POSTSCRIPT / December 30, 2007 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Can Manila media win Panlilio's war for him?

CLARK FIELD — If there is anybody who can save this country, he will not be a traditional politician.

This has been my simplistic line since the last May elections, using the term “politician” in the pejorative sense.

The line seems apt when applied to Fr. Eddie Panlilio, 54, former parish priest of Betis who ran without a party ticket and grabbed the Pampanga governorship from the political and money machines ruling the home ground of President Gloria Arroyo.

After just seven months of Panlilio at the capitolio, we are already witnessing a groundswell in Manila attempting to carry Among Ed (as he is popularly known) to greater heights like, maybe, a higher public office.

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PREMATURE: But while the Panlilio phenomenon seems to hew to my line of a non-politician saving us, I have some fears that the buildup — mostly by non-Capampangan watching from a distance — may be premature.

Among Ed still has to prove himself — in Pampanga, not elsewhere. Winning an election and gaining media adulation are much different from actually governing.

In the words of Vice Gov. Yeng Guiao, the ex-officio presiding officer of the provincial board, the only remarkable accomplishment of Panlilio at this point is the dramatic rise in quarrying fee collections.

Outside of this, there are mounting complaints from indigent patients unable to get medical help, from rural folk stumped by the scarcity of jobs, the scourge of jueteng, and neglected infrastructure.

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SELF-INFLICTED: Most of his cabalen want Among Ed to succeed. But many of the problems hounding him are self-inflicted. And solutions are long in coming. He seems confused.

Complicating Among Ed’s problems is his inability to work out a modus vivendi with other elective officials. He must remember that, like him, they also have their own direct mandate.

The governor cannot escape working with other elective officials — the vice governor, the mayors, and members of the provincial board, etc. He cannot run the province by his lonesome.

Until the system is changed, he has to work with them as dictated by the setup.

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BAD BLOOD: His sympathizers are dismayed that some key executives he had brought in seem to have a talent for creating enemies by their highhanded and holier-than-thou attitude.

For one, this has soured relations with the provincial board, whose checks and balances function can, and does, stymie the governor.

Even before he was sworn into office, Panlilio antagonized the staff of the outgoing governor with a stern letter telling them they better freeze some contracts under process.

Panlilio may have had a point there, but that drew bad blood. There are now recurring complaints of his office’s penchant for firing off letters calling down somebody or threatening punitive action.

Such letters have created the impression that he regards most everybody at the capitolio as corrupt.

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NASTY LETTERS: Before firing off nasty letters written by his lawyers trying hard to be useful to him, why cannot Panlilio try the time-tested way of first talking to the person(s) targeted? Even Christ talked to sinners.

Among Filipinos, once a reprimand, censure or a threat is put down in writing, everybody stiffens. This complicates any move to smooth out things later.

This reminds me of a woman who took over as commissioner of the Bureau of Internal Revenue. She left no doubt by her body language and memoranda that she regarded as corrupt everybody in the BIR.

Workers smarting from the insinuation never cooperated in the primary function of the BIR to raise revenue. The woman commissioner fell short of targets and left the service a failure.

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POLARIZING: Many of the 22 mayors of Pampanga are allies of allegedjueteng lord Bong Pineda, whose wife Lilia ran and lost to Panlilio last May. The cooperation of these local executives is crucial in carrying out province-wide programs.

Panlilio’s admirers in Manila and in the Internet will not be able to save him if his political foes in the province gang up on him.

Their signature campaign and the glowing writeups in Manila media — which have polarizing instead of unifying effects — will be for naught if Panlilio is unable to respond quickly.

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HAZARDS AHEAD: If he does not take remedial steps and stop being led around by officious advisers, Panlilio’s problems can come to a head too fast for him to handle. Watch out for these:

1. The Commission on Elections may just decide the protest filed by defeated candidate Lilia Pineda in her favor. He might not be able to blunt the might of her resources and connections.

2. Soon there will be a move to recall Panlilio on the basis of the signatures of at least 25 percent of the one million or so registered voters in Pampanga. It is easy for his rivals to produce 250,000 verified signatures to force a recall election.

3. If somebody files a case of overspending against Panlilio, it could prosper if some of his big-money supporters who are now disappointed with him decide to testify and submit evidence.

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WHAT TO DO?: Two broad things the priest-turned-governor may do to salvage the situation are:

1. Replace officious lady lawyers who have been creating enemies for him and leading him to some administrative and political missteps.

2. Take a crash course in human relations, public administration and management in a Filipino setting.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 30, 2007)

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