. Pati baga ka maisoting kasadyahan it mga pasyente ag mga doktor ag nars ay i-ismot pa nimo? Badyang ra sinra mag karaoke paminsan-minsan. Mas matulin magtigson ka nagkakanta."

OK. I rest my case, but the point I am trying to raise, and the reader can disagree with me, is this: Firmalo, as governor, caused these improvements, bought these equipment, and installed these facilities in the government hospitals precisely because his predecessors--that's Beltran and Madrona --did not do it when they were at the capitol.

That's a campaign issue that Trina Firmalo should suggest to his father if he needs to blow the wind off Fondevilla's sail.

Question: Can Firmalo raise this issue if he is on the same stage as Madrona?

Friday, March 15, 2013

A conversation with Dr. Arnulfo de Luna

Dr. Arnulfo Formon De Luna, most probably a year younger than this pen pusher, is in a vantage position. As president of the Romblon State University, he commands over an empire, a state institution that has become an orbital center of higher education in Romblon.
A few years ago, the RSU became an infamous focus of public attention when some personages inside its walls and halls proposed to erect a rock monument to Romblon's most famous modern-day politician, Rep. Eleandro Jesus Fabic Madrona.
That proposal has gained traction, initially, but has since been shot down for its indecent timing.
The reason is that Rep. Madrona is still very much alive and in good health. Not only that. He is scheduled and on track to steamroller the former governor Natalio "Jun" Beltran IV in the 13 May 2013 election. He doesn't need the monument now. In the future, maybe.
The horrendous public backlash to the "monumental" plan to honor the author of the law transforming the Romblon State College into a state university with a rock statue had dissipated and its proponents--surely lapdogs wanting to curry favor from the master--had disappeared. Temporarily, I am sure. They could try another time.
But that 'another time' is yet to come. Today is the time to move ahead and today is the time of Dr. Arnulfo F. De Luna.
And at this time of De Luna, I think the RSU is moving past its episodic brush with politicians trying to be rock stars, pun intended. Steady at the helm of Romblon's premier institution of higher learning, De Luna could yet make the RSU a controlling domain of knowledge as it was mandated to be, regardless of politicians wanting to carve their names in solid rock.
I had a brief conversation with Dr. De Luna the other week. Over dinner of kimchi and bulgogi in a Korean restaurant in Malate, he and I mused over topics seemingly unrelated to each other but upon dissection of his agile mind proved to be really interconnected.
Which made the dinner fun, the conversation lovely.
John Rufon, who arranged the dinner date, was an intent listener throughout our conversation and I am sure he made copious mental notes of what transpired during that brief encounter between the academic leader and this itinerant writer. So were Engr. Ryan Fadriquela, RSU's director for alumni affairs; Kenneth Maestro, a student leader; and Heicel Dalisay and Rocky Gonzales, administrative aides to the RSU president.
I invited Dr. De Luna for I was interested to know what's inside the head of a university president whose rank and position could be more powerful than a governor's.
No exaggeration here. If a governor presides over a province of 17 towns and 219 barangays, the RSU president holds the power of intellectual life and death over the 17 towns' and the 219 barangays' young population. Isn't that power?
But De Luna is a simple man who is imbued with power but who is not drunk of it. With a towering intellect on matters that concern the common tao, he could be a good politician, if there is such.
His handle, I saw during the dinner, was his connection to his roots. "The student population of the RSU's Romblon campus experienced an exponential rise during my time because I made sure the university's value was appreciated by the local government unit," he said matter-of-factly. That's making the connection.
My main and singular issue with the RSU is its alienation to the masses. I told De Luna that as a stand-alone educational institution, supported largely by government largesse, the RSU should matter to the common Romblomanons' everyday lives. I said RSU's impact should not be measured solely by the number of graduates who pass through its portals and wore the toga during graduation. It should be measured by how much the university changes the lives of the people--for the better.
Take its researches, for instance. I know that the RSU has plenty of researchers who have conducted--and continue to conduct--very good researches. These good researches have not made the people good, I said. They have only made the researchers feel better because their names are eventually affixed to their researches, adding more luster only to their credentials for future promotion, of themselves, and not of the people's.
Very fortunately, Dr. De Luna agrees with me. He mentioned that on agriculture, the RSU has produced plenty and very good stock varieties of root crops that could be mass cultivated to contribute to Romblon's food security. He wants the people to avail of these stock varieties. In short, he wants the Romblomanons to plant.
The problem, he said, is that people no longer want to become farmers nowadays. Even children don't appreciate the value of farm work. They want everything in RTE packs. That's 'ready-to-eat' in military lingo. But I will dwell on this later.
Out of this world, the RSU is. The problem, I said, is that the RSU does not communicate to the people in a language they understand. It communicates only to itself, in a language laden with technical 'ek-ek'  that contributes to its being perceived as alien. To this, Dr. De Luna responded that he is trying to remedy the anomaly. He said his appointment of Prof. Jun Fetalsana, as one of the RSU's 'spokespersons', is precisely to enable the RSU to reach out to the people.
"I will spend more time next year in the campuses. I will start at the Sta. Maria campus," Dr. De Luna pledged.
"This is a good start. Better write in The Romblon Times," I said back.
In ruling a university, Dr. De Luna rules by the rules of perspective. And his perspective, I believe, is neither gray nor in dark shade. It is clear: to make the university a truly Romblomanon university, embodying the soul of the province, and living up to realize its people's potential and aspirations.
He even encourages municipal mayors to allocate a good portion of their budgets in support for their constituents who would like to pursue higher education. "I would like to build a modern dormitory for students from the islands," he said.
Public support for such policies is necessary. But I told Dr. De Luna, whose expertise is in agriculture education--he has a master in science in agriculture and a Ph.D. in crop science--that that support could only be had if the RSU conducts itself as a good corporate social citizen, by going out of its way to get itself involved in social causes, and by acting as the 'knowledge conscience' of the province, not by confining itself on matters purely academic and theoretical.
The RSU's coming out party will come inevitably. It will come when it is already speaking out about the ills of graft and corruption in high and low places of the provincial government which the present administration seemed to have failed to do. It will come when it is already organizing forums and symposiums on Romblon culture and history and hosting public affairs programs on illegal drugs and illegal mining.
It will come when the RSU no longer concerns itself with useless debates on whether or not it should erect a rock monument for a politician whose credentials as a hero or heel are, well, still debatable; when its researchers and technicians are going out in the field to encourage the people to plant crops and to teach them to fish properly rather than feed their children chemical-laden imported noodles; when its students act on their ideals by helping out educate the people on issues that matter to them; for example, by leading public shunning or boycott of politicians who lie and cheat and buy votes.
When that time comes, and I hope it comes during Dr. De Luna's presidency of the RSU, that's the time we can say the RSU has truly, genuinely become the Romblon State University.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Mercury, the poison; not Mercury, the druggist

Pamoso ang Mercury Drug Corporation, ang pinakamalaking network ng tindahan ng gamot sa Pilipinas. Isa rin ito sa pinakamatandang parmasyutika sa bansa. Isang mayamang pamilyang Filipino-Chinese ang may-ari ng Mercury Drug, at sumikat ang kumpanyang ito sa kaniyang slogan na "Gamot ay laging bago."
Totoo ito. Noong nasa Senado pa ako, pinaupo ako ng yumaong Sen. Blas F. Ople bilang isa sa mga hurado sa isang gawad-timpalak para sa mga kumpanyang pinakamahusay ang pamamahala at isa sa mga finalist ang Mercury Drug Corporation.
Isa sa mga nakasama ko bilang hurado ang editor-in-chief ngayon ng Philippine Daily Inquirer, si Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc. Kapwa namin ibinoto ni Bb. Magsanoc ang Mercury Drug Corporation dahil sa kalidad ng serbisyo at produkto at maayos na pagtrato nito sa mga empleyado. Pinangangalagaan ng kumpanya ang kapakanan, higit lalo ang kalusugan, ng mga kawani nito.
Kung ang pangangalaga sana ng ating mga pinuno sa ating mga Romblomanon ay sing-husay ng pangangalaga ng Mercury Drug Corporation sa mga kawani nito, disin sana'y hindi ko na susulatin ang kuwentong ito.
But the fact that some of our local leaders are only not taking good care of us the way they should, but also expose us to the dangers of mercury, the poison, and mining, the  rapist of our land and mortgagor of our children's future, is reason sufficient and logical for me to write--however repetitive--about the truly tragic situation we are in.
And what is truly tragic in our current circumstances?
We are being poisoned, yes. Slowly, but surely, with organic mercury through the deliberate incompetence and monumental uncaring attitude of some of our leaders, starting with Rep. Budoy Madrona down to the barangay captains who allow organic mercury to be dumped as sludge and waste into our rivers and streams.
I should have added to this the charge of ignorance, but I need proof because most of our leaders are highly-educated. Which means to say their actuations should not be equated with idiocy. Not yet.
You mask ask: Pray, tell, Nicon, why did Rep. Madrona's name crop up in this episode? Or, for that matter, Gov. Firmalo's? Don't you know they are anti-mining? Don't you know that Rep. Madrona had filed a bill in Congress declaring Romblon a no-miner's land? And didn't Gov. Firmalo issue an executive order banning all forms of metallic mining in Romblon? Weren't these enough proof they are true-blue anti-mining souls?
Of course, yes, and I know. But I remember, while writing this piece, Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian Nobel laureate for literature, who wrote: "A tiger need not proclaim his tigritude" as an admonition to his fellow countrymen for making so much noise about their "Negritude".
Indeed, a tiger need not shout that he is a tiger, in the same manner that an anti-mining activist, or any activist for that matter, need not proclaim that he is so. He only has to live it.
And living it means condemning in words and deed the poisoning happening in Magdiwang, right in the national integrated protected areas of Sibuyan. Listen to this:
"When released into the environment, mercury is capable of traveling wide distances and transforming into the more toxic organic form which accumulates in seafood. Finally, once present in the environment in any form, mercury can no longer be destroyed, and instead accumulates in various environmental media and form."
Ano raw? Kapag pinakawalan sa kapaligiran, kaya ng mercury na tumawid ng malalayong distansiya at nagiging higit na nakalalasong organiko na naiipon sa mga pagkaing-dagat. Kapag ito ay nasa kalikasan na sa alinmang anyo, hindi na mabubura ang mercury, at sa halip ay naiipon na lamang sa iba't-ibang bahagi ng kapaligiran.
Who said this? Sinong Ponsio Pilato ang nagsabi nito?
Si Richard Gutierez. Ang artista? Hindi, kundi si Abogado Richard Gutierrez, isang paham na maestro at doktor sa batas na siyang kasalukuyang executive director ng Ban Toxics, at partner sa grupong Health Care Without Harm. Si Abogado Gutierrez and nagsabi nito bilang bahagi ng kaniyang ulat sa mahal nating gobernador noon pang Enero 14, 2011.
Ganito ang kuwento. Inanyayahan ni Gob. Firmalo si Gutierrez na maging tagapagsalita sa isang konsultasyon sa mercury at small-scale mining noong Enero 7-8, 2011 sa Romblon.
Bilang bahagi ng konsultasyon, nagsagawa ng mercury vapor testing ang Ban Toxics sa ilang barangay sa Magdiwang, gaya ng Dulangan, Tagkayo, Ipil, Mabulo, at Espana, kabilang ang Poblacion. Ang test ay isinagawa sa mga kabahayan, minahan, eskuwelahan, at sa mga ilog.
Matapos ang test, gumawa ng report ang Ban Toxics at isinumite kay Gob. Firmalo. Walang nakakaalam, sa aking palagay, kung ilan at sino ang nakabasa ng report.
Hindi siguro ito nabasa ng Romblon Sun o ng The Romblon Times, dahil kung nabasa ito ng mga mamamahayag, malamang na nailathala na ito. Baka headline pa.
Hindi rin siguro ito nabasa ng Simbahan, kasi kung nabasa nila ito, malamang naipahayag na ito sa mga pulpito at sa kanilang mga pangangaral. Ang Simbahan sa Romblon ang tanging may natitirang kredibilidad pagdating sa pagsasatinig ng mga isyung sosyal.
Nasa posisyon sana ang Romblon State University na isa pang tatayo upang dagdagan ang kamulatan at kaalamang pambayan, dahil bilang akademya at pugad ng mga nagiisip na intelektwal, ito ay may sapat na kapabilidad. Subalit nalulunod naman ang unibersidad sa sariling mantika ng internal na pagkakampi-kampi, sigalot, at pag-iinggitan, bukod sa ito'y kinubkob na rin ng pamumulitika, kaya sa halip na maging balwarte ng mataas na antas ng diskusyon at pagpapalitan ng kuro-kuro, nakakulong na ang RSU sa bakal na kulambo.
Kung kaya't malamang na hindi siguro nabasa ang report ng mga guro at profesor, dahil kung alam nila ang nilalaman ng report, baka nagliyab na ang ating mga paaralan sa debate kung papaanong unti-unting nalalason ang Romblon.
How about the government officials, particularly of the LGUs of Sibuyan, and of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources? Have they read the report? Most likely? I don't know. If they had, then most surely they would have conducted information drives and study sessions and warned the people of the imminent danger posed by small-scale mining using mercury. But there wasn't such thing happening as far as I can remember, so most likely . . . never mind.
How about Rep. Madrona? Does he have a copy of the report? How about Magdiwang Mayor Baring Manzala? Did he read the report? If he did, and now I will grant that he really has a copy and has read it, what did he do? File it and pray that some rats chew up the six-page report so no one would know about its existence?
Who else, aside from the governor, has a copy of the report and had read it?
I do. I have a copy of the report and I have read it. To obtain a copy, email me at The first one to request will receive a P10 mobile phone load. Don't forget to include in your request your mobile phone number.
I thank my source, ever vigilant and astonishingly brilliant, for sending me a copy of the report. My source is an authentic Romblomanon, articulate and assertive, and very much in tune with the socio-economic and political developments in the province. Without this source, whose identity I have promised to treat in strict confidence, this opinion column will not have materialized.
What does the report contains? Bomba. It is explosive, as you can read from the headline of The Romblon Times.
Sa mga ngayon lang makakabasa ng The Romblon Times, masuwerte kayo. Kung galit naman kayo sa diyaryo dahil may kompyuter kayo na naka-WiFi, basahin na lang ang blog ko sa
Hindi ninyo mababasa ang report sa website ng Lalawigan ng Romblon. Hindi pa kasi ito tapos. Hayahay.
Seriously now, the report is already a year-old and I grant that there had been changes and new developments, as Gov. Firmalo admitted in my interview of him for this story, which may render some parts of the report out-dated, or irrelevant. But this is not the point.
The point is why was the report not publicly disseminated when its contents impact on the health and well-being of Romblomanons? Why was there not a deliberate effort to share and discuss the report with all Romblomanons so they will know that small-scale mining, with the aid of mercury, is wreaking havoc on the people of Romblon, not the least the environment?
I am just asking questions, but I am also reminded of Conrado de Quiros' famous words: "Never mind the trees. Save the writer."
In this case, I will say it the other way: "Always mind the trees. Without trees, there will be no writers."