Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tantingco: Saving the governor

By Robby Tantingco
(SunStar Pampanga)

NOW that they're seriously pursuing the recall option-meaning, they really want to get Among Ed out of office -- it's time to sound the clarion call to all you men of goodwill out there: Save the Governor!

Because, if you don't, who will?

He has no political party or machinery that will come to his rescue, and there is not a single elected official out there whom he can count on in times of trouble -- not the vice governor, not the board members, not the mayors or their vice mayors and municipal councilors -- my God, not even barangay chairmen and barangay councilors.

Even his own circle of supporters -- including his financiers, his legal counsel, his chief of staff, his campaign manager -- have either parted ways with him or stayed away from him.

It now appears that Among Ed's enemies and friends have formed a tactical alliance and reached a critical mass that's enough to topple him from power.

If that happens, then it's a sad day for Pampanga.

The good fight that we fought last year and the victory that we achieved over old-style politics would be all for naught. The miracle of people power that stirred the imagination of the democratic world would amount to nothing, after all. The long months of sacrifice by so many heroic people, including the ultimate sacrifice made by that one martyr from Betis, would all be squandered by one weak moment of disunity.

There are some of us who walked away from Among Gob because, well, we went back to our daily lives. There are those who were disillusioned by him, either because his promised reforms are too slow in coming or because he refuses to fire his controversial administrator. And I'm sure there are those who left because they thought it was payback time and got offended when Among Gob did not give them any favors.

Well, whatever your reasons for leaving are, you can set them aside because we have a bigger problem at hand: We are in danger of losing not just Among Gob. We are losing this one golden chance of regaining our pride as a people.

Pampanga has a history of greatness. We were already a nation with a fully functioning civilization before the Spaniards colonized us. Yet even the Spaniards were amazed at the beauty and richness of our land (they called Pampanga "the new Spain") and by the character and talents of our people (they called Kapampangans "the Castilians of these islands").

They were so impressed with Kapampangans that they entrusted their entire army to us and opened their exclusive schools to us. Thus, we produced the first Filipino priests, doctors and writers, achieved a golden age of literature, became the capital of the Philippines, and helped this country gain its independence.

We were on our way to more greatness when somewhere along the way, we were sidetracked by mismanagement of our province by a string of corrupt and inept leaders, by our dependence on a giant US military base, by a volcanic eruption, and by a slow but steady deterioration of our culture and language.

We used to be proud and vain and accustomed to being the center of attention.

Gradually, through the years, but especially after Pinatubo forced us down to our knees, we lost it. The lasting image that the world has of Kapampangans is the image of men, women and children, stripped of all pride and dignity, crawling on lahar like dogs stuck in mud, and lining up in evacuation centers for their daily ration of rice and sardines.

Of course, eventually we achieved economic recovery and cultural reawakening, but it was only last year, in that one glorious moment during the elections, that Kapampangans truly regained their pride as a people as they proved to the world that the two goliaths of Philippine politics -- celebrity and money -- could be defeated after all by prayer and people power.

That was not Among Ed alone. That was all of us.

In the same manner, if Among Ed fails, it won't just be Among Ed, but all of us.

Whatever our gripes against Among Ed, and whatever his flaws, let's save him. It's not actually him we are saving, but the crusade he started -- the crusade for good governance and for higher ethical and moral standards among government officials and workers.

Even his enemies know in their hearts that Among Ed is the best man to lead this crusade. He may not be the most politically astute and most qualified governor, but they know he is the only leader who can lead this crusade with credibility.

The reason the Constitution limited the term of office of elected local officials to three years (instead of six) is precisely so that they can be voted out soon enough before they do more harm.

Among Ed has finished one year and has two more years to go. What terrible thing has he done -- what outrageous misconduct or malfeasance -- that we want him out now?

Why should we go through another long, tedious, divisive and expensive recall election just to get him out and replace him with another who will, for all we know, be even worse?

If we so dislike Among Ed, let's not reelect him in the next election, which is barely 20 months from today. But remove him from office after only a year? Even a simple employee gets two years of probation under the law.

I respect the right of the recall movement organizers to express their disappointment for Among Ed, and to express it in the constitutionally mandated process of recall election. I am sure that they sincerely believe Among Ed doesn't have what it takes to be governor, and I am sure they sincerely want to save the province from what they consider to be an inept leader.

But I also believe there are those who will hitch a ride on the bandwagon of the recall movement with motives other than the welfare of the Kapampangan people -- motives like getting another shot at the position for their losing candidate, and motives like getting even with Among Ed for a business proposal he disapproved or a request he did not grant or a bad experience with his controversial administrator.

I urge them to look into their hearts and think of the interest of the province instead of their own. I urge them to hold another dialogue, or better, a series of dialogues, with the governor -- only this time, no cameras and no audience, so that there will be no grandstanding, only a sincere reaching out to the other side and trying to understand why the other side is doing what it's doing.

They will realize that a dialogue is easier, cheaper, less traumatic and ultimately more rewarding than a recall election.

It won't oust Among Ed, but it will save the province.

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