POSTSCRIPT / May 4, 2003 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Appointing career chief for PW a master stroke

MEDIA ALSO AFFLICTED: It has been said often enough that the election of officers of the National Press Club, supposed to be held today, is a microcosm of what ails the electoral system in this country.

Corollary to this is the telling observation that we in media seem to suffer from the very diseases that we presume to diagnose, and prescribe solutions for, in the national body politic.

For as long as we can remember — and we have been a member of the Press Club for the past three decades — most of our May elections have been marked by charges of vote-buying, padding of the voters’ list, intemperate language, overspending and such anomalies that have made Philippine elections interesting.

The only crime in the books that we have not imported into NPC politics is murder and such bloody mayhem.

Our stopping short of taking lives is not surprising since whatever it is that sets us quarreling, we are all brothers-in-trade. After the elections, we still have the grace to embrace one another again, imbibe the same spirit at the bar, and go back to the oldest profession as if nothing happened.

* * *

THE USUAL T.R.O.: This year’s NPC election, whose schedule is set by the NPC Constitution and Bylaws, is no exception to the established pattern of raucous campaigning and balloting.

It could be bruising. Some parties who are not great admirers of NPC president Louie Logarta went to court late this week and secured — you guessed it — the usual TRO or Temporary Restraining Order forbidding us from proceeding with today’s election.

The petitioners argued, rather correctly, that at the time of their filing action there was no board-approved list of NPC voting members. Oo nga naman, how can you hold an election if there are no voters?

The judge who signed his name as Artemio Tipon of the Manila RTC granted the TRO ex-parte or without summoning and listening to the other party. He just swallowed the petitioners’ argument hook, line and stinker.

Wielding the ultimate legal weapon known as TRO, the kill-joy of a judge stopped the electoral circus and set for tomorrow (Monday) a hearing on the issues — after the damage has been done to us members who take our May election seriously.

* * *

CLUB HELD HOSTAGE: Still, the judge appeared to have his sense of humor intact. He must have been laughing when he issued his TRO on a Friday, preventing the other party to plead and file urgent counter-motions during the weekend.

Had he called the adversely affected party, he would have known that there are actually a great number of NPC members ready to cast their ballot today.

There are, for example, the Lifetime Members — yours truly one of them — who even outnumber the 200 or so regular members left after the reformist Membership Committee of the club purged the bloated NPC roster.

Technically, the remaining 200 regular members could not vote yet, because the NPC board still has to approve the list. But had the judge bothered to check, he would have discovered that the board could not approve the list because it could not muster a quorum for the purpose.

Should we allow the Press Club to be held hostage by a simple majority in the board who can refuse to convene and pass upon the membership roster?

* * *

BACK TO THE BAR: Probing deeper, the good judge would have noticed that some of those who had stayed away from the board meetings happen to be the ones who had wanted a TRO to disrupt the election and embarrass Logarta.

What’s in dem dar NPC hills that set us fighting? It’s many things, including money, lots of it.

Is it mere coincidence that whoever wins this year’s NPC election will be “in power” when the economically stimulating campaign unwinds for the May 2004 national elections?

Whatever, it’s not the end of the world for this hardy species known as Filipino newspapermen. In a few days, you will hear that the election pushed through somehow, and life — especially in the NPC bar area — had gone back to, hic, normal.

* * *

MASTER STROKE: It’s quite tricky changing horses in the homestretch, but President Arroyo has succeeded in changing at this critical time the top man at the Department of Public Works and Highways with a minimum of disruption.

Her tapping a career undersecretary, Florante M. Soriquez, to head the department was a master stroke.

It is less than a year before projects are frozen for the May 2004 elections. It would be a waste of time to bring in an outsider who has to spend several months learning the job to produce maximum results.

Soriquez is immediately on top of the job without missing a step. Last time we checked, he had distributed the work load and delegated responsibilities to his undersecretaries and other subordinates so everybody on the team can perform more efficiently.

* * *

POLITICAL RISKS: An outsider taking the helm brings in his own staff and trusted action men, a practice that bloats the budget and upsets the bureaucracy.

Not in the case of Soriquez, since he is comfortable with his old colleagues with whom he has been working all these years. He slips in smoothly, saves money and avoids friction.

Appointing a political lameduck or a protégé of some political lord is fraught with risks. For each friend or ally favored, there are at least 10 others who are disappointed. Naming a politically neutral insider minimizes the political flak.

* * *

THANKLESS JOB: Many of us who had suffered from the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 and the lahar that wrought havoc for a decade on Pampanga and the surrounding plain are happy with the appointment of Soriquez.

The 60-year-old civil engineer from Mindoro was one of the few officials who accepted the challenge of working long and hard at lahar control to save whole communities and threatened industries.

It was a thankless job because some projects built at great expense are sometimes washed away by the rampaging lahar. Those who had worked on the lahar-mitigating structures are sometimes exposed to ridicule and even court suits.

Soriquez was among the few who held on despite the risks.

* * *

GMA KNOWS: Then DPWH Secretary Ping de Jesus, who is from Bacolor town that was wiped out by lahar, recalled that he raised the challenge to the senior directors of the department, but only Soriquez stepped forward.

Rep. Edelmiro Amante, chairman of the House committee on public works, commented, “There are very few people who would risk their career just to do good, and Secretary Soriquez is one of them.”

Other congressmen, Jaime Lopez of Manila and Nonoy Libanan of Samar among them, praised President Arroyo for her choice. Lopez said her selecting an insider assured the career service that she appreciates dedicated service and integrity.

The President herself, who is from Lubao town, had dealt with Soriquez when he was out there in the lahar wasteland working with her suffering cabalen. She knows first-hand the kind of field worker Soriquez is.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 4, 2003)

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