A presidential candidate needs all the allies that he can get. An ally personifies a bloc, an influence, or in command of a machinery or system that translates into quantification of numerical numbers overwhelmingly or preponderatingly necessary in electing the presidential bet. These allies are independent islands unto themselves. Once their special operations turn into success, they are gifted with secret keys into the inner sanctum of Malacanang. Let’s look at this slice of our way of life.
Chavit, the Garcias, the Dutertes, etc.
Of course we have the usual Ilocano, Kapampangan, Cebuano, the larger Visayan, and the Muslim votes. These are blocs headed by warlords that indeed deliver some vital numbers enough to muster a trend in the initial salvo of the count.
The warlord has on his plantilla the provincial fiscal, the provincial election registrar, and the DepEd Superintendent. Recalcitrants find themselves in floating status literally or figuratively once they cross their patrons. In the aftermath of elections we see corpses whose killers remain unknown. Taking lives is the best and effective disciplinary policy in these parts. Morbid as this may sound but we easily forget the series of murders in Abra or Davao or Nueva Ecija or Masbate or Ilocos Sur, which to this day remain unabated. However these warlords exact their rules, it is of no concern to their sponsors.
There was that TV interview between a popular Visayan pastor and a notorious city mayor where the latter was trying to put on a tough guy face spewing tough language warning political holdouts in his city to shape up or ship out or they get his brand of due process. A sheepish approving smile broke on the pastor’s face forgetful of his hitherto homily preaching the sanctity of human life.
These cowboys were not uncompensated for long.
The Speaker of the House is another warlord in sheepskin. Since he knows the fine prints of the Annual Budget (with the able assistance of course of his fiscal advisers, one of them being Romulo Neri, or the Budget Secretary himself Rolando Andaya, Jr., a Lakas stalwart, a former congressman and Chairman of the Appropriations Committee), he can tap the hidden Mother Lodes from the voluminous appropriations bill for the next elections. Remember that the Speaker is the President of Lakas, and his mentor FVR is the Chair emeritus. What about the President? You bet she is the Chair herself. Kampi is just her Plan B.
In 2004, Lakas figured prominently in the hustling. During the fund distribution in the early part of February, 2004, the late Joey Rufino, Eduardo Ermita and of course the Speaker himself parlayed the party logistics in Silahis Hotel. Former DOJ Secretary Nani Perez, Batangas Lakas official bet for governor who was pitted against the Liberal’s Arman Sanchez, was seen holding with both hands on his way towards the hotel lift, what appeared as millions in campaign funds in two shopping bags.
All the local Lakas official candidates together with all the congressional bets of the party were there. Easily hundreds of millions of pesos were allocated to party mates from mayors to governors and congressmen. The Hotel then was abuzz with politicians from all over. It was just a preliminary exhibition of generosity. Antonio Vilar, the self-proclaimed Party-Treasurer made a special request. He assured that the President need not release any monies for Quezon Province as it was his alleged turf. He boasted that for the President’s campaign in that part of CALABARZON, he was earmarking P100M from his own pocket to guarantee her victory.
In the next three months of the campaign, the President embarked in micromanagement of the electoral funds. From the lowly barangay tanod, barangay kagawad, barangay captains, and barangay health workers, the President was at the forefront of disbursement. By the way, what happened to the boast of Vilar? FPJ buried GMA in Quezon by 190,000 votes losing in all but two small towns in the province, Jomalig and Sampaloc, with 2000 and 6000 registered voters, respectively.
Where did all the money come from? From the concealed Mother Lodes. Not everything is covered by the budget. Remember that we have to borrow from the outside to play safe with the budget. Our tax collections always fall short. China is a willing creditor with colatillas. As tied loans, only Chinese firms are allowed to undertake the projects. Three projects looked promising worth US$1B and payable, chickenfeed, for the next 25 years long after the Speaker, the Comelec Chairman, or the President herself are long gone. One is the North Rail Transit, the second is the NBN-ZTE project, and the last is the Cyber Ed of Jesli Lapus.
Being the President of the party, nothing is unusual if the Speaker pursues the NBN contract. Since the President herself is aware of the magnitude of funds to be raised for the next elections in 2010, the Speaker needs the wherewithal to finance the party’s candidates. The party standard bearer must not scavenge for logistics or they expose themselves to losing the mandate and therefore face the wrath of the likes of Trillanes, Lacson, the Cayetanos, and the Aquinos in her remaining lifetime. The China loan is an ideal Mother Lode enough to earn the party some US$40M in commission. But who shall initiate the project within the Speaker’s confidence? He said he has a son with experience in backbone broadband. The Speaker is now taking care of business and looking at the US$30M remaining out of the total US$70M. A son may drive the Jaguar at night but soon the father finds out. One can’t run and hide Php3.5B!
Soon after, the technician in Joey de Venecia drafted what appeared as the BOT proposal of the broadband project. The President has taken a look at the proposal and agreed in principle on its terms and stipulations. It was not a surprise when the President herself referred to the Joey III BOT proposal as point of reference. With Neri, the Speaker’s protégé at the helm of NEDA, a comfort letter is not unobtainable. Joey, by this time is besotted with the project.
For the first time in our history, a president owned up her mistake. Her confession made her look stupid to her political nemesis and somebody from the Comelec bungled his job. With the Garci scandal, she has distanced herself from the Comelec. Unbeknownst to her, its top honcho is in the thick of grabbing the lucrative pie.
With the sheer magnitude of the commission from the NBN project, there is a possibility of SOP jack up. What’s another US$80M more? Armed with utang na loob certificates, Chairman Benjamin Abalos, an ex-Municipal Judge, the ex-Mayor of Mandaluyong City and the worst and the most incompetent ex-Chairman MMDA ever had, with “money-gerial” ability, according to his unnamed colleague, sounded off to the First Gentlemen about the ZTE proposal. US$70M is only a ballpark figure. We can make adjustments up to US$130M. Joey and the Speaker are taken care of.
Commissioner Garcillano in all likelihood is not acting by his lonesome. By all indications, the entire Comelec, except Commissioners Borra and Tuazon, was in it. Remember that there was another Commission of Appointments’ unconfirmed Commissioner, who went silently back into obscurity, Atty. Emmanuel Barcelona right after the last presidential elections. Garci and Barcelona tandemmed to doctoring the elections results in the traditional Mindanao electoral swamps. Prior to May 2007 elections two unlamented commissioners retired, ex- Manila RTC Judge Ralph Lantion and ex-Professor Luzviminda Tancangco. Their lifestyles were never checked. Lantion the TRO trigger happy Commissioner, tried his luck in the congressional elections in Nueva Vizcaya but was resoundingly beaten by Carlos Padilla. This orchestra has a fixed repertoire under the baton of the Chairman himself, Abalos. After an insignificant 40 years government service, the old man wants to retire. He wants his last hurrah memorialized with Chinese fireworks. In Philippine cultural milieu, a debt of gratitude is financial capital. It becomes even more valuable and worth millions of bearer instruments if the recipient of the favor is the President herself. Abalos with Garcillano and Co. made GMA’s reelection possible. With a little help from the purse holder, the First Gentleman, Garcillano’s special ops was a breeze in the entire South. The Comelec officially declared a record 1,000,000 votes lead. Since the FG was privy and part of the dirty tricks department, the Chairman knows a little secret, negotiable before his retirement. Hindi ako matatanggihan, ika. With a substantial cut from the US$70M commission, the Chairman scouts around Hong Kong, London, or New York for some high-end flat near some breakwater. With enough millions of euros in his pocket, it was indeed a retirement of a lifetime. Sarap ng buhay. Aba’y dapat naman, nagpakahirap din ako sa kanila, ika.
Tug of War
Just like in any kids’ game, there is manuhan or the preliminaries as to who gets the first move. By all indices, it was the Amsterdam Holdings who got the proverbial first move, that is, by talking directly to the President herself. The Speaker’s Joey is confident that he got the commitment of “my President” already. By groveling, the young de Venecia sends the message to Abalos and the rest to “back off”. While this was Joey’s body language, FG verbalized it. The war on the media ensued with the likes of Mon Tulfo and Jarius Bondoc joining the feeding frenzy. Bondoc is married to an Oviedo, a close relation to the de Venecias in Pangasinan. Tulfo is married to something else. The Speaker unleashed his bulldozers in the House, headed by former congressman Seiko Plico.
To insure clinching the contract thru the ZTE, Abalos ratted on the expected commission to the recuperating First Husband. The latter having gotten wind of the transaction, called Ricky Razon, the main man in the contract owing to his international reputation, for confirmation. Upon replacing his receiver, Razon was heard cursing, “putang-inang Abalos yan, sinabi pa kay Mike kung magkano ang kikitain. Ayan tuloy, ‘di na makakalimutan yun!”
Nothing for nothing. With what looked like an unbearable heat, the broadband project was shelved. The mutual termination included the Cyber Ed, the pet project of Jesli Lapus where he sources sana his senatorial foray in 2010.
All for naught, GMA’s swift trip to China to personally witness the signing of the loan agreement in the presence of President Hu Jintao himself. Nothing was heard from the Chinese about the broadband brouhaha and the acerbic aside that “the Chinese invented corruption”. Nonetheless, one senator aptly described the scandal as quarrel among dogs over a piece of carcass.
Into the sunset, just like the family of the ex-comptroller of the AFP, General Carlos Garcia, Abalos fades away, along with his unrealized dream of gazing at this spectacular view in Libyan Sabratha. With double entendres, the name Abalos is now in the same league with Jalosjos.
The Speaker holds on tenaciously to his post, with Louie Villafuerte barking aloud.
Ooops….the North Rail Thank You
Before we wind up, or so we thought, what happened to the US$480M NRT project? This is the first of the package disposed of (in compliance with a promise) as early as 2005. The clearing of the squatters along the riles was the first phase of the project. In all likelihood since the petition for injunction filed by the UP professors, Harry Roque, et al., financed no less by the former Senate President Frank Drilon, was ignored (its respondents were merely required by the Supreme Court to comment), the nth tranche must have been paid already. Somebody was tickled pink all the way to the bank.
Who was the warlord who got this prize? A warlord may not be so in the strict sense of the word. He may be some hotshot in the media or broadcasting business. His stint as anchor has made him some kind of icon catching the short attention span of the masa. Being associated with him might by osmosis translate into numerical approbation or an image of invincibility in the polls. An image has economic value where it can help to boost a flagging candidacy as what happened in May, 2004. Under Ronnie Puno’s calculation, being in tandem with this man contributes 33.33% of the candidate’s impregnability plus party machinery of 33.33% and the remaining 33.33% from the heave-ho of the religious con men. As boxing and sabong aficionados, the odds were out that GMA is Meron. Perception of victory is all what it takes. In sum, she has 99.99% oomph when she went out to battle FPJ. The Kristos placed all bets on her. It was easy to justify her 1M-vote margin over her fledgling adversary.
An ally, no doubt this man is. A story was told where a budding columnist introduced herself to the media icon. Trying to impress the legend, the tyro spoke in impeccable English. She was cut short by the media luminary, “huwag ka nang pa-English-English. Hindi ka kikita dyan.”
Noli de Castro, the Vice President, right from the start wanted the Housing portfolio. He got it, and in no time was all fired up to clear everything that obstructs the sidelines of the railways. This was all a quiet operation. By simple mathematical juxtaposition, if the US$370M ZTE broadband project can get an ally a commission in the vicinity of US$70M, how much did the lucky hawker get from the US$480M North Rail, Thank You?
It’s too late in the day for Dong Puno to refurbish his image from English commentator to sampaybakod na brodkaster. Money does not appeal to him anymore. He just wants to win one election.