October 31, 2007
It was my wife, Leni, who thought that I should put up my own blog. While I do write and edit some technical papers that I present from time to time, I do not consider writing as a good suit of mine. But Leni is right. Over the last 21 years, I have been in and out of government service. My experiences and the lessons I have learned, probably are worth sharing. More so, because I have not been part of the “establishment” most of the time but have managed to survive, despite the odds.
Over the years, I have come to realize that it is not enough that you are right when you are dealing with the “powers that be”. You also need clout — influential allies and strong constituency support. I was Program Director of the Bicol River Basin Development Program in 1986 when I had my first brush with the “ways of the powerful”. Then Prime Minister, the late Salvador Laurel, the head of the agency where our office belonged, summoned me to his office and directed me to appoint the nephew of the late Senator Edmundo Cea (who was an UNIDO supporter) as Deputy Director. Politely, I explained that it was not possible. The position was occupied by a career employee. The next thing I knew it was already me who was being replaced. While I was just on leave from San Miguel Corporation then and could have left in disgust, I decided to fight it out. It was a matter of doing what was right. I took the matter to court which took cognizance of the injustice that was about to be done. Then Prime Minister Laurel was restrained from firing me.
I was barely a month in office as Mayor when then Governor Luis Villafuerte, my political patron, wanted me to endorse his former high school classmate as Chief of Police of the city. Politely, I refused to sign the endorsement letter because I did not want to “politicize” the police force. I was also wary that “jueteng” would then freely operate in the city. The Governor was influential. He secured the appointment from then PNP Chief Ramon Montano despite the absence of the required endorsement. I was a neophyte and an unknown politician. I needed somebody, as influential, to intercede for me. Upon my request, the Archbishop did. President Cory Aquino replaced the Villafuerte appointee. That was the beginning of the end of my relationship with the Villafuertes.
Near the close of my term as President of the League of Cities of the Philippines in 1997, a manifesto supporting “charter change” was being circulated. Such change would have lifted the term limits of elected officials, including that of former President Ramos. The Presidents of the League of Provinces and League of Municipalities signed the manifesto. All the President’s allies endorsed the manifesto. I decided not to. I was for President Ramos! (I believe he was one of the best Presidents our country has ever had.) But I was against amending the charter just to perpetuate ourselves in office. (I was on my third-term then.) I knew I disappointed our senior party leaders with my stand. But it had to be so.
When the Liberal Party was split between the pro-GMA and anti-GMA wing last year, emissaries from the pro-GMA wing tried convincing me to join the group with the usual promises of “protection” and support. I was aware that they knew my predicament. I had pending cases with the Comelec and the DOJ regarding my citizenship. I was vulnerable. But I cannot in conscience go against what I believe in, despite the possible consequences it might bring. I guess, I had it coming — the revival of my disqualification and deportation cases. Along with it, I knew we could not expect any manna from the national government anymore. This was affirmed after Typhoons Milenyo and Reming ravaged the city. We could not help but depend on ourselves and our private sector friends.
These narrations can go on, and on and on. But what is clear from all our experiences is that we can hold on to what we believe in and can buckle the odds. We have won and lost quite a number of battles — but we have never lost sight that what is right and true is not a matter of where the majority is. Regardless of who was on which side, we had done what we believe was the right thing because it was what was expected of us. Like I said earlier, battles were won when those who wielded power and influence were on our side. Battles were lost when those who could have made a difference opted to either remain indifferent or work against us. Although we paid dearly for the battles we lost, we can safely say that we have maintained our independence and self respect.
The dramatic changes in our political history were the works of the minority who plodded on to mobilize a new majority. With the recent pardon of former President Erap, we are again at a crossroad. The alliances have been muddled. While the administration seem to be breaking up because of JDV Jr., the opposition seem to be uneasy as well. While the most convenient alliance is to look which way the majority will go on both sides of the political fence, we hope that a few good men will choose what is good and what is right for the Filipino people even if this means forsaking their personal ambitions (should they fail!). We can look back on the events leading to EDSA I and EDSA II. It took a few good men, oddballs in their own time, to make us realize that in our hearts we knew what was true, what was good and what was right — and we were willing to stand up for it!