November 22, 2007
Eight hours from now, I will be speaking before a similar audience at De La Salle University. I know what you are thinking. You got first dibs at the governor of Pampanga, and for that alone, the eagle has soared over the archer once again. Tuloy, I am tempted to shout, FABILIOH! By the way, I gave a talk in UP last week, so that probably settles the implied question. Beyond your deep-rooted and far-reaching rivalry, I am grateful to you for giving me a forum to communicate the moral crusade in Pampanga. I hope that the campus communities will respond positively and become an active partner in the renewal that we all desire for our country.
You invited me to share with you my experience in responding to the call of leadership in a time of crisis. I would prefer to rephrase it as a response to a crisis in leadership. In order to make it clearer to you, allow me to begin with a bit of an overview of the social and political situation in Pampanga a few months before the elections. Lilia Pineda, more casually called Nanay Baby, (nanay na, baby pa. Trust the Filipino to be that family oriented) broke into the turf of the Lapid father and son when she began a series of so-called consultations with the people, asking them two questions: first, if their lot has improved with the ascent of the incumbent governor, Mark Lapid. The answer of course, was quite obvious, leading to the second question, if they have an alternative leader they would want to take over the governorship. The answer was equally undeniable. Equipped with more than adequate resources, she covered the whole province, practically running a roadshow of grassroots building. There was talk that Pineda, then a board member of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan and the wife of Bong Pineda (who is quite notorious, I mean, famous in his own right throughout Regions One to Five), decided to face Mark Lapid head on in the coming elections because the governor chose Con Laus, the son of a local businessman, over her own son, who was the mayor of Lubao town. To make matters worse for the father of the province, Pineda ally and Vice Governor Joseller Guiao filed a case against him, alleging graft and corruption in the supervision and collection of quarry taxes.
The stage therefore was set for a grand battle between the two political giants of Pampanga. Every media pundit and sari-sari store istambay were expecting a drawn out war of attrition, where no prisoners will be taken and no resources will be spared. A senior citizen described it with a mixture of expectation and dread, saying, “muran pera king kampanya,” or that it will rain money during the campaign. So many of the poverty-stricken in the province excitedly awaited the coming of the usual generosity, commonly experienced every three years, but only this time it will come like wave after wave of blessings. It was often said that it is only during this period that the poor get the attention and assistance they deserve, so they better make the most of it by playing one side against the other, conceding to the highest bidder, as it were. Many among the Kapampangans, however, were disconsolate at the prospect of having to choose between two candidates they did not like. A good many of them have decided that early to leave blank the space for governor in their ballots.
Before this backdrop, a group of people, a priest and some seminarians among them (no, I was not the priest) regretted the state of affairs that their province was in. If only to express a statement to the world that Pampanga is not bereft of good leadership, they decided to gather more of their like-minded friends and begin to search for an alternative candidate. Enough is enough, they said, the pride of the Kapampangan is at stake here. And if you know us, then you should also know that our kayabangan is legendary.
And so began the series of consultations in search of a candidate with the moral ground, the resources and the acceptability, who will stand as a symbol for the Kapampangan dignity and conscience. We had a great difficulty in searching for that candidate. It even dawned on us that we might have been too idealistic, too far removed from reality. Either our prospect could not measure up to our criteria, or he would not be willing to get entangled between two battling giants. “The election result is already common knowledge,” one of them said, conceding to the strength of one of the candidates, although I will not say who SHE is.
In the midst of this desperation, one seminarian turned to me and asked, “what about you?” My immediate and emphatic answer was, “no way!” My heart and mind was then running on hierarchical fuel. It was never an option for a Kapampangan priest to run for office in any previous election. Kapampangans being such a pious people, they revere their priests to a fault, conceding to them a spiritual leadership that excluded political power.
Like any other Filipino, Kapampangans live with a compartmentalized sense of morality. Our churches are filled every Sunday, but our jueteng industry is equally robust. We declare ourselves cerrado catolico, but we do not pay our taxes honestly. Our cars and jeepneys are festooned with images and pictures of the crucified Christ and the Virgin Mother, but they are not powerful enough to remind us to obey traffic laws. Thus, what place is there for a priest to enter the secular world of politics?
The idea of a priest running for the governorship snowballed among the people of conscience who have begun to call themselves the Third Force. Slowly, my outright refusal gave way to sober reflection as I thought of the people being under the yoke of patronage, and for how long, since we all know how easily political dynasties can take root and flourish. I looked back at my past to find a ground and a horizon for my final decision.
Even as a seminarian, I have intently dedicated my life for the uplift of the marginalized and the weak, and this had continued in my parochial and archdiocesan work. Thankfully, I was assigned later to direct the Social Action Center of Pampanga, more popularly known as SACOP. This enabled me to delve more deeply into the plight of the masses and be exposed to their needs and aspirations, and more importantly, to identify with their situation. Thus, I made it a personal choice to live a simple life and temper my wants to the more basic necessities, for it would not have been in consonance with the Gospel had I enjoyed affluence while people around me were hungry. If they did not eat, I did not eat.
The eruption of
Thus, when I finally conceded to become a candidate for governor, it was in response to a gaping need for moral resurgence in a despairing province, and in a more personal way, a deepening of my ministerial priesthood. When Kapampangans of known capability, respected stature and proven worth would not want to give people an option to choose a better candidate, I had to stand up for my people. But believe me, I had to spend days of prayer and feverish consultations before I made my decision. I had to resolve if this was a genuine desire for good, or a hidden longing for glorification. Either way, I was made aware of the consequences of my decision. The reasons for not running were many and equally valid. Not a few friends came and gave me their advice. I listened. In the end, I had to listen to and obey what my conscience dictated. My own ministerial priesthood demanded that I come down from the safety and security of the pulpit and incarnate the Gospel message in the political world. The Church has been complaining for so long about graft and corruption, but she was generally being ignored. It would have seemed that she has lost her moral authority over the considering that most of the suspected practitioners of graft and corruption came from Catholic schools themselves, Ateneo included, or probably, Ateneo specially. It was my belief that the extraordinary situation prevailing in Pampanga at that time demanded an entirely different and fundamental response. I took the leap and decided to do something about it hands on. I leapt, and found that I was not alone. I was joined by men and women of good will who were willing to take a risk.
I honestly believe that the people who leapt with me, people from all class and all manners of persuasion were driven by a common desire to see through a crusade that will realize Gospel values in governance. I do not deny the fact that Kapampangans are personalistic, more so with their priests, but be that as it may, I have always explained that the crusade was not about me, but it was about something bigger than all of us combined. I was just a part of the whole, as important as the campaign manager, but equally as indispensable as the poll watcher.
Who were these people of conscience? A classic example would be our technical consultant on software systems. All his life he had never voted in any election, or even participated by any means whatsoever. He was a self-confessed apolitical and fence-sitting Filipino who would just let political dogs lie, for as long as they leave him in peace. But when the crusade began, he was convinced by his wife to visit the EDquarters and offer whatever talent or materials he could contribute to the furtherance of the campaign. We cannot quantify his involvement in pesos, much less measure its effects, but because of his free services, we were able to set up a text brigade, hook up the EDquarters in a wi-fi network, and more importantly implement an automated quick count system that helped us track down the results of the elections accurately. Given the fact that as independent candidate I was not privileged to receive a copy of the election returns, his help was truly incalculable. What is more notable is that during an interview, it was found out that he lived next door to a mayoralty candidate of the City of
Actively involved, too were a dozen former seminarians who were among the workhorses of the campaign. Collectively known as Bakal Boys, their background often provided a spiritual dimension in our daily struggle. Where else would you find a campaign where strategies and tactics were discussed along with conversion, metanoia and kenosis? Many of them were influential in my decision to run, being members of the core group that searched for an alternative candidate. Among the Bakal Boys was one who lived quite an easy life in
Perhaps it is the presence of the Bakal Boys that allowed us to look at the ordinary events of the campaign with the eyes of faith. The confluence of all the events, such as the blessing of good weather in both our grand miting de avances, the speed at which triumph was achieved, the mystery of the experts in statistics and probability being confounded by their own means, all pointed to the hand of God actively involving Himself in the affairs of man. At every turn, we looked for the sign of His presence, and we were not disappointed. Ours was not just a moral crusade, it transformed itself into a divine crusade.
A very palpable sign of God’s presence was the full support of brethren from other faiths and denominations in the crusade for good governance. Among the first to express their support on the day I filed my certificate of candidacy were Methodist pastors. Leaders of born again fellowships also boosted our stock, widening the spectrum of collaboration into dimensions previously unknown. I believe that there is no other previous experience in our nation where people of different faiths actively involved and immersed themselves in a mission as one body. What we were seeing was the
Cyrelle was your typical Among Ed volunteer: multi-tasking, energetic, uncomplaining, except for the fact that she just graduated from a private elementary school. She was everyone’s kid niece or sister, a favorite object of pranks, but equal to every joke thrown her way. Forsaking a summer of visiting malls and beaches, she became the ultimate factotum, preparing coffee, manning the photocopy machine, answering the phone, encoding data and stapling sheets of paper. Not even four years social studies in high school would match up to the wealth of hands-on learning she attained during those months.
And of course, there were those who contributed their time, talent and treasure from all walks of life and practically from every corner of the earth. There was this public school teacher who was given a one thousand peso bribe by another candidate. She took the effort to visit our EDquarters and turn over the money to us. As fast as people were taking posters and flyers from our office, equally consistent were the kind donors who dropped by every day to deliver campaign materials they had printed on their own. During our motorcades, ordinary people threw coins into our showboats to share their support. Even non-Kapampangans generously shared their blessings.
And finally, there was Jomar Nulud, a barangay chairman in my last parish who was gunned down by still unidentified assailants days after my proclamation. Kapitan Jomar switched allegiance after he learned of my candidacy. The night before he was killed, he ominously told me to be careful. “Hindi baleng ako ang itumba, huwag lang ikaw,” he said. His was the ultimate sacrifice. I am nothing compared to him.
A common thread that ran among all of these examples of people who joined us in our campaign was the element of sacrifice. The Japanese have a proverb: always replace a thing of value with that of a greater value. In giving up something of themselves, whether as mundane as a summer vacation, as abstract as a preconceived notion of a different faith, or as irreplaceable as a human life, their surrender was for a far greater cause. And because of this, they gained an ownership of the crusade. This ownership has been multiplied a thousand times and has reached the puroks and barangays, but we still need to reach out to a lot more people and convince them to own this new politics.
Once, I expressed my misgivings to a supporter, rhetorically asking, what if I got used to all the attention and the glory? What if I started to enjoy it? What if I started to demand it? Thankfully, I am surrounded by people whose presence always reminds me that the crusade is a team effort. Even now, I am not “Gov” to them. I am still “Among Ed,” and to the more familiar, I am “Brods or Jo.” I allow this informality, because I know that I am just one instrument among many volunteers, workers, contributors, prayer warriors and well-wishers who gave a part of their lives to realize a vision. It just so happened that my position warrants me to be a primus inter pares, a first among equals, or more accurately a father to sons and daughters who deserve my love, respect and attention, because they gave so much so freely.
That we have won through a plurality reminds us that we have to be gentle with our salesmanship. We have to convince the civil society and the civil service, by way of example and education,that honest governance works. We have to provide for a transparent, efficient and effective delivery of services, that the people may pay their taxes with cheerful hearts, knowing that their hard-earned money does not find itself in some bureaucrat’s pocket. Arriving much sooner than expected, as it were, we are quite pleased that the Capitol leadership, as well as the rank and file have for the most part adapted to our program of government quite quickly. I credit this to the government employee’s innate goodness and willingness to work. I have to admit, though that the adjustment period was quite tenuous. But when the Governor sets the example in punctuality, simplicity of lifestyle, openness to the constituents, dedication to work and pleasantness of disposition, the most taciturn employee has no other recourse than to follow.
Today, our province earns an average of a million pesos a day in quarry revenues. Suppliers have lowered their bids dramatically after being reminded that the days of SOPs are over. A system of fiscal discipline is being instituted. We have streamlined the manpower to make it more citizen-oriented. Our primary attention is now given to the equipment, staffing and development of our provincial and district hospitals. We are at the moment studying systems and processes that will make quality service be delivered on time. Capacity and confidence building measures are being undertaken in order that the bureaucracy can pride itself as a working and effective body. For the first time in the history of the province, a draft three-year executive agenda will be submitted to the people tomorrow for their comments and suggestions, in the spirit of consultation and collaboration.
But for society to be transformed, it is not enough that government employees be empowered and motivated. The desire for positive change and the willingness to sacrifice for the greater good must not only trickle down, but must engulf every barangay. A visual way of describing the approach to this objective is that of the way the bibingka is cooked: heat on top, heat at the bottom. We should inflame the governing and the governed. The inured system of political patronage and dependency may take a little more time and may require a more extensive strategy for the people to realize that in the end, the benefits to the community will outweigh any personal gain. Good citizenship must take root until following the law, paying taxes honestly, respecting the environment and upholding one’s dignity shall become second nature to every person.
I don’t think that God meant me to endure five seminaries just to become a Governor or some other public official. I love my vocation, and at the end of this temporary detour into politics, I shall desire nothing more than to have my priestly faculties once again, and be a shepherd of the faith anew. A personal glory shall be that day when I shall hold aloft the transubstantiated body and blood of Christ, recalling my first mass after my ordination. It is from this vantage point that I say that I really do not encourage the entry of priests or ministers to the electoral arena. It would be utter presumption and even a complete falsehood to maintain that only the clergy posses the moral superiority to lead the nation. A layman with the proper motivation and popular support can lead any province to glory, in the same manner that an elected priest with less than honorable intentions can bring the province to its knees. Every believer has a divine mandate to do good and cast out evil. For the sake of the beggar out in the street, for the sake of the baby who is fed with rice water, for the sake of the sick patients in our public hospitals, for the sake of every Filipino who persists in the hope of a brighter horizon, I ask you to help us prove that we are essentially good, and that we uphold the common good.
It has been said so often that Pampanga right now is a laboratory mouse in a grand experiment upon which almost every eye of every disillusioned Filipino is fixed, steadily observing how the dream of good and honest governance is realized, and if it can result in the improvement of the people’s plight. Historically, our province has always been the breeding ground of social unrest and revolutionary thought. Once again, there is something revolutionary going on in Pampanga. With fervent prayers, consultative and exemplary leadership, participatory and law-abiding citizenship, collaborative and dedicated service, together with the application of better organizational systems, technological processes and innovations, I believe that we can overcome and transform the individual and the society. Then shall our success in Pampanga be translated in every province of the nation. Let us all join forces to transform ourselves, and in turn our beloved