Sep 302013

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 1993 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.


Sep 302013
Laid-off PAL workers ask Francis for help

Philippine Daily Inquirer 5:03 am | Tuesday, October 1st, 2013 Pope Francis: Help sought. AP FILE PHOTO MANILA, Philippines—Apparently inspired by Pope Francis’ call for decent work and social justice, workers laid off by Philippine Airlines (PAL) has sought papal intervention in the labor dispute and in their campaign to be reinstated in their jobs. In a one-page letter to Pope Francis, Gerardo Rivera, president of the PAL Employees Association (Palea), brought to the Holy Father’s attention the plight of the airline workers who were laid off in 2011 as a result of the flag carrier’s decision to implement an outsourcing scheme. “As the only majority Christian nation in Asia, we deem an appeal from Your Holiness to the stakeholders involved—our employer [PAL] and the government—will (persuade them to) exercise moral suasion (that) may prove decisive in a settlement fair to the workers,” wrote Rivera. “We were fired with the intention of being rehired as contract workers doing the same jobs without security of tenure, lower wages, longer hours of work but without benefits,” he said. Such a scheme, the union official said, was “in contravention” of the social teachings of the Catholic Church, which has been advocating the primacy of labor over capital. Rivera said the union members were inspired and overjoyed after hearing the Holy Father call for decent work and social justice on World Labor Day five months ago. In his remarks on the occasion, Pope Francis encouraged governments and those in public service to make an Read More …

Sep 302013
DOLE probes reports of 3,000 Chinese illegals

By Tina G. SantosPhilippine Daily Inquirer 5:02 am | Tuesday, October 1st, 2013 Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz: Strict enforcement. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO MANILA, Philippines—The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has ordered an investigation into reports that some 3,000 Chinese nationals were illegally working at construction sites in the country. Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, citing a report by DOLE Region IV-A Director Zenaida Angara-Campita, said that at least 13 Chinese nationals had been found working for a big construction company in Batangas without alien employment permits (AEPs). Baldoz said Campita had ordered the company to obtain AEPs for the Chinese nationals. “This is about strictly enforcing the revised rules for the issuance of AEPs over which our regional offices have direct responsibility,” Baldoz said in a statement. She said she had instructed the DOLE regional directors to look into the matter and, if found to have basis, act to strictly enforce the rules. “They need to submit to me a report on the results of their investigation. I will not tolerate lax enforcement of the rules on the issuance of the AEP,” Baldoz said. She added that the Department of Justice would be given a copy of the report through the Bureau of Immigration for appropriate action. Baldoz’s order to the regional directors included an inventory of the databases on foreign nationals who were issued AEPs and crosschecking this with the companies that applied for the AEPs in their areas of jurisdiction. “They have to check the contracts of employment Read More …

Sep 302013
Unfazed, US to fund local NGOs

US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr.: Advancing shared vision. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO MANILA, Philippines—Amid the pork barrel scam that may well have tainted the image of the country’s thriving nongovernment organization community, the United States on Monday announced a P984-million ($24 million) grant-giving facility that aims to fund over the next five years deserving Philippine NGOs in pursuing “innovative solutions [to] the country’s development challenges.” The US Embassy in Manila said the Philippine-American (Phil-Am) Fund, initiated by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), is a component of the continuing implementation of the American Partnership for Growth Program (PFG), a wide-ranging program that seeks to help the Philippines steer itself toward inclusive growth. Reflecting its continuing faith in the country’s NGO community, the US Embassy announced the grant facility just as the Philippines continues to investigate the misappropriation of state funds for bogus programs through fake NGOs allegedly perpetrated by the now jailed Janet Lim-Napoles. “I am very pleased to be a part of this exciting and innovative project that will help advance our shared vision of broad-based and inclusive growth under the Partnership for Growth Initiative. Under the PFG, our governments are committed to work together to achieve inclusive economic growth in the Philippines,” said US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. The Philippines is one of only four countries where the United States is implementing the White House-led PFG program, which seeks to improve the country’s education, governance, justice and financial systems through collaborative engagements between the US and Philippine officials Read More …

Sep 302013
Coast Guard insists it was not liable for death of Taiwanese fisherman

By Tetch 2:28 pm | Monday, September 30th, 2013 AFP FILE PHOTO/PHILIPPINE COAST GUARD MANILA, Philippines—There is no evidence to hold the Philippine Coast Guard liable for the death of a Taiwanese fisherman, according to a joint affidavit it submitted to the Department of Justice stated. In a counter-affidavit, Commander Arnold Dela Cruz, Seaman 1st class Edrando Aguila, Sonny Masangcay and Henry Solomon said Philippine investigators from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) were not allowed to directly examine the vessel used by the fishermen during the incident nor were they allowed to autopsy the body of Hung Shih-Cheng who was allegedly shot by the PCG crewmen on board MCS 3001. The NBI in their complaint alleged that the bullet from the Springfield Caliber 7.62 mm M-14 rifle killed Cheng and that SN1 Endrando Aguila was the one who fired the said firearm. However, in their counter-affidavit, they pointed that Hiyasmin Abarrientos, one of the NBI’s ballisticians, admitted that she was not able to conduct a proper ballistics test and cross-matching on the M-14 as well as the slugs recovered from the boat. While in Taiwan to examine the vessel, she said they found a bullet from a caliber 7.62 mm rifle lodged at the pipe in the ceiling of the fish storage of the vessel but she was not allowed by the Taiwanese authorities to extract the bullet. “In other words, Abarrientos herself admits that the correct and scientific manner by which a ballistics test is conducted is Read More …

Sep 292013

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Sep 292013
Asean parks meet slated

Philippine Daily Inquirer 4:28 am | Monday, September 30th, 2013 Environment Secretary Ramon Paje: Philippine delegation head. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO MANILA, Philippines—The Philippines is hosting the 4th Association of Southeast Asian Nations Heritage Parks Conference (AHP), which will see 300 delegates, biodiversity experts and scientists tackle ecosystem degradation and the preservation of the Asean region’s natural heritage. Environment Secretary Ramon Paje will lead the Philippine delegation to the conference spearheaded by the Asean Center for Biodiversity (ACB) in Tagaytay City on Oct. 1-4. The conference stakeholders come from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines. ACB executive director Roberto Oliva said there were currently 33 AHPs in Southeast Asia, five of them in the Philippines—Mt. Apo Natural Park, Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park and Mt. Malindang Range Natural Park, all in Mindanao; and Mt. Iglit-Baco and the newest, Mt. Makiling Forest Reserve, both Luzon. The Asean Declaration on Heritage Parks was signed by the environment ministers of the 10 Asean member states in December 2003 in Yangon establishing the AHP Program to promote greater collaboration in the region in the management of the parks.—Jeannette I. Andrade Follow Us Recent Stories: Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines. Tags: ASEAN , Asean Center for Biodiversity , Environment , heritage parks , heritage Read More …

Sep 292013
No escaping China for Aquino, Obama

US President Barack Obama (right) and President Aquino: China on the agenda. MALACAÑANG PHOTO MANILA, Philippines—Defense cooperation, including China’s incursions into Philippine territory, will top the agenda of President Aquino’s meeting with US President Barack Obama during the latter’s two-day visit to the country next month. In a radio interview, Ricky Carandang, head of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Group, said Aquino and Obama will talk at length on defense cooperation, specifically the “rotational presence” of US troops in the country. The meeting will be held on either Oct. 11 or 12. “Whether or not we will sign something during the Obama visit is not something I can answer at this point. What I can assure our countrymen is that these discussions with the US will lead to enhanced security for the Philippines and that’s why we’re entering into these discussions,” Carandang said. With the pivot of the United States toward East Asia, “our ties will continue to grow stronger,” he added. Carandang said the talks would likely touch on China’s undiplomatic efforts to expand its maritime borders in the South China Sea, including into portions of the West Philippine Sea. “I think we cannot avoid talking about this (territorial dispute with China) because that is part of the context of our action to enhance our maritime security. This is one of the biggest issues concerning not only the Philippines, but also Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Japan,” Carandang said. The Philippines and the United States are currently Read More …