Monday, April 8, 2013

The Firmalo-Madrona 'marriage': A coalition? A 'grand collision'? Or a collusion?

My friend, the late Manuel Festin Martinez, one of Romblon's greatest writers and, in my estimation, the most politically articulate Romblomanon, coined the title of his soaring epic of a book about the late former president Ferdinand 'Macoy' Marcos and the late former senator Benigno 'Ninoy' Aquino Jr. as a 'grand collision'.

In The Grand Collision: Aquino vs. Marcos, Martinez depicts the long-running battle between the two giant-protagonists in Philippinepolitical history. Through the power of his pen, Martinez paints, in vivid colors only he can conjure, how Aquino's and Marcos's fortunes, so intertwined, were moved by fate towards an inescapable, irreversible clash of intelligence, wit, and cunning; of clan wealth and political connections; and of deceit and individual versions of truth that were to rend the fabric of Philippine society.

The book, I am afraid, is no longer in circulation, but if by happenstance you got a copy, read it and be illuminated, for Martinez's prose is piercing, precise, and politically very relevant to today's Romblon.

Excuse me. I should say it is very relevant to the election of 13 May 2013 and to its major players in combat, namely, Budoy Madrona vs. Jojo Beltran; Lolong Firmalo vs. Bernie Fondevilla; and Otik Riano vs. Mel Madrid. Its relevance extends to other local candidates, some of whom are running like headless chickens, unable to decipher east from west and clueless about the overcast sky punctured by the rays of the setting Romblon sun.

Sorry, I could not help but be literary for, as I see it, the races are too predictable and too shallow to be called an election.

For an election it is not. If Martinez is only alive, he will call the race in Romblon an erection: a democratic exercise where most of the candidates are standing dazed and erect, unprincipled, and without any scruples, in the quicksand of their political ambitions.

Manong Julius Fortuna, another great Romblomanon writer who should have been congressman in 2010 if not for his early reunion with the Lord, must be turning in his grave knowing that Gov. Firmalo and Rep. Madrona have set aside their past enmity, swallowed their pride, and are now holding hands like groom and bride, as they walk to the altar for their ultimate political union. The two veteran political patriarchs are asking for our blessing by presenting themselves as the saviors of the Romblomanon.

A round of applause, please.

Firmalo and Madrona have entered into a coalition, vowing to end our misery. Subtly, the duo seemed to also seek to end former Agriculture secretary Bernie Fondevilla's pretension as an alternative political messiah.

The coalition, however, is turning out to be a grand collision. It is shaping up as a battle royale between personalities of inflated egos. It is threatening to become a clash of veterans whose wealth and power keep their minions salivating and groveling in the ground, their minds swirling in extreme unbelief that Firmalo and Madrona--after years of running after each other's throats--are now at peace; are best of friends forever; and are on their way to build the political house of Romblon where each one of us may live happily ever after.

Shortly after the start of the 45-day campaign, the coalition began to unravel, shake, rattle, and roll. It is already showing signs of a break-up which, if not remedied, will result to a no-holds barred war of attrition between Madrona's army and Firmalo's hordes. The grand collision is at hand.

In fact, even before the ink has dried on the coalition agreement, pocket insurrections had erupted in both Firmalo's and Madrona's camps.

The first to rise was Vice Governor Mel Madrid, who decamped and crossed over to Bernie Fondevilla's side. He could not stomach Firmalo 'marrying' Madrona. Or, was it Firmalo who could not stomach Madrid as best man?

Next to follow was the mayor-candidate of Banton, Ding Fadri, who has declared himself and his candidates independents after Firmalo left them twisting in the wind. Fadri and his candidates are not supporting the 'marriage' and are campaigning only for themselves, all politics being local.

On the other hand, Madrona's mayor-candidate in Cajidiocan, the ex-policeman Borong Ramos, alleged to have orchestrated the near fatal ambush of current Cajidiocan mayor Festo Galang, is a true-blue bloodied Madrona acolyte and declared himself NOT for Firmalo. And Festo Galang a Firmalo protégé himself, is aghast that the coalition, instead of choosing him, chose not one but two standard bearers, Borong and Engr. Roger Rotoni. Festo might bolt the coalition to secure his puwesto.

In Magdiwang, the vociferous Baring Manzala, has declared to all and sundry that Madrona's political marriage to Firmalo does not bind him and is now campaigning heavily for Bernie whose stand on mining is as murky as the Pasig river. Is he for mining or not? Ask Rodne Galicha.

There are other mayors wavering on their stand on the coalition, mindful of their own political survival if they show their true colors now. One of them is Magdiwang mayoral candidate Jolly "Haruta" Monton, who confessed to this writer that up to this time, his erstwhile ally, Gov. Firmalo, has not even given him a peep. "Ni ha, ni ho, wala" according to Monton.

The fiery Atty. Rachel Banares, mayor of Corcuera; the ultra-traditional Jory Faderanga, mayor of Banton; the ultra-vocal, but moderate Dindo Rios, mayor of San Fernando; and the ultra-conservative Dr. Leila Arboleda, mayor of Looc, are not telegraphing their punches whether they are for Firmalo or Bernie Fondevilla. However, they are rooting for Madrona as representative. Are we not confused already?

As to the rest of the local town head aspirants, they comprise an unruly mix--chopsuey--of candidates which makes shaky and unstable the support base on which the candidates for the top three positions bank on. For example, Firmalo and Madrona have no strong candidate for mayor in Calatrava and San Andres which Bernie Fondevilla claims as his bailiwicks.

In San Agustin, for example, Rep. Madrona is already suffering enough migraine in trying to salvage his brother's candidacy owing to the resurgence and insurgence of a

In Calatrava, the local kingpin, Mayor Bong Fabella, is all-out for his best friend Bernie. Mayor Fabella has already announced in Corcuera his candidacy for governor in 2016 even as he, as Bernie's campaign manager, has still to show in the flesh his candidate for governor in many parts of the province. "Bernie, where are you?" says an Odionganon porter I encountered in Montenegro Shipping's Matilde the other day.

Meanwhile, in Odiongan, Mayor Boy Firmalo is facing a very rough sailing against a very strong, industrious, and intelligent candidate in Vice Mayor Brix Fajutnao who has cast his marbles with Bernie Fondevilla.

Why is the coalition breaking up? Why is it not achieving what the coalition partners--Madrona and Firmalo--envisioned, which is to foster political unity? And why is the coalition, so painstakingly, loudly trumpeted by Firmalo and Madrona as the solution to the political division and subdivision brought about by, well, the coalition itself, threatening to erupt into a collision?

Asi ngani? Asing kaling coalition--nak tuna pa it kag Oktubre 2012 ay ging lalako ey ni Firmalo ag ni Madrona nak imaw it tambay sa pagkakabuyag-buyag ag pag-kakatinunga it mga Romblomanon, pagkakabuyag-buyag ag pag-kakatinunga nak unang-una ay dahil mismo sa coalition--ay pay magiging higanteng collision o banggaan ni Firmalo ag ni Madrona?

Madrona may shout to high heavens that this is not true. Firmalo may protest with his signature coolness that no, this readin is absolutely nonsense and false. And both may swear to every Romblomanon within hearing distance that the coalition, apparently instigated by no less than President Benigno Aquino III himself, is a genuine unification, a coming of the minds of two parties who are after the well-being of the people. Both Firmalo and Madrona may, in fact, declare that this coalition is what Romblon needs at this time and so we should support it, not tear it apart.

Basi pa, ka ako pangabay.

Pero asing sige ka kusog it hinghingan nak sa 'last hour' ('last hour' in the lexicon of our politicians are the last few days before the election), si Bernie Fondevilla ag si Budoy Madrona ay mapisan ag a-badaan sa yawor si Firmalo? Ag asing sige ka kusog it hinghingan nak si Gov. Firmalo ag si Jojo Beltran ay mahapit sa peligrong oras bilang pangontra sa nabibisayang pag-traidor ni Madrona sa coatlition?

I don't usually give much credence to rumors, but rumor mills have a way of making rumors sound like facts.

Rumor No. 1 has it that Budoy Madrona and Bernie Fondevilla, before the start of the campaign, met regularly in Manila.

Rumor No. 2 has it that Lolong Firmalo and Jojo Beltran are now singing the same tune as well.

So what, you will say. Why read too much into meetings between a sitting congressman and a displaced secretary of Agriculture? What if the agenda of their meetings was to finalize the number of votes by which they will cheat Firmalo?

So what, you will say. Why interpret direly a duet between a sitting governor and a disgraced former governor? What if the theme of their duet was to castrate the connivance of Madrona and Fondevilla?

Imaw gani ano?

But the question should be, "Did the meetings take place?" The answer is yes, according to my source, a high-ranking officer of government who is very close to Madrona. Another source, a former candidate who is also a Madrona confidante, confirmed the meeting. So, the meeting was not gossip. It was fact.

My source said that Madrona, despite his profession of true love to Firmalo and his candidacy, is, in the dead of the night and when Firmalo is not looking, instructing his lieutenants in San Agustin and in other towns to campaign for Bernie Fondevilla and to junk Firmalo and his Sangguniang Panlalawigan candidates. A Matilde source likewise said that Jojo Beltran has sent feelers to Gov. Firmalo.

This is a case of the coalition becoming a grand collusion. If true, you will say, then Firmalo should worry. But should he? No. These are political gossip that have not been corroborated, so Firmalo can rest easy.

But not yet. Firmalo and his supporters should watch out for Bernie Fondevilla. What if Bernie Fondevilla and his supporters let out an intrigue that Madrona is supporting him, and not Firmalo? Plausible?

Possible. After all, Madrona is not known for fair play. Look, he has even allowed three mayor-candidates in San Fernando, Cajidiocan, and Magdiwang to mix it up to ensure that he will emerge unscathed. This is Madrona's time-tested formula: to allow as many candidates to engage in a brawl, a melee, as long as they support him.

The junking is apparently on a feverish start already. And Firmalo could not prevent or even stop it. Why? Because when he negotiated with Madrona for the establishment of the coalition, he was alone and was not able to bring along his loyal leaders and supporters because they were against joining Madrona in the first place.

They said, and this is a genuine sentiment repeated to me several times over, that it will be a negation of their principled cause to side and support the politician, Madrona, who was the object of their opposition. It should be recalled that Firmalo himself was vehemently and vocally opposed to Madrona throughout his political career. Now, the strangest of things happened in the strangest of political circumstances. The enemies becoming allies.

But as posited, the political marriage is on the brink. It is on the precipice waiting for just a little nudge before it plunges down the cliff of no return. That nudge, or shove, if you will, is the grand collusion I am talking about--Madrona hatching a plot with Fondevilla to junk Firmalo.
What must Firmalo do? Should he reverse course and declare war on Madrona this early?

It's very unlikely that Firmalo, a very decent man, will do this. He will stand with Madrona, no matter what happens. He will live with his word whatever the outcome of his faulty decision to 'marry' the foxy veteran.

He is a calculating politician with a large support base, and a governor with a solid record of accomplishment. So, whatever cool analysis he has of the situation, only he, alone, knows it. He is known to decide by himself, without signs of betraying the input of wisdom of his advisers (by the way, does he have any?) so the possible corrosive impact of a fallout with Madrona will most likely be limited. Or nil.

As to Bernie Fondevilla, his lawyerly countenance that shows flashes of brilliance at negotiating deals, deals of all kinds, including his political survival, may serve him good in the end. But he should know he is not running for president of a student body organization. Let's see.

Meanwhile, Madrona, as usual and as is his core tradition, will stand with no one but himself. He has always been known to go alone for himself, leaving behind the carcasses of opponents and allies alike to ensure his survival.

And in another re-run, surely later, Bernie will realize that Madrona will abandon him, but only after he had been bled dry of whatever political profit he can contribute to Madrona's cause.