Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Politics by affinity

This is my column today.

I’ve been traveling to my home province of Leyte a lot in the last few weeks. No, it’s not because I am running for public office although like most everyone else with some kind of pseudo popularity I also have been asked to run by some well-meaning individuals and groups. I’ve been going home mostly for work but these trips have been quite insightful in the light of political developments shaping up in the province in the run up to 2010.

It seems this idea of change in politics is something that a lot of people are taking seriously because there seems to be a mad race to get as many “new names” as possible into the political arena. The problem is that many people are taking the clarion call rather literally—they interpret the need for change as the opportunity to recruit fresh faces as candidates, including those without any inclination or aptitude for politics or public service. The general attitude is that anyone who is not a politician or has not run for public service is potentially a better bet compared to someone who has been in politics for quite sometime and therefore presumed to have succumbed to corruption in the course of being a politician.

I think that making generalizations is a dangerous thing but it’s difficult to argue with people with strong convictions based on years of observation. It’s almost impossible to single out politicians who have remained untainted with accusations of corruption or abuse of power while in office. However, I still think that politics is a career that requires certain competencies. Thus, getting any Juan, Pedro and Jose to run for office without any regard for qualification, or skills, or platforms is potentially disastrous.

In response to the call of the times, there are those who have shamelessly abrogated unto themselves the mantle of “new politics” even if they represent the status quo. Like Chiz Escudero, they use the mantra of change, or as Escudero likes to say so himself, “new change,” merely as a convenient political slogan rather than as an advocacy.

Thus, in Leyte, and I presume anywhere else, husbands are giving way to wives or vice versa, parents are giving way to children, or siblings to another sibling. Political dynasties are playing a game of musical chairs. The strange thing is that these families actually expect voters to believe that the change in candidates already represent change in politics.

And then there is this new development of politics by affinity—that is, husbands or wives of residents of the province gunning for elective posts in the province.

Actor Richard Gomez is seeking to represent the people of the Fourth District of Leyte, home turf of his beautiful wife, Lucy Torres Gomez. Former actress Christina “Kring Kring” Gonzales Romualdez, currently councilor of Tacloban City, is reportedly intent on becoming its next mayor.

I talked to a number of voters in the Fourth District to get a sense of how people are responding to Gomez’ candidacy. I didn’t meet anyone who had a nice word to say about it. Everyone I talked to felt that Gomez didn’t stand a chance of winning. First, he is up against a powerful political clan—the Codillas of Ormoc—whose family is well entrenched in the district. Practically all the mayors of the towns in the Fourth District are related either by blood or marriage to the Codillas. Second, Lucy Torres Gomez’ family is not exactly endeared to the masses of the district. The Torreses are hacienderos who don’t socialize with the poor. Third, there is a backlash directed at celebrities like Gomez who are perceived as opportunists.

“But what about Gomez’ matinee idol appeal?” I asked. Apparently, Gomez is not that popular in Leyte, which is Kapamilya country. “It would have been a different story altogether if it were Piolo Pascual running,” the women I talked to shrieked.

Christina Gonzalez Romualdez, who is married to Alfred Romualdez, current mayor of Tacloban, already won the most number of votes as councilor in the 2007 elections. If we are to believe the scuttlebutt, Alfred Romualdez will challenge Jericho Petilla for the governorship leaving his wife, the former actress, at the helm of the city. If things go as planned, she will be up against Dan Palami, a young charismatic leader who seems to have the support of the youth. Palami was born and schooled in Tacloban City while Romualdez’ ties to the city is purely by marriage. The talk around the city is that most people have had enough of politics by affinity.

* * *

Like everyone else, my family and I were glued to the television set last Sunday as Emmanuel “Pacman” Pacquiao pummeled the daylights out of Manuel Cotto of Puerto Rico. As usual, GMA-7 loaded the delayed telecast with advertisements although mercifully, did not cut off telecasts in the middle of a round to accommodate a political advertisement. Pacquiao’s victory over Cotto has already been discussed and written about extensively—in fact, many broadsheets gave the news the proverbial “second coming” treatment— and there’s really very little else that can be written about the fight itself.

A friend who watched the fight live at Las Vegas gave a minute-by-minute update via twitter and Facebook using his cellphone. It was a wonder he was able to watch the fight itself. He reported that the audience chanted “We want Floyd!” immediately after Pacquiao’s victory like spectators at a gladiator fight screaming for more blood. This is the basic nature of the sport—it celebrates one man’s physical victory over another; and one of the sad consequences of Pacquiao’s phenomenal success in boxing is that it makes us forget about the cruel nature of the sport itself. Pacquaio won; but he didn’t exactly come out of it unscathed. Doctors had to drain blood out of his right ear after the fight and his face was all puffy.

Barely a day before Pacquiao went up the ring to face Cotto, another Filipino boxer Z Gorres was knocked down on Round 10 of his fight against Colombian boxer Luiz Melendez and had to undergo emergency surgery to remove a blood clot in his brain. Although Gorres’s condition has already improved, indications point to many months in rehabilitation. He will never be able to return to boxing again or take up other competitive sports.

One can therefore empathize with Dionisia Pacquaio’s request for his son to give up boxing already. It’s a mother’s sincere plea for a son’s well-being, something that will most likely get drowned in the mad scramble to sustain one of the country’s few remaining tickets to global sports renown.

When Pacquiao comes home in the next few days, he will, however, have to face more frenzied attention to talk about the state of his personal life, in particular, about his marriage. The gossip mill has been working overtime over the last week spilling out really juicy and scandalous bits about his supposed affair with a starlet who was lording it over at Las Vegas. All the drivel is really sad because media projection of Pacquiao has already been largely positive in the last year or so and his stature as a Filipino role model has been gaining ground. A scandal is the last thing he needs right now.

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