Monday, January 18, 2010

How politics is killing Tacloban

This is my column today.

I was recently in Tacloban City where I inevitably found myself immersed in pre-election concerns and had a whiff of the stink of local politics.

An unusual spectacle is unfolding in the electoral contest in the city. The incumbent mayor, Alfred Romualdez, is running for re-election. There’s really nothing wrong with his quest for re-election because he has not yet exceeded his term limit. However, his slate includes his father, Bejo Romualdez, who is running for vice mayor. If both win, Tacloban will have a father and son sitting as Mayor and Vice Mayor, respectively.

I know. This situation is not really unusual in this country. Various permutations of political dynasty exist in this country such as husband-and-wife teams sitting as mayor and congressman or father and son sitting as mayor and chairman head of the Sangguniang Kabataan. But I think not very many families have the audacity to actually want to corner both the posts of mayor and vice mayor of the same city.

What adds to the unusual situation is the fact that Bejo Romualdez is the immediate past City Mayor of Tacloban City and he bequeathed the post to his son, the incumbent. In short, he is settling for a lower position in the 2010 elections. The even more twisted thing is that the older Romualdez has been reportedly telling people in campaign sorties that the situation bodes well for Tacloban because this means that the mayor cannot misbehave since he—the father—is watching him.

That’s not it, yet. It gets even more outrageous. Former sexy actress Cristina Romualdez—Alfred’s wife—is also running for re-election as councilor and has made it known that she wants to win as first councilor of the city.

The electorate has irreverently dubbed the trio the Holy Trinity of Tacloban—the son, the father, and the wife. In a rather twisted turn of events, the Romualdezes have latched on to the joke by using the same as some kind of justification for the anomalous situation. The incumbent mayor has been publicly saying that if Catholics don’t have questions about the validity of the concept of the Holy Trinity, then they shouldn’t question Tacloban’s holy trinity. In Alfred’s words: “If there is a Holy Trinity in the Bible, then Tacloban City has its own trinity. Dynasties have existed since the time of Jesus Christ.”

I almost choked on the scallops I was eating when friends and relatives narrated the above to me. There were more reasons for consternation. Everyone had something juicy to contribute to the discussion about how the political situation in Tacloban City has degenerated to absurd levels.

There are 10 slots available for councilor of the city. There are 40 candidates who filed their certificates of candidacies. It stands to reason that anyone running for the post of mayor would field a complete slate. The Romualdez slate, however, is composed of 15 candidates for councilor. The Romualdezes want to convey the impression that they are so loved in Tacloban there’s a long list of people jumping all over themselves to be associated with them. Fielding 15 candidates for the 10 slots increases the chances of cornering majority of the seats of the City council—a highly contentious battleground in the last three years for the incumbent mayor on account of a very strong opposition—but it also smacks of cheap opportunism. What kind of a leader willingly encourages members of his team to openly fight amongst themselves while he watches benevolently waiting to raise the hands of the victors?

Putting up a brave fight against the Romualdezes is media man Bob Abellanosa; the man who for many years read the evening news for the local television channel. Abellanosa is not exactly the first choice among those at the dinner table but most of them were willing to cast their lot behind the guy firmly believing in the mantra “anybody but the Romualdezes.”

The political situation in Tacloban—something that has bordered on the absurd and the comical—has been simmering under the surface for quite some time now. The Romualdezes have only recently returned to power since they were thrown out with the Marcoses after the first Edsa revolution.

All over the city are tarpaulins of the handsome first couple of the city supposedly proclaiming the achievements they have made for the city. The joke among the citizenry is that whatever achievements are printed in the tarpaulins is unreadable as most of the space has been taken up by the huge picture of the very handsome couple. Some critics gleefully proclaim that that’s exactly the major achievements of the couple—they’ve prettified themselves.

The Romualdezes have been at odds with the Petillas for many years now. The Petillas have held sway over the provincial capitol since the matriarch Remedios Matin Petilla became governor a few years after the Romualdezes’ fall from grace. Petilla went on to become congressman and later on as deputy chairman of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation. The current governor of Leyte is her son Jericho Petilla.

The conflict between the Petillas and the Romualdezes has resulted in competition that has reached almost farcical levels— whatever programs for the common people initiated by the provincial government has been replicated by the city government and vice versa. For example, the province has a singing contest designed to discover singing talents. The city government has its own contest, held just a block away from the venue of the provincial contest. Even the backdrops of the two competitions seem to compete amongst themselves in terms of size. The provincial and city governments also compete in terms of who has the better morning exercise sessions.

The city folk have come to see the competition as akin to the kapuso vs kapamilya contest not only because it has become entertaining but more because it has become quite shallow although most concede that the competition has also somehow resulted in more services being offered to citizens.

The problem is that the competition had become dysfunctional in many occasions such as during the most recent city fiesta when the provincial government and the city government hosted their own festivals. Reports have it that the street dancing related to one festival was rudely interrupted because activities related to the other festival cut through the street dancing venue. During the recent Palarong Pambansa, which was hosted by the provincial government, the city government reportedly refused to allow the use of certain facilities owned by the city.

The result of all these is that there is now a seeming exodus to relocate most businesses to the nearby town of Palo, which already hosts most government regional offices. SM is reportedly building its first mall in the region in Palo and the Petilla matriarch, Remedios Petilla, is now running for the post of mayor of the town. There is also the plan to move the provincial capitol to Palo eventually. If all these happen, Tacloban will most like degenerate into a shell of what it used to be and what it could have become. No wonder “have mercy on Tacloban City” is an oft-repeated plea that’s being whispered around by concerned citizens.

2 comments:

Contents under pressue said...

"Dynasties have existed since the time of Jesus Christ."

Actually, the existed well before Jesus.

Not that it matters here in the Philippines. Last time I checked, we're supposed to be a democracy, not a bloody monarchy.

Bong C. Austero said...

Tim,
I missed pointing out Alfred's factual error, that dynasties in fact already existed before Jesus Christ.

Bong