Thursday, October 15, 2009

Danding’s Choice

PerryScope: By Perry Diaz

In my May 27, 2009 column, “Gloria’s Gambit,” I asked: “Would De Castro kowtow to Gloria? If he does, he will be taking a great risk of losing his base of support because Gloria’s ‘anointment’ might turn out to be a ‘kiss of death’ which could put an end to his political life.” I was right. De Castro turned down Gloria’s “anointment” and his reason was that it would be a “kiss of death.” Bingo!

And then I asked: “And what would happen to Teodoro? I would not be surprised if Gloria would use him as a pawn to sacrifice in her opening gambit… unless he changes his mind and settles as De Castro’s vice presidential running mate.” Well, the question is now academic since it was predicated on De Castro accepting Gloria’s “anointment.” Secretary of Defense Gilberto “Gibo” Teodoro is now the choice of the Executive Committee of Lakas-Kampi-CMD, PaLaKa for short, as their standard bearer. They also selected Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government Ronaldo “Ronnie” Puno as his vice presidential running mate.

In a few days, Gibo’s former political party, the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), will be selecting its presidential and vice presidential candidates. For its standard bearer, the odds-on favorite is Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero, who just turned 40 years old -- the minimum age for presidential candidates -- last October 10. Sen. Loren Legarda is believed to be their choice for vice presidential candidate.

Now, the question is: Who are the people who would support Chiz and bankroll his campaign? This brings us squarely on Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, the founder and power behind NPC. Is he going to support Chiz Escudero or his erstwhile “favorite nephew” and former political heir, Secretary of Defense Gilberto “Gibo” Teodoro?

A few days ago, Danding broke his silence and said: “I’m the founder of the party (NPC). I think I have to support my own party that I founded, I think it is but normal.” He also said, “One of my nephews left even if we did not ask him to leave. It only means that we are of no consequence to him. So why should that be a bother to me?” He was referring to Gibo who left the NPC to join PaLaKa to pursue his presidential ambitions. Danding unequivocally said that he will not support Noynoy nor Gibo.

Danding’s revelation changes the whole game. The “Cojuangco War” is no longer just between Noynoy and his cousin Gibo. It is now among three members of the Cojuangco clan: Noynoy Aquino, Gibo Teodoro, and their Uncle Danding whose choice is the NPC nominee-to-be, presumably, Chiz Escudero.

It’s interesting to note that it was Danding who prevailed upon Gibo to come back home to run for office in 1998. Gibo was at that time practicing law in New York. He came home, ran for Congress, and won. He became the leader of the large NPC bloc in the House until he was termed out in 2007. He then accepted the post of Secretary of Defense in the Arroyo administration. However, there was no evidence that he resigned his membership from NPC. This led many people to believe that he left the door wide open to go back to NPC and seek the party’s nomination for president.

It was only after he was required to join PaLaKa as a prerequisite to being considered for nomination that he formally affiliated with PaLaKa. On September 15, 2009, he was selected by the party’s Executive Committee as their standard bearer. However, his selection has yet to be ratified by the party’s membership.

But why did Gibo leave NPC? He could have stayed in NPC and still become its presidential bet. Somewhere along the way, a serious fallout might have happened between him and his Uncle Danding.

However, if Gibo had shown high poll ratings, I’m pretty sure that Danding, politically savvy as he is, would not hesitate to throw his support behind Gibo, regardless of party affiliation. Danding is a power by himself and NPC is just a vehicle to achieve political ends. But just like any other “vehicle,” it can easily be replaced. The bottom line is: If the election was held today, Gibo would lose miserably. In my opinion, that’s the primary reason why Danding would not support Gibo. Blood, after all, is not as thick as politics… particularly in the Cojuangco clan (“The Cojuangco Wars,” PerryScope September 22, 2009).

And who would Gloria support? In my August 18, 2009 column, “The Looming Battle Royale,” I said: “So, who do you think Gloria would support knowing that whoever her party’s candidate will be, would lose? There is only one person who would fit the mold of the candidate that Gloria would support… secretly. And that is Francis ‘Chiz’ Escudero.” Indeed, his “winnability” is much better than Gibo’s.

Chiz might attempt to assert his independence if he wins but that’s wishful thinking. The Arroyos and the Cojuangcos will own him and nothing will change. It will be “business as usual” with the Arroyo-Cojuangco business interests controlling the government… and, for that matter, the country. In the Philippines, politics is business and business is politics. And as someone once said, “There are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, only permanent self-interests.” Yes, indeed.

To date, Gloria -- who had previously “anointed” Noli De Castro who turned it down -- has yet to “anoint” Gibo. She did, however, say that she was “elated” over the endorsement of Gibo by 49 governors. But “elated” does not translate to “anointed” or “endorsed.”

So, what’s Gloria really up to? In my opinion, she’s keeping her options open. She could eventually throw her support behind Chiz or Manny Villar… or even Erap Estrada. She would support anyone of the candidates who would dance to her tune. Remember, she would still be in control of the Commission on Election. She pulled a “win” in 2004 for herself. She can do it again for her “manok” in 2010.

At the end of the day, Gloria’s ultimate goal is to prevent Noynoy Aquino from winning the presidential elections next year. Follow the money and you’ll know on whose shoulders Gloria would be putting her political survival on. I said it before and I’m going to say it again: the battle for the presidency would be between Noynoy Aquino and Danding’s choice -- and, possibly, Gloria’s “secret candidate” -- Chiz Escudero.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Typhoon Ondoy: A Tragic Disaster

PerryScope: By Perry Diaz

Last September 26, 2009, Typhoon Ondoy -- internationally known as Ketsana -- hit Metro Manila. It was the worse typhoon since 1967. After two days of torrential rain and delugial floods, the government reported that Typhoon Ondoy left 288 people dead, five injured and 42 missing. Damage to property was estimated at P8.328 billion, including P2.743 billion in infrastructure and P5.584 billion in agriculture. It also said that “at least 797,404 families or 3,899,307 people in the entire Luzon, Cordillera, Western Visayas, Regions 9 and 12, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Metro Manila were affected.”

Could the massive floodings have been mitigated?

While it is hard to control flooding, it can be argued that it could be mitigated by effective flood control planning and timely emergency response by government agencies. In a recent article, “Not an act of God but a sin…,” written by Alcuin Papa of Philippine Daily Inquirer, urban planner Felino “Jun” Palafox was quoted as saying, “The flood disaster that struck Metro Manila over the weekend was not an act of God but a sin of omission by government and private real estate developers.”

Palafox said that “a land use plan that took floods into consideration was drawn up as far back as 1977, titled ‘Metro Manila Transport, Land Use and Development Planning Project,’ sponsored by the World Bank.” He also said, “the study had already noted the possibility of heavy flooding in at least three sites of urban growth in the Philippine capital—the Marikina Valley and its northern and southern parts.” “When I saw the damage caused by the floods recently, I realized that these were the same areas that had already been identified,” Palafox observed.

The question is: “What did the government do to mitigate flooding and other problems identified by the 1977 study?” Palafox said, “Nothing.”

In the aftermath of Ondoy, I received from a friend a forwarded email from an unidentified author -- most probably a government engineer who didn’t want to be identified for fear of reprisal -- about his analysis of the disastrous flooding. He wrote:

“It’s deemed impossible for the supposedly excessive amount of rainfall, equivalent to a month’s outpour condensed in 6 hours time, to be the main culprit.” His rationale was: (1) The rain was not that strong; (2) We’ve had worst rains before; (3) And why Marikina, Pasig and Cainta became water worlds in just an hour; and (4) Why Moriones, Tondo, just several hundred meters away from Manila Bay was barely affected if nature did cause the rivers to swell, overflow and contribute greatly to the deluge.

He further said, “The Manggahan Floodway was especially built to control flooding mostly in Marikina, Pasig and Cainta areas. Mechanical or systems failure of the water pumping station due to negligence was the more logical reason for the flash flood that swamped even high end villages.”

Recently, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. indicated that he wants to file a class action suit against those responsible for the allegedly “reckless release of water from dams” near Metro Manila. He believes that it contributed to the rapid rise of floodwater during the storm. At the moment, he is studying the facts and collecting evidence to determine who were responsible for allowing the water to flow out of the dams; thus, flooding the Marikina Valley.

By all indications, the massive floodings could have been mitigated, if not controlled. Poor government urban planning contributed to the massive floodings. You add the negligence and ineptitude of government officials and you have a disaster that not even Noah could have handled.

Could lives have been saved?

A lot of people complained that the national government, through its National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), did not respond to the disaster in a timely manner. Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro as NDCC chairman was faulted for the NDCC’s lack of preparedness and failure to save people’s lives.

As the country’s centralized and primary disaster planning center, NDCC lacks the logistics, manpower, and an effective disaster emergency plan to cope with the massive displacement of people, many of whom had to stay on rooftops to stay alive. From what I heard, NDCC had only three rubber boats to use in evacuating the 3.9 million flood victims.

And to make the situation worse, the government didn’t have the funds for disaster assistance. A news account says that a recent Commission on Audit (COA) report said that President Arroyo “has all but spent the P800 million contingency fund allotted to the Office of the President.” Accordingly, the COA said that “nearly every peso of the fund had been used for her foreign junkets, on top of the more than P1 billion budget for her official travels.”

It’s not surprising then that on September 28, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago filled two legislative bills -- totaling P10 billion -- to “fund relief operations, reconstruction, and rehabilitation of areas devastated by Typhoon Ondoy.” How about the senators and congressmen’s pork barrel funds? There are more than 100 senators and congressmen representing the 25 provinces in and around Metro Manila. Or did they already spend their pork barrel funds somewhere else?

Sen. Defensor Santiago also said that mayors of areas gravely affected by Typhoon Ondoy -- including Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno -- should be suspended for negligently performing their duties.

Command responsibility

The Typhoon Ondoy disaster and tragedy once again manifested the government’s inefficiency in dealing with emergency situations. Although Teodoro and Puno are to be held accountable for not doing their jobs, President Arroyo should -- nay, must! -- accept full command responsibility for the Typhoon Ondoy fiasco, a disaster that could have been mitigated and a human tragedy that could have been avoided.