No Comments 24 April 2014

‘We love our champ if he sticks to what he does best and we condemn him when he dabbles in fields outside his core competence. Focus on sports. Stay away from politics.’ READ FULL STORY




No Comments 20 December 2013

In a civilized society, the citizenry relies on laws to govern human behavior and to protect them from abuse by those in power. The evils of economic monopolies are checked by the existence of anti-trust or restraint of trade laws. READ FULL STORY

Five Legendary Mayors and How They Transformed their Cities


Five Legendary Mayors and How They Transformed their Cities

11 Comments 01 October 2013

By Niki Yarte —

Most Filipinos perceive our brand of politics as dirty and unethical, and by direct correlation, Filipino politicians are mostly corrupt and self-serving. The most recent P10-billion pork barrel scam reinforces this perception and further alienates the electorate from the self-proclaimed public servants.

Yet every now and then we see extraordinary individuals who slay the dragons of traditional politics and its attendant tentacles – self-aggrandizement, abuse of power, incompetence – and challenge the status quo. Their vision, courage and determination help restore the people’s hope in politics and government. Among such exceptional leaders are five mayors from around the country whose commonality involves the successful transformation of their respective cities as well as the unique demeanor with which they approached their office.

Arsenio H. Lacson, Manila, 1952-1962

LacsonThe first mayor of Manila to be elected to three terms, Arsenio H. Lacson inherited a staggering debt of more than P20 million when he took over City Hall in 1951 after serving as congressman for one term. By 1959 he had managed to turn the city’s finances around. Lacson embarked on crusades to maintain peace and order and good government in Manila, firing incompetent employees and corrupt policemen.

All throughout his 10 years as mayor, Lacson maintained his radio program where he lambasted politicians of all stripes and dissected local and national issues. The programs were pre-recorded in order to edit out his expletives and occasional foul language. Sporting a broken nose from his amateur boxing days and his trademark aviator sunglasses, he earned the nickname “Arsenic” for his sharp tongue and penchant for whiskey even in daylight hours. He incurred the ire of Presidents Roxas and Quirino for his scathing criticism of their administrations. It was he who famously described then-neophyte councilor Ernesto Maceda, “so young yet so corrupt”.

Had Lacson not suffered a fatal heart attack in 1962, the Nacionalista Party would’ve fielded him against President Diosdado Macapagal in the 1965 presidential elections instead of another politico he had humiliated when they served together in Congress – Ferdinand Marcos.

Richard Gordon, Olongapo City, 1980-1986, 1988–1998

GordonWhen Dick Gordon was first elected, Olongapo was known as “Sin City” for the rampant prostitution and rowdy night clubs in its infamous Red Light District, populated by GIs from the US naval base in nearby Subic. Under his leadership, Olongapo became a “model city” through his innovative programs such as raising police accountability through ID systems, proper health and sanitation, waste management and the strict observance of color-coding in public transport.

But Gordon’s greatest challenges came in 1991: first, in June, when the cataclysmic eruption of Mt. Pinatubo buried the city in 14 inches of wet ash, and three months later, when the Philippine Senate voted to end the RP-US Military Bases Agreement, and with it, the 40,000 local jobs that the naval base generated. In his characteristic go-go attitude, Gordon rallied the people of Olongapo to literally rise from the ashes and rebuild the city. Volunteerism became the rallying cry. At the same time, Gordon lobbied for the conversion of the Subic naval base into a free port, leading to the establishment of the Subic Bay Freeport Zone and its administrative body, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority.

In 1992 President Cory Aquino appointed Gordon as the first SBMA administrator while concurrently serving as Olongapo mayor. A year later Gordon was forced to give up his mayoralty post in favor of SBMA. He went on to build Subic Freeport Zone into a new investment hub in Southeast Asia.

Rodrigo Duterte, Davao City, 1988-1998, 2001-2010, 2013-present

DuterteDubbed “The Punisher” by Time Magazine for his unrelenting stance against criminals, Rudy Duterte is credited for transforming Davao City’s reputation as “the murder capital of the Philippines” to being one of the country’s most peaceful cities. His no-nonsense drive against criminality is legendary: giving a barangay captain 48 hours to clean up illegal drug activities in his area, offering a P5-million reward for the head “on ice” of a suspected leader of a carnapping syndicate, and issuing a shoot-to-kill order against armed criminals who enter the city.

Duterte’s “police mentality” has earned the indignation of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty International and human rights groups who accuse him of extrajudicial killings. The Human Rights Watch labeled him as “someone who openly advocates murder to bring peace and prosperity.”

While the mayor would not admit to the scores of suspected vigilante killings, he takes pride in the “cleansing” of the city, earning commendation from ordinary citizens and the business community. Depending on who you ask, Duterte is either a model crime fighter or a vigilante killer.

Jesse Robredo, Naga City, 1988-1998, 2001-2010

robredoJesse Robredo was notable not just for his contributions to his city but also for lacking the boastful and extravagant style of the typical politician. He was the antithesis of trapo, the traditional politician: he was humble, lived a modest life, listened before he barked orders, abhorred the trappings of power. He would punch in his own time card at City Hall and wear the same uniform required of city employees. He would often be seen in public without an entourage or security detail, taking public transportation even to official functions, and even sweeping the streets.

Today, Naga is considered one of the most business-friendly and livable cities in the country. Poverty and unemployment levels are significantly lower than the national average, while literacy and sanitation levels greatly improved. A successful housing program distributed 8,000 homes to alleviate rampant squatting.

But the most enduring legacies of Robredo are good governance and people empowerment. He established the Naga City People’s Council that institutionalized the participation of the people in the development process and installed a system for government transparency and accountability. He received the 2000 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service – the only local official in the country to be so honored – for “demonstrating that effective city management is compatible with yielding power to the people”.

Edward Hagedorn, Puerto Princesa City, 1992-2001, 2002-2013

HagedornA self-confessed ex-gangster, Edward Hagedorn likens his personal transformation to the physical rebirth of Puerto Princesa. Once engaged in illegal logging and gambling operations, he turned his back on these nefarious activities after he was elected mayor. Environmental protection and sustainable tourism became his rallying cry, spearheading such projects as Bantay Puerto (Puerto Princesa Watch) and Oplan Linis (Clean and Green Campaign).

Under his leadership, Puerto Princesa became one of the major eco-tourism destinations in the Philippines. The city also became a global model for environment protection, winning several global recognition and awards. Locally, Puerto Princesa has earned the title as the country’s cleanest and greenest city.

In a landmark case, Hagedorn declared a state of calamity – a function that only the President can enact – so he could use emergency funds to provide livestock and farm implements to farmers who had lost their main source of livelihood after ordering them to cease their slash-and-burn (kaingin) practices. Because Hagedorn’s actions were against existing laws at the time, he was set to face a case filed by the Ombudsman. The complaint was set aside when legislators intervened, passing a law that allowed local government units to follow Hagedorn’s resourcefulness.




No Comments 22 July 2013

When President Benigno Aquino III gathered his Cabinet secretaries to discuss the 2014 budget on July 8, the meeting took all of 10 hours. But he still wasn’t satisfied. Aquino wanted details. He wanted answers. And he wanted numbers. READ FULL STORY




4 Comments 13 October 2012

By Leandro Milan

OUR brand of democracy, specifically our electoral system, is a fraud. The rules are designed so that only the rich and powerful get elected.

In an attempt to broaden representation in policy-making bodies such as Congress, the framers of the 1987 Constitution introduced the concept of “party-list” representation wherein the so-called marginalized sectors – peasants, urban poor, disabled, cultural minorities – will be allotted seats in the House of Representatives. The pertinent provision states: “The party-list representatives shall constitute twenty per centum of the total number of representatives including those under the party list. For three consecutive terms after the ratification of this Constitution, one-half of the seats allocated to party-list representatives shall be filled, as provided by law, by selection or election from the labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, women, youth, and such other sectors as may be provided by law, except the religious sector.”

Twenty-five years hence, the party-list system, is alive and well. Problem is what was meant as an avenue for greater people’s representation has become just another traditional political arena for the rich and powerful. Using so-called people’s organizations clothed in fancy and elaborate names, vested interest groups have hijacked the party-list system and turned it into another charade.

The list of groups seeking party-list seats gets stranger and more absurd every election season, prompting Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. to call the party-list system a joke.

Almost every group now wants to be accredited by the Comelec to be eligible to seek congressional seats — health promoters, aviation advocates, athletes and hobbyists, entrepreneurs, former drug users, ex-military renegades, school dropouts, foreign-exchange dealers, LPG marketers.

The election watchdog Kontra Daya, led by Fr. Joe Dizon, is spearheading a campaign to expose bogus party-list groups. One group on its watchlist is Ang Mata’y Alagaan (AMA), which claims to represent blind indigents and people afflicted with all kinds of eye diseases and disorders.

In a petition before the poll body, Kontra Daya says the nominees of AMA belong to the well-connected Velasco family. The group’s first nominee is Lorna Velasco, a nurse and the wife of Supreme Court Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco. Velasco’s daughter, Tricia Nicole, a lawyer, is AMA’s second nominee.

“The Velascos are very powerful politically and economically, considering that they have as head of the family a sitting member of the highest court of this country,” Kontra Daya said. “Clearly, the AMA has no bona fide intention to represent the sector it claims to represent, but rather to represent the interest of the already powerful, well-connected Velascos.”

Kontra Daya also cited 1-AsalPartylist, a group that claims to represent the urban poor but none of its nominees is a slum dweller. In fact, its first nominee, Ryan Tanjucto, lives in posh Corinthian Gardens in Quezon City. The group’s two other nominees are Tanjucto’s wife, Maria Lourdes, and Manila City Councilor Raymundo Yupangco.

Kontra Daya also referred to the Association of Local Athletics Entrepreneurs and Hobbyists Inc. (Ala-Eh), whose first nominee, Elmer Anuran, is a known boxing promoter who runs a boxing gym and oversees Saved by the Bell Promotions.

Earlier, Kontra Daya had asked Comelec to cancel the accreditation of Ang Galing Pinoy party-list group represented in Congress by Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, the eldest son of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Ang Galing Pinoy claims to represent security guards, tricycle drivers, farmers and small businessmen.

But Kontra Daya says Ang Galing Pinoy is not a legitimate party-list group representing marginalized or underrepresented sectors but a “tool of the Arroyos and their political allies to remain in power.” (Note: In late October, the Comelec subsequently disqualified Ang Galing Pinoy as a legitimate party-list organization.)

Kontra Daya also questioned the credentials of Ang Galing Pinoy’s nominees for next May’s elections, Charlie Chua and Eder Dizon. According to the watchdog, Chua is a member of the Sangguniang Bayan of Lubao, Pampanga, and a senior partner at Chua and Munsayac Law Firm, while Dizon is a cosmetic surgeon and businessman who owns the Pampanga-based Suncove Corp.

Kontra Daya observes that new groups continue to sprout claiming to represent the urban poor but whose current nominees come from the upper crust of society. Some organizations also claim to represent the sick and the handicapped, but their representatives are neither ill nor handicapped and some of them come from well-known wealthy political families.

Brillantes said he was aware that many party-list representatives in the House are multimillionaires and many of the groups seeking accreditation for next year’s elections have handpicked nominees who are either former government officials or members of powerful political clans. One name readily comes to mind: President Benigno Aquino’s aunt, former Tarlac governor Margarita “Tingting” Cojuangco, who is the first nominee of the party-list group Aksyon Magsasaka-Tinig ng Masa.

“That’s why we are doing this [review] to be able to cleanse the list,” Brillantes said.

Two hundred eighty-nine groups have filed applications for accreditation to contest next year’s party-list elections. One hundred sixty-five of them are new groups, and the Comelec’s job is determining their legitimacy to cleanse the party-list system that it concedes is infested by sham organizations.

“Can you imagine if every three years there are 165 new groups applying? By 2019, there will be more than 1,000 of them listed on the ballot… that will make the party-list system of elections absurd,” Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento noted. “So to me, this is the opportunity to screen and process these party-list organizations.”

As of Oct. 24 the Comelec has disqualified 50 organizations for not meeting the standards for party-list groups set by the Constitution and the Party-list System Act. Among them were groups claiming to represent habal-habal (extended-capacity tricycle) operators and drivers, former drug addicts, peace advocates, ex-convicts, and banana farmers.

The Comelec blames the infestation of the party-list system with sham groups on the ambiguities in the law. The Constitution does not clearly define the concepts of marginalized and underrepresented and also does not lay down the qualifications for party-list nominees, Sarmiento said.

Comelec officials cite the need to amend the party-list law. “We appealed that the vagueness in the law be addressed for the guidance of the Comelec since we implement the law,” Sarmiento said.

In the absence of a more rigid law for the accreditation of nominees, the Comelec has tried to remedy the ambiguities in the law by issuing Resolution No. 9366, specifying that only those who belong to marginalized underrepresented sectors can seek party-list representation in Congress.




3 Comments 20 May 2010

By Karl Malakunas

Agence France-Presse

His name used to be poison in the Philippines but Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is now talking about becoming president after elections showed him to be one of the nation’s most popular politicians.

The dictator’s son also insists his family has nothing to apologize for in regards to his father and namesake’s 20-year rule of the country that ended in 1986 with a “people power” revolution and a humiliating escape into exile.

“My father doesn’t need me to vindicate him,” a relaxed Marcos told AFP last May 19 in his first major interview since the national elections on May 10 that saw him secure more than 13 million votes and a seat in the Senate.

“What will vindicate my father will be the academics and the historians who will look back on his time in the cold light of day and see his administration for what it was.”

To many, Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s reign was dominated by widespread human rights abuses, the family stealing billions of dollars from state coffers and the wholesale slaughter of a fledgling democracy aimed at holding on to power.

But Marcos Jr. said his father, who died in 1989 in US exile and now lies embalmed in the family home in the northern Philippines, committed no major crimes and was a superior president to those who succeeded him.

“To compare between him and the presidents since, he was a much better president than they have been,” the 53-year-old said as he sipped on a fruit juice in an upscale Manila cafe.

He dismissed charges that his father cheated to win the 1986 elections, one of the key moments in modern Philippine history as it triggered the so-called “people power” revolution led by the democracy heroine Corazon Aquino.

Marcos was similarly black-and-white when asked if the family stole even just one dollar while in power.

“Good Lord no, of course not,” he said, then emphasized that hundreds of cases had been lodged against the Marcosos in an attempt to recover alleged ill-gotten wealth, but none had succeeded.

On human rights abuses, Marcos initially said that some minor incidents — such as a drunken soldier beating someone up — may have occurred while his father was in power.

“But it was not part and parcel of government. It was not national policy to commit human rights abuses,” he said.

Pushed further, however, on issues such as the detention of journalists, newspapers being closed and the imposition of martial law, Marcos said such measures were needed to contain “wars” against Muslim and communist rebels.

“So the war rules applied, I suppose, in that regard,” he said.

Further boosting his confidence that his family will fall on the right side of history were parallel victories in the national elections by his famously flamboyant mother, Imelda, and sister Imee.

With Imelda, 80, winning a seat in the nation’s lower house of parliament, and Imee the governorship of Ilocos Norte province that is their family stronghold, the clan is at its strongest politically since being overthrown.

“It’s a result that we all wanted. You can’t do better than that,” he said.

Marcos said the trio’s victories showed that ordinary Filipinos had never abandoned the family, and that its downfall was only because it fell victim to a plot by the United States and powerful local oligarchs.

“The EDSA (people power) revolution was American-inspired. It was a regime change… and although they’ll deny it and swear on everything that’s holy that they weren’t involved, it’s very clear that they were,” he said of the US government.

“In the family, we always knew that, but it’s very gratifying to see that other people have come around to that way of thinking.”

Marcos said he had decided to step up to the Senate — after serving for nine years as Ilocos Norte governor and three as a lower house member — purely to give ordinary Filipinos a voice on the national stage.

“I really felt that I could help, I really felt that I had learned very much and I could bring those lessons to a national stage,” he said.

Marcos insisted that entering the Senate was not part of a well-orchestrated plan to run for the presidency in the next elections in 2016.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen in the next six months so I think to plan for that is actually not even a practical thing to do, a wise thing to do. Because you have to watch and wait really,” he said.

Nevertheless, he said that he did want to emulate his father by becoming president.

“In the way that every foot soldier wants to be a general,” he said.




No Comments 18 May 2010

Culled from election results from all over the country, we have listed here some of the more prominent winners and losers in the just-concluded May 10 elections. Many are familiar and renowned names, others are controversial and infamous.


– Gloria Macapagal Arroyo made history by being the country’s first president to seek a lower position. She won by a landslide over two unknown rivals in the congressional race in the second district of Pampanga. She replaces her son Mikey, who returns to the House of Representatives as nominee of the party-list group Ang Galing Pinoy, which purports to represent tricycle drivers and security guards. Mrs. Arroyo’s youngest son, Diosdao “Dato” Jr., won a second term as congressman in Camarines Sur. The President’s brother-in-law, Negros Occidental Rep. Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo Jr. (brother of First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo) was reelected in the fifth district of the province.

– The Marcoses scored a triple victory, one in the senatorial race and two in their home turf in Ilocos Norte. The late strongman’s only son, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. won a Senate seat, landing a strong 7th in the 12-man race. Former First Lady Imelda Marcos made a comeback as congresswoman (she was previously Leyte congresswoman), this time representing the second district of Ilocos Norte, succeeding her son Bongbong. Eldest daughter Imee beat incumbent Governor Michael Keon, a first cousin, in the gubernatorial contest.

– Manny Pacquiao finally won a congressional seat after two tries. This time, he beat Roy Chiongbian, a scion of a wealthy clan, for the lone congressional seat of Sarangani province.

– Reelectionist Batangas Governor Vilma Santos easily sailed to a second term, trashing the widow of former governor Arman Sanchez, who replaced her husband after his sudden death a few weeks before the election.

– Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, husband of one of the 57 people massacred in Maguindanao last November scored a big win in the province’s gubernatorial race trashing Datu Umbra Sinsuat, an ally of the Ampatuan clan, who allegedly perpetrated the massacre. Andal Ampatuan Sr., who is in jail for his alleged involvement in the incident, lost to Mangudadatu’s runningmate, Ismael Mastura.

– Three kin of deposed President Joseph Estrada won in separate races: his son, reelectionist senator Jinggoy Estrada, came in second to bosom friend and showbiz colleague, Bong Revilla, in the senatorial race; his mistress Guia Gomez was elected mayor of San Juan mayor, replacing her son by Estrada, JV Ejercito, who easily won as San Juan congressman.

– The Binays’ 24-year reign in Makati continues as Councilor Junjun Binay succeeds his father, vice presidential frontrunner Jejomar Binay, as city mayor, beating former Binay ally and long-time vice mayor Ernesto Mercado. Junjun’s elder sister, Abigail, retained her congressional seat in the second district.

– Luis “Chavit” Singson, who has lorded Ilocos Sur as governor for 26 years, is back at the helm of the province. His son Ronald was reelected congressman of the first district of the province. Eleven other members of the Singson clan won in various local races

– The father-and-daughter team of Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte and vice mayor Sara Duterte traded places and trounced their respective rivals. The young Duterte beat former Speaker Prospero Nograles no less, while the father trounced former mayor Benjamin de Guzman.

– Shalani Soledad, girlfriend of prospective President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino Jr., topped for the second time the race for councilor in Valenzuela City.

– Gina de Venecia succeeds her husband, former Speaker Jose de Venecia, as representative of the first district of Pangasinan.

– Alfredo Lim won a second term as mayor of Manila, beating former mayor Lito Atienza and ex-PNP officer Avelino Razon.

– Three-term vice mayor Herbert “Bistek” Bautista takes the helm of Quezon City hall, edging ex-congressman and DENR secretary Michael Defensor and former QC mayor Mel Mathay.

– Outgoing Quezon City Mayor Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte regained his old House seat in the fourth district. He is tipped as the incoming administration’s bet for House Speaker in a possible face-off with incoming Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Belmonte’s daughter won as QC vice mayor.

– Commercial model-TV host Lucy Torres became an instant, albeit reluctant, congresswoman, representing the fourth district of Leyte. She was a last-minute replacement for her husband, actor Richard Gomez, who was disqualified from the race for lack of residency.

– Dramatic actor Christopher de Leon was elected provincial board member of Batangas. In 2007 he lost in the province’s vice gubernatorial race.

– Actress Lani Mercado, wife of Sen. Bong Revilla, is the incoming congresswoman of Bacoor, Cavtie.


– Multi-awarded actor Cesar Montano failed in his gubernatorial try in Bohol. In 2007 he lost in the senatorial race.

– Priest-turned-governor Eduardo Panlilio lost in his reelection bid as Pampanga governor to Lubao town mayor Lilia Pineda, an ally of President Arroyo and wife of alleged “jueteng” lord Bong Pineda.

– After two terms as Isabela governor, Grace Padaca was finally vanquished by Rep. Faustino Dy III, a member of the Dy political dynasty that ruled the province for 30 years.

– Former executive secretary Eduardo Ermita lost in the race for congressional seat of the first district of Batangas. His son Edwin was likewise trounced in the race for vice governor of Batangas.

– Former justice secretary and presidential legal counsel Raul Gonzalez failed in his candidacy for mayor of Iloilo City. His son, Raul Jr., also lost in his reelection bid for congressman of Iloilo.

– Agnes Devanadera, Gonzalez’s successor at the Department of Justice, also lost in the congressional race in the first district of Quezon.

– Disgraced ex-agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn “Jocjoc” Bolante, alleged mastermind of the P728-million fertilizer scam, was defeated in his quest for the gubernatorial post of Capiz.

– Former APF chief Hermogenes Esperon lost his bid for a House seat in Pangasinan. He was linked to the “Hello Garci” election scandal in 2004.

– Losing VP candidate Bayani Fernando and his wife, outgoing Marikina City mayor Marides Fernando, lost their almost 20-year control over Marikina City after their political allies were trounced in the local races for mayor and congressman.

– Vivian Tan, daughter of billionaire Lucio Tan, lost to Rep. Vincent “Bingbong” Crisologo in the congressional race for Quezon City’s first district.

– Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim and Col. Ariel Querubin, who are detained for involvement in a coup plot against President Arroyo, failed in their attempt to replicate Navy Lt. Antonio Trillanes’ successful senatorial bid in 2007.

– Comebacking Joey Marquez was unsuccessful in his bid to reclaim the mayoralty of Paranaque City. His ex-wife Alma Moreno won another term as councilor of the city.

– Former Environment Secretary Michael Defensor and his father, QC Rep. Mat Defensor, were clobbered in the contests for mayor and congressman in Quezon City. Both were former LP members who chose to side with the Arroyo administration.

– Actress Aiko Melendez’s bid to jump from Quezon City councilor to vice mayor was foiled by Joy Belmonte, daughter of QC Mayor Sonny Belmonte.




No Comments 13 May 2010

Monday’s election was supposed to have ushered Filipino voters into the modern age of computerized voting, but the results show the country will remain stuck with feudal-style politics as dynasties secured elective positions at the provincial, congressional and local levels.

In at least 34 of the country’s 80 provinces, political families won tandem posts—one family member winning as governor and another as representative—in a new configuration that will give them a lock on power for years to come.

In around 20 of the country’s cities, the winning candidates for mayor had relatives also winning as representative, governor or both. READ FULL STORY.




No Comments 12 May 2010

By Karl Malakunas

Agence France-Presse

Tarlac, Philippines – Sitting inside a museum displaying the bloodied clothes his democracy hero father was wearing when assassinated, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III admits that for a long time he did not want to be president.

Even after winning elections in the Philippines by a landslide as Filipinos put their faith again in his family’s revered name, the 50-year-old bachelor appears not to be entirely comfortable that the nation’s burdens rest with him.

“I look at it as an obligation and as a job,” Aquino told Agence France-Presse in an exclusive interview at the Aquino family museum in their hometown of Tarlac on May 11, a day after the elections. “I cannot look at it as a situation where I can promote myself or put myself on a pedestal.”

Aquino is still to be officially declared the winner of the elections, with the tally not 100 percent completed, but he has an unassailable lead and his team is preparing to take the country’s reins on July 1.

When asked about his emotions the moment he realized he would become president, Aquino spoke not of excitement but personal sacrifice.

“I am still trying to adjust to the fact that there will be a drastic change in lifestyle,” he said, elaborating on the inevitable end to dinners in restaurants and anonymous strolls in shopping malls.

“Now I realize what my mum was saying when she wanted to try and go to a grocery store.”

Aquino often echoes his mother, Corazon “Cory” Aquino, and sees their destinies as the same.

In the deeply Catholic Philippines, Cory Aquino is regarded with near saint-like status for leading the “People Power” revolution that ended Ferdinand Marcos’s dictatorship in 1986.

But she was thrust into the role of revolutionary only after her husband, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, was shot dead at Manila airport in 1983 when he returned from US exile to lead the democracy movement against Marcos.

Cory Aquino was famously reluctant to lead the Philippines because it would mean having to take chief responsibility in healing a nation afflicted with so many dictatorship-borne social and economic woes.

But she became increasingly comfortable with her fate, and her six-year term is now looked back upon fondly by many Filipinos weary of corruption and poverty as a time when they had an incorruptible leader.

Her son said that, even though he had been congressman and senator for more than a decade, he had little desire to become president until last year when his mother died.

“I would be inheriting the problems of an administration that for nine and a half years has really wreaked havoc on our country,” Aquino said, explaining his reluctance.

He compared Arroyo’s corruption-tainted reign with Marcos’s dictatorship, saying they both wrecked fundamental democratic institutions and badly damaged the economy.

But Aquino said that, like his mother, he felt obliged to assume the burden after listening to the clamor of millions of Filipinos.

“At the end of the day (I thought) I would not be able to live with myself… if, knowing that I could have done something, I chose not to and the situation became worse,” he said.

In a similar fashion to his mother, Aquino intends to try and lead the country back from corruption-laden despair by example.

“I did make a public vow, I will never steal,” Aquino said, adding he intended to follow in his mother’s footsteps and not live in the Malacanang presidential palace.

“I want to reside if possible in my family’s residence,” he said. “I want to be able to end the day having as much a normal life as possible, to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground.”

Aquino wants to emulate another of his mother’s symbolic acts and not use the powers of office to beat Manila’s notorious traffic congestion.

“If there is traffic, we are part and parcel of it because at the end of the day the buck has to stop with me,” he said.

Ultimately though, Aquino’s mother moved into a house close to the presidential palace and her security personnel forced her to travel quickly through the traffic.

And while she is much-loved for being a role model, she was not a panacea for the Philippines’ entrenched economic and political problems.

Aquino similarly acknowledged he would not be able to fix the country during his six years in power, which cannot be any longer due to constitutional time limits introduced by his mother to prevent another Marcos-style dictatorship.

“We cannot transform our society in six years. But we are hoping to be able to provide that impetus and momentum to carry over into the next administration,” he said.




No Comments 09 May 2010

By Sheila Coronel, for CNN

(CNN) — The irony is often lost on Filipinos. How can the country that gave the world not one, but two, peaceful “people power” uprisings that ousted corrupt regimes have such violent elections?

On Monday, May 11, more than 50 million Filipinos will have the chance to elect a new president, a new Congress and a roster of local officials. So far the campaign has exacted a deadly toll: Including the Maguindanao massacre that killed 57 people in November, some 100 people have been reported killed in election-related violence, according to news and police reports.

This past week has been especially bloody. Last Monday, armed men fired at two trucks carrying 200 campaigners of a mayoral candidate in Zamboanga del Sur in the southern part of the country. One man was killed, and 32 others injured. On Tuesday, a lone gunman approached a candidate for councilor and shot him several times at close range, as the candidate was shaking hands with voters in a gymnasium in the central Philippine city of Cebu. He died a few hours later.

These incidents merited only a few paragraphs in Manila’s free-wheeling newspapers. Violence is part of the fabric of Philippine elections, and a murder or two seldom gets headline treatment.

Most of the violence is rooted in local political rivalries. Contests for public office at the town and provincial levels are fought so fiercely because the spoils of public office are so rich. Those seeking national office can bank on popularity, celebrity and media exposure in order to win. At the local levels, the calculus is far cruder.

Last November, the private army of a powerful local clan in Maguindanao province attacked a convoy of vehicles on a provincial highway, killing 57 people, 30 of them journalists. The massacre was intended to prevent the clan’s rival, Esmael Mangudadatu, from filing his candidacy. It was so cold-blooded and so gruesome that it shocked even those who had become inured to the violence of politics and daily life in the Philippines.

The Ampatuan family, which has been accused of masterminding the massacre, has dominated local elective positions in Maguindanao for years and become rich in the process. In recent months, investigative journalists have had a field day documenting the family’s 28 mansions, their fleet of luxury vehicles and private arsenal of high-powered firearms.

“The Ampatuans do not have plantations. They do not own factories,” said Albert Alejo, a Jesuit anthropologist, at a forum of religious leaders in Mindanao. “Bullets are not harvested from crops. Where did they get these from?”

Over the years, the government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has showered billions of pesos to fund development in Maguindanao, one of the country’s poorest provinces. In exchange, the Ampatuans have delivered votes for the president and her party. But the province has little to show for that money: It has only 18 government doctors for over a million people and one of the lowest literacy rates in the country.

Like many political families elsewhere in the Philippines, the clan has preserved its dominance through a combination of patronage, intimidation and links to the presidential palace. Officials say that the Ampatuans kept a 2,000-strong private army, which included the over 100 men who are now facing murder charges for last year’s massacre.

Six Ampatuans are in prison for their alleged complicity in that massacre. Despite this, at least 23 family members are reported to be running for local office in Monday’s elections. The family patriarch Andal Sr., currently jailed for multiple murder, is seeking the vice-governorship of the province, running against his own daughter.

The Ampatuans are an extreme example – most political families in the country do not wield such hegemonic or terrifying power. But they do show how the dynastic nature of Philippine politics has reached such absurd heights – or depths. The leading presidential candidate, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, belongs to a family that has held public office for four generations. His mother, the late Corazon Aquino, was the country’s first female president. And those leading in the senatorial races — including Ferdinand Marcos. Jr., son of the former Philippine dictator — are part of the country’s entrenched political clans.

The dominance of families demonstrates the dysfunctions of Philippine democracy. Yet, lively debate on democracy and a high level of engagement in electoral politics exist in many places, especially the big cities and mass media. Voter turnout has traditionally been at 80 to 85 percent, higher than in more mature democracies.

Still, guns rule in places like the far-flung villages of Maguindanao. That sad reality will continue as long as families like the Ampatuans are not held to account. With the public outrage at the massacre still fresh, this election is a good time to start.

Editor’s note: Sheila Coronel is the director of the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University. She is a co-founder of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Committee to Protect Journalists board member and author and editor of more than a dozen books. She is a 2003 recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award, Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize.


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