Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Seven hundred signatures in a day is hardly record-breaking stuff at a time when messages go viral within hours. Still, the Facebook supporters of Interior and Local Governments Secretary Jesse Robredo believe they can 1) persuade President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to submit the Ramon Magsaysay awardee’s name to the Commission on Appointments (CA) and 2) pressure “trapos” into confirming the former mayor of Naga City.

TAO at hindi TRAPO ang magdadala ng tunay na Pagbabago!” (The people, not the traditional politicians are the real harbingers of change), writes Harvey Keh, founder of the volunteer group, Kaya Natin (“We Can” in Filipino). On Facebook and in his column for the tabloid, Abante, Keh blames anti-reform politicians for Robredo’s political woes.

“I’m supporting Sec. Robredo because I believe he is the most qualified and most competent public servant for the position of DILG Secretary,”.Keh said in response to email queries. “He is also an effective, ethical and empowering leader.”

Days after a dismissed cop commandeered a tourist bus and killed eight Hong Kong Chinese visitors, Malacanang confirmed reports that Robredo’s name was not in the list submitted for confirmation by the powerful CA.

Journalist Ellen Tordesillas, chief author of the Vera files report, said the non-inclusion of Robredo predated the Aug. 23 hostage-taking tragedy.

Keh said Robredo always knew he was appointed in an acting capacity. Robredo is also a member ofKeh’s group, together with fellow Ramon Magsaysay awardee for public service and former Isabela Gov. Grace Padaca.

“Yes, we knew from the very moment that he was appointed that it would only be in an acting capacity. So, the hostage crisis had nothing to do with it,” Keh said.

“Out of the loop”

Robredo surprised Filipinos in the aftermath of the hostage crisis by saying the President had given Undersecretary Rico Puno control over the Philippine National Police (PNP). Though Robredo joined Mr. Aquino in a midnight inspection of the bullet-riddled tourist bus at the Quirino Grandstand, he later plaintively described his status as “out of the loop.”

Mr. Aquino explained that he preferred to take personal responsibility for the PNP because of security issues had asked Robredo to take charge of local governments reforms and informal settlers. The fact that Robredo was among the last to be appointed to the Cabinet reinforces fears of the President being cool towards him.

The President confirmed today that he and Robredo has some misunderstanding during the campaign and said he still wants to make sure that they can work well together.

ABS-CBN.com said Mr. Aquino confirmed to Malacañang reporters a Vera Files report that he had differences with Robredo during the election campaign. The President said Robredo is undergoing “evaluation,” adding that he wants to make sure he can get along with the DILG secretary.

“There are various reasons kung bakit acting. In the case of Jesse, we had some differences during the campaign as to style. We want to make sure we can really work with each other well. It does no good to get him through the whole process of the CA only at the end of the day to find out that there might be difficulties in our working style, among others, our core philosophy, so we did agree na acting na muna,” ABS-CBN.com quoted Aquino as saying.

“May evaluation period, siguro check ang working style, after two months sigurado na tayo, we still have certain things discussed,” he added. “Dadalawang buwan pa lang kami nagkakasubukan kung talaga nga bang kaya naming mag-mesh.”

Public knowledge of the unorthodox arrangement heightened speculation that a power struggle between two major groups of supporters was hampering effective governance in the Aquino administration.

The struggle is not new. It was noticed even early in Mr. Aquino’s campaign – thus the monikers Balay (referring to the Cubao residence of vice presidential candidate and Liberal Party leader Mar Roxas) and Samar (the Quezon City street that hosts the headquarters of Aquino supporters that backed Vice President Jejomar Binay instead of Roxas.) to represent the feuding groups. The Palace says the issue has been blown out of proportion.

Puno is an old friend of the President, a fellow gun enthusiast. Puno was known as an important finance-group keg in Mr. Aquino’s presidential campaign. Secretary Sonny Coloma, the Samar clique's representative in the President’s Communications Group, said Puno served as “overall ground commander” in Mr. Aquino’s 2007 senatorial run.

Robredo’s deputy also served as the former senator’s consultant in the chamber’s Committee on Public Order and Safety and Dangerous Drugs and the Special Oversight on Economic Affairs body. As president of Far East Ballistics Corp from 1992 to 1995, Puno had ample opportunity to become friendly with the police officer corps. He was also a member of the board of the National Range Officers Institute at Philippine Practical Shooting Association.


Keh said he wants the President to review the division of powers between Robredo and Puno. “I feel that he (Robredo) should be given total control over the PNP,” he said. “This may cause some more trouble in the future especially since it is clearly in the constitution that the PNP will fall under the supervision of the NAPOLCOM whose chairman is the DILG Secretary.”

Keh is no ordinary kibitzer. He has always been an outspoken supporter of Mr. Aquino and an influential blogger during the campaign because he reached out to the masses sidelined by the candidate’s more high-profile backers. Majority of the 600 plus persons who signed the pro-Robredo petition campaigned for Mr. Aquino, believing his personal integrity and principles handed down by his martyred parents trumped a lackluster service record.

Writer and feminist Aida Santos, like most of the public, did not know of Robredo’s status, which she described as “stupid and crazy,” and “so illogical of PNoy (what the President of this nickname-mad nation wants to be called) Santos says Robredo should speak out on the “crazy decision” and explain why he accepted it.

The writer is representative of the vast number of Mr. Aquino’s non-partisan volunteers who “voted with eyes wide open” and take seriously their role as the President’s “Boss.” They have little ties to the Liberal Party or the network of kin, classmates and family friends – or even if they do, act independently of these forces.

US-based Edwin Jamora, the author of the popular Barrio Siete blog, campaigned hard for Mr. Aquino and got plenty of grief from backers of his candidate’s rivals. But he is also quick to criticize blunders of the Aquino administration. He is outraged by the “joke” played on Robredo.

“From day 1, I really believed that he was a good fit with Noynoy’s ‘kung walang kurap, walang mahirap’” philosophy, Jamora said.

“DILG is a powerful position, and I know that the 2016 Election is well underway. Go figure who’s manning the boat! This is way too obvious. They’re using the hostage crisis to clear the path both for the 2016 elections, (fearing) that the transparency and the kind of governance Robredo had shown in Naga, will rob them of their butter,” the blogger added.

Arthur de Guzman, a government employee known on Facebook as “Kuya Toots” suspects the President may be trying “to appease some factions.” De Guzman was among the first signatories to the petition.

Unlike other Robredo supporters, he accepts Mr. Aquino’s wish to have greater control of the PNP. “There’s such a thing as ‘delegation’ of powers. I think PNoy wants a focused and uncompromising stand on corruption in local governance. With such a gargantuan task, I think PNoy doesn’t want his man to be saddled with more than a man could take.”

De Guzman, Santos, Jamora and Keh all believe Robredo’s detractors want to stop reforms, including the DILG chief’s proposal to have all local government units disclose their budgets and expenses in government websites. This was the basis of Naga City’s turnaround during Robredo’s watch and a major factor in the conferment of the RM award.


Journalist-blogger Norman Sison (La Nueva Liga Filipina) brushed off criticism of Mr. Aquino and chided the public and media for having very short memories. If journalists paid more attention to good deeds, people like Robredo –not known for dramatics – would stand a better chance in government, Sison asserted.

“Robredo recently ordered local officials to desist from putting their names on public infrastructure and other expenditures funded by us, the taxpayers. These are efforts, like Noynoy’s wangwang policy, that are meant to put the sovereign Filipino people back in charge. Tayo ang boss, hindi ba? But did we give a damn? The media only gave matter-of-factly attention to it. Minsan hindi ko na alam kung ano ang priority ng media natin.”

In his blog, the acerbic Sison questioned Filipino’s sense of perspective: “People are so hard on Robredo. Are they giving the same outrage over Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, who is in charge of keeping our government honest but is currently facing impeachment?” He charged that Robredo’s detractors are using the crisis as “a smokescreen” while waging a rearguard battle for a corrupt status quo.

“They want to keep the sovereign Filipino people in the dark on how they spend the money we pay for taxes. And they want to keep their names, initials, their family names, standards and a coat-of-arms on infrastructure and other projects funded with our tax money.”

Other Aquino supporters told this writer they want to bat for Robredo but in a quiet manner, noting the President’s prickly attitude towards dissenters. Still others chafe that the issue is being used by Mr. Aquino’s enemies.

Robredo has supporters even among those who are not exactly fans of his principal. Paulyn Sicam, former journalist and a member of the peace panel under former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said it was “unfair to Jesse” to be appointed and then have his hands tied on police matters. She also said Puno “does not inspire trust at all.” She expresses pain at seeing Robredo going through the wringer “for something that is clearly not under his jurisdiction.”

“It was big of P Noy to take all the blame because dividing the DILG powers like he did was entirely his fault,” Sicam said

Maria Jovita Zarate met Robredo in 2005 while doing a documentary on good governance and pronounced him and his staff as “bright, competent and unassuming.”

“The guy is a gem. I keep pondering on why he accepted a power sharing mechanism with Puno who now turns out to be a good buddy of PNoy. Perhaps, Robredo thought ‘Well, I would still be able to do something good and innovative in local governance…” Now, we have Pandora’s box… “ Sison warned Aquino believers that silence would benefit groups out to undermine the President. “Who’s going to benefit most if Robredo is out? What are you going to do about it? Get angry but remain silent? No one is going to hear you if you keep quiet.”

Sison boils it down to homespun wisdom: “If you hire a yaya who will look after your home and your children, do you place competence ahead of trustworthiness as a criterion? In this case, trustworthiness is part of competence. We can teach yayas how to care for home and children. But no one can just train people how to be trustworthy.” #30

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