Monday, January 7, 2008

"Stars" Shine in Pampanga

Amidst the gloom and doom in Pampanga, two heroes have emerged to fight the forces of evil. One was Governor "Among Ed" Panlilio who had beaten two political giants in one of the biggest -- if not the biggest -- upsets in the 2007 elections. During the campaign, he pledged to stop corruption and crush jueteng. Within five months, "Among Ed" stopped corruption in the quarry industry. Jueteng, however, was a different story. The forces behind jueteng are politically entrenched and it would be a monumental undertaking to stop them. However, it can be done.

Last September 2007, the Pampanga Mayors League filed a measure with the provincial board that would transfer the authority to monitor the extraction and payment of quarry fees from the provincial government to the mayors of the seven "lahar" quarry towns. Over the protest of Among Ed, the provincial board unanimously approved the measure which Among Ed claimed was unconstitutional and illegal.

Recently, Among Ed indicated that he received reliable information that his enemies were cooking up a recall move against him for "incompetence." The basis for the allegation of "incompetence" was their claim that Among Ed did not enjoy the support of the other elected officials in the province. On the contrary, it's the other elected officials who could not -- or would not -- get along with Among Ed. And the reason is because of Among Ed's resolve to eradicate corruption and jueteng. The bottom line is: Among Ed's crusade is hurting their "business" interests. For four years prior to Among Ed's election, more than one billion pesos in quarry fees had been pocketed by corrupt officials.

The only official who is openly supporting Among Ed is the popular mayor of San Fernando City, Oscar Samson Rodriguez. Mayor Rodriguez's bold step to break ranks with the powers-that-be in his province has instantly attracted public attention and scrutiny. Who is this man who crossed the line and threw his lot with Among Ed?

Mayor Oca, as Rodriguez is affectionately called by his constituents, is a lawyer by profession. He earned his Bachelor of Law degree in 1973 and was admitted to the Philippine Bar in 1974. It's interesting to note that Rodriguez reviewed for his bar exams while he was detained in prison during the Martial Law. When Marcos was deposed in 1986, he was appointed by then President Cory Aquino as Provincial Administrator of Pampanga. The following year, he ran and won a seat in Congress under the new 1987 constitution. He lost his seat in 1992 and returned to law practice. He ran again in 1995 for Congress and was elected. He was reelected in 1998 and again in 2001. One of his achievements in Congress was the transformation of San Fernando into a city. In 2001, after several years of hard work, San Fernando became a city.

After he was termed out in Congress in 2004, Rodriguez ran for Mayor of San Fernando City and won. In 2005, he ranked fourth -- out of 65 finalists from around the world -- in "World Mayor 2005," a feat no other Philippine mayor has achieved. In 2007, he was reelected to a second term as mayor of San Fernando.

What made Mayor Rodriguez tick? In one of his public statements, he said that he wanted to be remembered as a public servant who served his constituents with "absolute commitment, honesty, and integrity." In his first year as mayor, he put together an ambitious eight-point agenda on education, health, transportation and communication, trade and industry, environmental management, public safety and order, culture preservation and good governance. All his programs are now in full swing.

His grand vision of making San Fernando City the "Gateway to the North" has all the hallmark of success. The city's geographical location makes it the crossroad of Central Luzon. With the proximity of Clark Airport and the Subic Seaport, the greater San Fernando area has the potential for drawing thousands of investors; thus, creating jobs and other opportunities for the people of Pampanga, particularly his San Fernando constituents.

Eliminating corruption in his city is probably his biggest challenge. However, his most effective weapon in fighting corruption is his own 20-plus years of unblemished public service. He is one of the few incorruptible politicians around. He said that he has no "political debts" to pay because he always started his campaign from a "zero budget." He said that his "record, commitment, and desire to serve" were the key to his victory. He made it clear to his City Council that there is no substitute for good governance. To make sure that his anti-corruption policies were going to work, he instituted "timely flow of documents, internal monitoring, computerization, daily remittance of collections, disciplining and removing those found wanting and committing indiscretions… and living by example." In April 2005, Mayor Rodriguez suspended the City Assessor for "alleged involvement in the 'anomalous' assessments of real estate properties." Yes, Mayor Rodriguez meant what he said and did what he said he would do to punish malfeasants.

Known as the "Christmas Capital of the Philippines," San Fernando City's annual Christmas Lantern Festival has created a booming tourism industry. The colorful star-shaped Christmas lantern -- "parol" -- has become the city's major cottage industry. The "parol" symbolizes the biblical "Star of Bethlehem" which revealed to the Three Wise Men the birth of Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem. During the Christmas season, most Filipinos would display a "parol" in their homes.

As thousands of giant lanterns illuminate San Fernando City during the Christmas season, Mayor Rodriguez's "star" has illuminated the conscience of his people and brought wisdom to a government plagued by corruption. He and Governor Panlilio are the province's shining stars. Together, they can effectively restore good governance -- and morality -- in Pampanga. However, it is not going to be easy. "Jueteng power" controls the body politic of Pampanga and, to a large degree, the country. But Governor Panlilio and Mayor Rodriguez can beat the odds against them. They could turn the recall move against Governor Panlilio to their advantage by using it as their own vehicle to rally and unite the people of Pampanga against corruption and "jueteng power." At the end of the day, "people power" would prevail over "jueteng power."