Archive for the ‘Political’ Category

 

In my previous article, I vowed to present detailed arguments to prove my thesis that the assassination of Vice Mayor Alexander Tomawis, who previously served as Mayor of the Municipality of Barira for three terms, was also the end of the processes of democratization in the troubled province of Maguindanao.

But as I subject the life of Alex Tomawis to deeper retrospection, it dawned on me that to measure his social significance using as a benchmark the stalled “processes of democratization” in the Municipality of Barira could logically result to the trivialization of his achievement and his dream for the Iranuns, and rest of Mindanao.

The cause that Alex Tomawis gallantly fought for his constituencies, during his life time, pierces deep into the core of the problem that besets the Bangsamoro Homeland for so many decades.

His was a battle to end the isolationist character of local governance in Maguindanao and the rest of the Island, with the Municipality of Barira and the two other municipalities comprising the Iranun Development Council (IDC) as venues of apprenticeship for democratic Moro governance.

Alex Tomawis believed then that, unless a type of governance that totally deprives the Moro masses any access to the processes of decision-making and secludes them wholly from any mechanism that provides opportunities for the people’s meaningful exercise of economic power, lasting peace in Maguindanao and the rest of the Island can never be attained.

His was a new type of a social revolution that intends to transfer political and economic power into the base of society by empowering the masses to optimize the untapped power of their rationality to take hold of their resources, decide for the processes of their becoming, and to freely chart their own destiny.

This is not as simple as we think it is, in the first blush. I know that Alex had realized this as he harped for his last breath after his fragile body was riddled with bullets. For the well-entrenched political warlords in Maguindanao, his is a revolutionary proposition for it intends to totally dismantle a social system and traditional practices that afford them unbridled political and economic power and benefits.

Thus, for the Moro Elite of Maguindanao, a person who works to transform this status quo is flirting with death. Alex Tomawis did, and so, as destined for one who bravely treads into this dangerous ground, is now “resting” in his grave, with his unfulfilled dream and unfinished revolution.

Tom Villarin, an Akbayan nominee who authored many occasional papers for Mindanao and who had long been in the forefront of the struggle for peace and development in this troubled Island, is mourning the untimely death of Vice Mayor Tomawis the way Mark Anthony did to Caesar. This is for a reason.

Above all else, Tom knows every facet of Alex Tomawis’ political exploits and perfectly appreciates every bit of his dream for his people. Tom knows how the fire burns in the heart of Alex Tomawis every time the fires of unrest visit the homeland of the Iranuns. His dream for his people is too noble to be forgotten.

I accompany Tom in his drive to immortalize the dreams of Alex Tomawis, so his people may be able to pick up the torch where he left it and to continue with his difficult journey … and so that he may not die in vain.

Like Tom, I was also privileged to be with this man, Alex, as he reels towards a dream of attaining development and meaningful peace in the municipality of Barira and its the adjoining localities, which constantly serve as a theater of war in the mainland of Mindanao. It was by working with Alex that I came to fully know the character of a man who would soon become a hero for the Iranuns.

I did not have the opportunity to see him beginning in the middle part of 2004 when I was forced by circumstances to voluntarily leave Akbayan and its development networks to undergo the painful processes of self-rectification and reinvention.

Although, I confess that there were times when I was tempted to text him for help when I was soaked in crippling poverty, the kind that almost shattered my family and snatched away my sanity. But, after I weighed things judiciously, I held myself against the temptation to preserve whatever “good impression” he had then on me.

Now that I begin to celebrate my success, and my feat, in preserving the unity of my family amid the cascading misfortunes, Alex Tomawis ended his story. It is also a pity that, at the very same time when I am about to rise from the rubbles and restore my social significance and my dream, he perished.

I happened to head a team of development planners which supervised a six-day practicum for the trainees in participatory development planning in the Municipality of Barira sometime in 2003. One night, while we were in a deep sleep, a loud explosion thundered. Still in half-sleep and trembling furiously, I quickly moved to bury my head on the cemented corner of the municipality (I am a born coward). A few seconds after that, Alex came to me laughing. Then, in a very assuring voice, he told me: “Ben, this is my place. We are safe here.” Embarrassed, I slept my whole night out, with his words serving as my comforting mantle.

Alex was right in embracing a thought that he was safe in the place of his birth and in the bosom of his people. However, he failed to perceive that he could be unsafe in a “safer” place, but away from the people for whose welfare and interest he eventually offered his life.

Previously, I made a solemn vow not to stop writing about Alex Tomawis until justice is served to him, to his family and to his people. But today I pledge to continue writing about this great man for a greater purpose, that is, to immortalize his deeds and his dreams for the glory of successor-generations.

As a former political council member of Akbayan and a governance consultant of various governance and development centers operating in Mindanao, I was privileged to work with the late Alex Tomawis –who was then the Mayor of the Municipality of Barira in Maguindanao – for the democratization of the local governance in three Maguindanao municipalities comprising the Iranun Development Council (IDC), the municipalities of Barira, Buldon and Matanog.

I was with Alex Tomawis when he started to reinvent the system of local governance in that portion of Maguindanao which served for many decades as a host to Camp Abubakar, once the main fortress of the Moro armed struggle under the MILF. His bold attempt at democratization of local governance in the area was considered as a radical democratic breakthrough in a province embroidered in the dictatorship of local tyrants, crippled by fear and poverty, and soaked in the blood of the hapless and the innocent.

In the next issue, I will put into details why the untimely passing of Alex Tomawis also spells death to the processes of democratization in Maguindanao. As a personal witness to his democratic governance experiment, I vow not to leave the issue of the death of Alex Tomawis until I see the protective and coercive apparatus of the state strongly moving in search for his justice, for the justice of his family and for the justice of his people who had found hope in him.

Meantime, I will pave the way for the portion of the article posted by Tom Villarin, an Akbayan nominee, in the Akbayan forum. This article details, among others, the circumstances surrounding the death of Alex Tomawis and gives us certain perspective as to the possible motives for his assassination.

Here is the portion of Tom Villarin’s article:

”Alexander Tomawis, 38, Barira, Maguindanao vice-mayor and Akbayan supporter since 2001 was shot dead around 10AM Sunday morning, November 29, 2010 after leaving his apartment house in Bajada, Davao city by two teenage gunmen after allegedly asking him to sign some documents. The gunmen escaped on motorcycles. He was rushed to the Davao Doctors Hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival.  Mayor Alex Tomawis is not known to walk around with dozens of armed bodyguards unlike other Maguindanao politicians.

“A few hours before his death, we met in a coffee shop to discuss the cases he filed against Col Ernesto R. Aradanas (batch ’79), commander of the 603rd Brigade based in Barira in the office of the Ombudsman, provincial prosecutor and the Comelec. During the recent barangay elections, the two had a heated argument as the military was intervening in the local elections. Cases of illegal detention and election offenses under the Omnibus Election Code was filed by him against Col. Ernesto R. Aradanas last November 5, 2010. Mayor Tomawis was in Davao to file with the Ombudsman last  November 26 cases of grave misconduct and grave abuse of authority versus Col. Aradanas, Major Mahainien Sangki, and 1st Lt. Manago Macalintangui, all officers from the 603rd Brigade.

“Mayor Alex is a good friend who never failed to support Akbayan.  While many will disagree with the ways he ran his municipality, he was an “action man” who brought back to life Barira (command and control HQ of the MILF) after the 2000 all-out war by Estrada.  He’s also the mayor instrumental in creating the Iranun Development Council, an inter-LGU alliance composed of Buldon, Barira and Matanog. His ambitious ways of making the ethnic group of Iranons become a potent political block in Maguindanao created many enemies against him.  His municipality became a recipient of some P380-M worth of development projects in 2001-2004 and partnered with the NAPC, CIDSS-KALAHI and other national government agencies as well as Gawad-Kalinga which constructed some 500 core houses in Tugaig, Barira. During my NAPC stint as NGO sectoral council member, I asked him to be resource speaker in ASEAN-NAPC forums in Jakarta and Singapore which he did well.

“While perceived to be close to Andal Ampatuan Sr., Mayor Alex had to resort to such an alliance with the Ampatuans to have leverage against the other political warlords in his area.  It is well known that Mayor Tocao Mastura of Sultan Kudarat municipality is a political nemesis of his. Mayor Mastura ran unsuccessfully as governor of the defunct Shariff Kabunsuan province in 2007.  Tomawis allied with the Sinsuats then. After the Maguindanao massacre, Mayor Alex distanced himself from the Ampatuans and organized nine municipal mayoral slate under Aksyon Demokratiko that delivered the votes for President Noy Aquino and Mar Roxas. He already has plans for 2013 as he has consolidated his political base consisting of Buldon (Mayor Fatima Tomawis, his wife), Matanog (Mayor Nasser Imam, a close ally who was also ambushed in the past but survived), Barira (his mother is the mayor), Parang (Mayor Ibrahim Ibay, a very close ally), Datu Blah Sinsuat (Mayor Toto Sinsuat, his brother-in-law married to his sister), South Upi, and Northern Kabuntalan.  He reportedly had several talks with Gov. Toto Mangudadatu of Maguindanao province before his death.”

We join Akbayan, and the rest, in calling the government of P-Noy to leave no stone unturned in its drive to put into the gallows the brains behind the assassination of Alex Tomawis.

Who is this guy named Mohammad “Bong” Acquia, and why is he being dreaded by many people?

Bong Acquia, as he is popularly known in media quarters in GenSan, was reported to be the culprit in a shooting incident at Casado Bar, a nightspot located inside the compound of Royale Hotel, a three-star luxury hotel in Gensan.

A case was eventually filed against him at the City Prosecutors’ Office, but not after a strong pressure exerted on the police by some concerned citizens here. However, one of his victims deliberately refused to file any case against him, but for whatever reason, his family could not say exactly.

The near-fatal shooting involving Bong Acquia, which occurred at about 3:00 in the morning of October 29, 2010, almost claimed the lives of two young and promising students – one, a six-footer commercial basketball player, and the other, an academic scholar in one of the universities in General Santos City and also a basketball player.

The victims were John Kusmod, 19, and Curt Coronado, 21, both residents of Doña Soledad Subdivision, Barangay Labangal, this same city. They were reportedly celebrating the end of the school semester with their six (6) other fellow basketball players at the Casado Bar when the shooting incident happened.

There were more to this incident than meets the eye, however. The incident literally plunged certain sections of the city’s population into the abyss of fear, resulting to a situation where almost all are adamant or even refuse to delve into the subject, an unlikely deviation from the usual prominence being given to similar incidents in the past.

The incident prominently marked the existence of a serious social error, not because of the graveness of the crime involved in the incident, but of the seemingly unexplainable awesome power that sent a shiver of fear in the collective spine of the public.

Such power is so magical that it is capable of causing the spontaneous emergence of a climate of fear in the city, despite of the fact that Bong Acquia is not reported to be doing anything that could propel the city into certain level of terror after that near-fatal incident.

During a brief interview in his office, General Santos City Police Director, Cedrick Train, a lawyer with a Doctorate Degree in Jurisprudence, confirmed the existence of a public feeling of fear on Bong Acquia, but failed to venture on a specific reason why it existed and how such public impression actually came into play.

In a privilege speech delivered recently during the regular session of the Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP), GenSan City Councilor Dante Vicente also impliedly noted how this shooting incident involving Bong Acquia instills fear on the public mind.

Councilor Vicente also ventured into a conspiracy theory proving, in effect, how the alleged tentacles of Bong Acquia within the military and police establishments are working to eventually absolve him of the crime he had committed.

There is sense in Vicente’s conspiracy theory. The pieces of evidence which are material in proving the crime were nowhere to be found. It was also reported that one of the investigators in the City Prosecutor’s Office complained on how the police had built a case against Bong Acquia.

Vicente claimed that the police case against Bong Acquia is too weak and fatally inadequate. For this reason, City Councilor Dante Vicente indicated that there exists a conspiracy between and among the culprit, the bar owner and some elements of the police department.

However, in an interview, Police City Director Train belied the allegation that the cases filed against the culprit are weak and incomplete. He claimed that their case against Acquia is strong and that they still intend to file more cases against him.

Train also said that the evidences already under the custody of the police are enough to secure the conviction of Bong Acquia.

Candidly, this sort of public fear is not new in the city. It is reminiscent of the realities within certain period in the past when illegal gambling outlets mushroomed, were established and openly operated, like sari-sari stores, on every nook and cranny of this city, to include public transport terminals and public markets.

No one dared then to provide an effective critique on the operations of these illegal gambling outlets even when these were done with impunity before the very noses of police authorities.

People then feared of being assassinated by the elements of a powerful syndicate behind these illegal gambling operations, which is allegedly comprised, among others, by armed elements coming from various state agencies.

“You are a ‘dead man walking’ if you do”, one of the prominent members of the local media here said.

However, although the effects of both circumstances on the public are the same, there is a total absence of information linking Bong Acquia to this gambling syndicate, which is still believed to exist even after the recent clamping down of their illegal gambling outlets all throughout the city.

This gambling syndicate is reported to now compose an influential clique, operating as an abstract substructure within the local police establishment with strong support from high officials of the PNP, rendering the regular police command structure wholly ineffective.

“This clique is so powerful and so influential that it could even reduce the police city director into a mere pushover or a hapless prop on the scheme of things”, one local official said.

It was reported that all the gambling outlets which were established here before were under the same syndicated network, but it was then public knowledge that those gambling outlets with a code name “Ground Zero” were owned by one of the popular political figures in the SOCSARGEN area.

The shooting incident involving Bong Acquia is dwarfed in terms of level of heinousness and savagery by the Maguindanao Massacre but its deadly impact on the public nerve is almost the same.

Immediately after the incident, a virtual threat, in the form of an informal news account, began to travel along the underground information highway and this spread like wild fires, especially in the place where the victims reside.

The “news”, which became the subject of loose talks among the victims’ peers in Doña Soledad Subdivision, posited that someone is hiring an assassin for P1, 000,000.00 against any person who would help pin Boy Acquia down. Worse, the “news” is spread with a caveat “during this time and age, persons could kill for P5, 000.00.”

“We don’t know where these rumors come from, but invisible hands seem to cause them to spread so fast”, one resident in Doña Soledad said.

Whether this “news” is true or not, the fact is that the impact of the loose talks is fatal to the victims and their families. They are not so expressive about this, but how the victims and their families are dealing with their fate lately indicate unequivocally that fears for the unknown hover over their heads.

We can decipher this when we attempted to interview them and failed to avail of their cooperation. While they act as normal as they can be, we know that, beneath the fortress of their innate love for justice, something more powerful is influencing their dispositions.

In fact, some of our friends in the media even advised us to handle this incident with extraordinary caution. Their logic was that this Bong Acquia is a well-connected person and has been reportedly in control of an armed infrastructure that, while operating clandestinely, has gained tolerance from some powerful sections within the police establishment, which may also be a part of such armed formations.

Bong Acquia’s alleged control of an armed formation cannot be confirmed by independent and official sources, although Train confirmed that really such public impression exists. But, of course, we know that a public impression cannot always be equated with the truth.

Personally, we are convinced that, by delving on this subject, our safety is not wholly ensured. In fact, we asked Director Train whether or not our safety is secured if we decide to dip our fingers into this issue. His commitment was not assuring, but he emphasized the need for media to be vigilant if society’s welfare is to be protected.

Nevertheless, we have decided to challenge our fear and come up with a public discussion on the incident, rather than to wait for society to defend and correct itself, if indeed what the public fears about is really correct.

Society has its own natural way of correcting the excesses of individuals, like how the Maguindanao Massacre did to the Ampatuans, but society’s self-correction processes are oftentimes extremely violent and costly, and, therefore, for us to wait for such process to take place is to find glory in our sadistic self-inflictions.

We have tried to get the side of Bong Acquia to lend certain objectivity on our discussion, but access to him is simply difficult at this time.

Nevertheless, this should not serve as an obstacle for this discussion. After all, our motive here is not to cast aspersion on the integrity of the person or persons involved in this discourse, but to protect the security and safety of the individuals, in particular, and the welfare of the public, in general, considering that the shooting incident is committed with certain level of impunity.

The election gun ban was still in effect when the shooting incident happened.

Our background information on Bong Acquia is rather sketchy. We first heard of him while he was directly intervening in the politics of Sarangani Province, where he seemed to have been given some crucial roles.

The basis for the privilege given to Bong Acquia by prominent politicians in Sarangani is not easy to decipher. He neither belongs to any prominent clan in Sarangani nor to any organization which is big enough to deliver a substantial number of votes to any politician.

But still, prominent politicians in Sarangani Province had entrusted him some high profile political roles.

Bong Acquia has lately served as the Chairman of the Oplan Kalikasan which is known to be the pre-2010 election campaign tool of the now incumbent Sarangani Congressman, Manny Pacquiao. As Chair of Oplan Kalikasan, he was reported to have engaged in a serious skirmish with Malungon Mayor Bong Constantino, resulting from their stern tug-of-war for the attention of the internationally famous member of the House of Representatives.

There are people who postulate that the alleged armed infrastructure, which is allegedly under the control of Bong Acquia, is the reason why some big-time politicians in the province were so interested with him, then.

In a province characterized by vast mountainous terrains and rugged political contours, armed infrastructures are necessary in all electoral battles. These terrains and contours resemble that of Sarangani Province.

Bong Acquia also served as the Chair of the Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group (PASG) in Mindanao. It was reported that it was because of this influential position that he had been able to recruit many “anti-smuggling agents” from both the uniformed and civilian armed formations within the SOCSARGEN area.

We cannot, at this time, avail of any reliable information which could prove whether or not this group of “anti-smuggling agents” was later formed into a privately-operated armed formation, or it is just mistaken to be one.

It was also reported that it was because of his powerful position in PASG that Bong Acquia has succeeded to establish strong connections with high military and police officials at the national and local levels and solid networks among prominent and powerful business groups and institutions in the city and in some other parts of the country.

In fact, he is frequently seen with a prominent businessman-politician in General Santos City since the 2010 national and local elections.

Bong Acquia’s eventual replacement as PASG Chair did not result to the depletion of his influence among the powerful sections of the local military and police establishments. He was even reported to be currently wielding strong influence among high military and police officials.

City PNP Director Cedrick Train said he does not personally know Bong Acquia but confirmed that he has so many “friends” among the city’s police officials. “It is probably because he has been mingling with them for too long”, Train said.

However, he failed to explain the nature of Acquia’s business in the local police establishment and the reason why these police officers find him a “good company.”

There are those who suspect that Acquia’s connection is actually with police officials who acted as protectors of the gambling outlets which had openly proliferated in the city before, but which were closed down lately. While these police officers are said to be hibernating for now, they actually remain intact as a group, and are only waiting for an opportune time to revive their illegal ventures.

Meantime, they are reported to be working hand-in-hand with other social forces working for the ouster of anti-gambling officials from local power, with alleged backing from known gambling lords in Central Luzon.

Again, following the maxim that it would take a scoundrel to catch another scoundrel, this suspicion cannot still be proven by material evidence. But the powerful state’s protective and coercive apparatuses, unless they are among the tentacles of a gambling syndicate, must do something to unearth the truth, rather than passing the burdens to the media or to hapless private citizens.

Bong Acquia has no known business in the city, save his dealership of non-popular brands of four-wheel vehicles, but he remains capable of financing vast networks within the military and police establishment. He can even afford an expensive lifestyle and maintain a phalanx of armed bodyguards.

How he procures funds to maintain and finance expensive networks, coupled with a luxurious lifestyle, remains to be a guessing game for many.

The story that we told here may not be perfectly accurate. But, somehow, we are sure that it approximates the exploits of a man, somewhat feared by many and allegedly protected by some powerful hands.

We can only hope that this will start the full public unleashing of a man whose life, at least a substantial part of it, remains a mystery to many of us.  Certainly, his story is a great saga of a man, with an outstanding feat.

Our role here is only to ensure that such feat would benefit, and not prejudice, the public.

Do we put ourselves into danger by doing this? There might be possibility that we do, God forbids. But history has taught us that there are times when people are called upon to offer themselves into the altar of sacrifice to serve others and straighten out society.

Almost always, they were forgotten, with their families wallowing in the filth of poverty by their untimely demise, and with society unmindful of their pains and travails.

But, that is the reason why they are called heroes. Their offerings should always be for selfless motivations; otherwise, they do not deserve the social grandeur.

Heroism is a powerful drive that occurs on an individual in a given moment. The moment calls for it now!

Approaches to Peace

Posted: September 2, 2010 in Political

Approaches to a Peaceful and Livable Community

If you may notice in the program, I am succinctly described as a columnist/writer, and, not as one who has forte at verbalization of things and ideas.

I am very happy with the description, as this serves as a virtual justification for my mangled pronunciation and my terribly twisted English accent.

There are some who say that contemporary university students consider good English pronunciation and accent as singular measures for intellectualism, and that they tend to subordinate under these standards all forms of theoretical discourses.

Of course, I know that this critique of the today’s students suffers from absence of empirical basis. However, if by sheer misconception of current reality, I am not, at all, accurate in my appreciation of your generation, I sincerely apologize and, with utmost humility, request you to look at my intrinsic defect as a product of the peculiar vicissitudes of my own youth.  

Let me now begin.

The question of peace, in the context of Mindanao, goes beyond the sphere of a mere social problem. Peace is a question far deeper than what we can imagine.  

It has an umbilical chord connected to history, to the prevailing political and socio-economic structures, and to an operative culture that renders all attempts at social reconstruction almost impossible.

All these pose as obstacles to the smooth march of our civilization, and disrupt the birthing of a new peaceful Mindanao.

The Moro struggle for a homeland and the revolutionary and reform overtures continuously waged by various ideological groups make peace exceedingly elusive in this Island paradise.

It is elusive not because we are devoid of the needed capacity to attain peace, but because the social requirements for its attainment are too great that our generation may not be able to satisfy them.

Candidly, I was tempted to discuss my topic “approaches to a peaceful and livable community” by postulating on higher theoretical frameworks and by navigating along the usual arguments that directly responds to these gargantuan issues.

I was tempted to postulate on:

ending poverty through the dismantling and replacement of the prevailing social structures;

1. the establishment of a strong state, thereafter, to counterpose any act of disturbance against society’s order and to usher a smooth social transition;

 2. the transformation of property relations, respecting the ancestral domain of the Moro and the lumads;

 3. giving rise to genuine autonomy for Muslim Mindanao, among others; and

 4. the need to institute changes in the Constitution as a prelude to the pursuit of these transformative agenda.

But I resisted the temptation. I refused to delve into the ideal, at least in the context of local governments and local communities.

 For a social theory to be able to bring about certain qualitative meaning to our respective journey as a community, it is but necessary that such a theory be made a happy combine of the ideal and the practical.  

 The logic here is simple. The things ideal are as vast as our minds can explore, and they define no borders.

 On the other hand, what we can do as a community is limited by the things material, which are, in many instances, beyond our power and capacity to provide. Thus, our theory does not simply work, and we fail miserably in the end.

 I am happy to receive feedback lately that, in the pursuit of the city government’s development theoretical works, Mayor Darlene Antonino-Custodio is always uncompromising on her insistence for the formulation of the “doables”.

 I was informed that Darlene would always insist that development goals should be pursued by implementing strategies which give premium to objective and subjective conditions.

 This means that she detests and resists relentlessly any form of quixotic tendencies that, sometimes, characterized many old-fashioned bureaucrats and, no pun intended, some “prophets of the revolution.”

 Thus, expecting a stern repulse from the Mayor if I do, I would focus my discussion this afternoon on approaches that can be applied on the prevailing local conditions, without, of course, casting aspersion on the importance of active participation and involvement of local governments and basic social institutions in a national discourse intended to advance our country’s peace-building work.

 My personal thesis is that given mathematical formula or applied theories cannot restore or sustain peace in Mindanao and, even, in our city. The diversity of the people’s experiences and cultures in this Region would render all automated formula ineffective, and they could even be an aberration to our quest for lasting peace.

 It is my personal view that the conscious building of our narrative as a community and as nation is a time machine that could bring us back into the tranquility of our past, and move us forward into the serenity of our future.

 Through our constant summation and distillation of our experiences as a community and as a nation, we can draw important lessons that could guide our long and difficult journey towards lasting peace.

 These lessons that we can draw from our narrative building works could serve as a sure formula for peace as they are culled from our success and failure, from our happiness and pains, and from the grandeur of our fame and the blood of our sacrifice.

 In the work for peace, the process takes center stage. We cannot force a solution to unpeace. Thus, the effective approach to peace is to subject it relentlessly to constant and continuing discourses and, by our fortitude and sacrifice, lasting peace is attained without us probably noticing it.

 But the discourse, in order to become an effective approach to peace, must be done at all levels of our national life.  It must be brought into the bosom of our basic communities as genuine stakeholders of any peace project. After all, they are, by the nature of their existence, the direct victims of unpeace.  

 The recent move of our City Mayor, Darlene, to innovate and enhance the “City Hall sa Barangay” program in order to make it more interactive and dialogical is a necessary contribution to the narrative building work of our basic communities.

 Enlivening the discourse for peace at the local levels is the main substance of my concrete proposals this afternoon.

 In the past, I was privileged to write a discussion paper on peace for a peace institution, then, implementing its program in the city. That paper I wrote was entitled “Democratizing the Peace.” 

 In that paper, I advanced a thesis advocating for the localization of peace interventions through the institutionalization of effective mechanisms where the local residents can actively participate in peace and development works.

 In that same paper, I envisioned a situation where self-reliant, autonomous, sustainable and empowered barangays are dynamically and collectively working in partnership with sustainable and self-governing basic communities and organized community-based institutions in the pursuit of a common aspiration.   

 I argued that, by building this kind of a community and by facilitating this kind of dynamic community interactions, we are actually establishing “green patches of peace” in the city, and on the so-called bleak landscape of Mindanao and the whole country.

 Within these “green patches of peace”, the community people are given the opportunities to attain and celebrate their “little victories”, and these “victories” could serve as building blocks for the edifice of peace that we all desire to build for our city, for Mindanao, and the whole country.

 The establishment of these “green patches of peace” could serve as the city’s vital contribution to the national struggle for the attainment of peace and prosperity.

 In concrete, in that paper I wrote, I advanced the following strategies for the establishment of the “green patches of peace” in the city.     

 Solid community organizing should take center stage to continue and sustain all initiatives for the attainment of lasting peace and development within the basic communities;

 1. Solid organizing interventions are necessary to enable formal government structures to lend permanency to all peace and development efforts;

 2. The formation of alternative power centers should be done by forming new organizations or by revitalizing or strengthening existing cooperatives, people’s organizations (POs), women associations and youth organizations within the barangays;

 3. Empowerment of the barangays and community institutions for effective engagement in decision-making processes, resource mobilization works, and in the implementation of programs and projects;

 4. Basic social institutions, especially those working for peace, must be strengthened and be given meaningful participation in the Barangay assembly, Barangay Development Council, the Lupon Tagapamayapa (a structure in the barangay which is in-charge of conflict transformation), the Barangay Peace and Order Council and other mandated and recognized special bodies in the barangays; and

 5. More governance seminars and trainings at the community levels should be conducted, targeting purok leaders, members of religious groups, including PO and Coop leaders in order to effectively pursue participatory governance, take hold, and maximize the benefits of the current democratic spaces, and guarantee peace in the end.

 The dynamic interactions of formal and alternative power centers in these basic communities, coupled with the meaningful participation of these basic social institutions in the processes of decision-making result to the leveling off of the people’s understanding of the various peace and development issues affecting their life’s situation, and to the crafting of appropriate responses to these issues.

 These processes may not guarantee an end to poverty but it would surely usher the people from the crisis of hope, the main culprit for the destruction of our basic community structures and the collapse of families as basic social institutions. The weakening of our community structures and the collapse of our basic institutions are anathema to our desire for the attainment of lasting peace.  

 The so-called “Batang Tun-og” phenomenon which had plunged many parts of the country into certain levels of terror was driven less by poverty but more by the collapse of the institutional character of the Filipino family and the weakening of our social structures in basic communities. The “Batang Tun-og” phenomenon is the greatest threat to our peace, today and in the future.

 The strong, vibrant and cohesive gangs of “Batang Tun-ogs” reflect not only the character of our successor-generation, but they also perfectly mirror our future. They will not only pose a serious threat to the peace of society, but they will create a society woven in accordance with the “norms” of their own morality and the “standards” of their own practices.

 When this happens, our problem would not anymore be the threat to the peace of society; it is society itself.

 Now, let us go to my final points.

 The massive crackdown waged by the City Mayor against drugs and illegal gambling is a move towards the right direction. Drugs and gambling are threats both to the well-being of the individuals and society.

 Drugs and gambling do not only weaken the human character and temper the people’s aspiration for excellence, but they also pose a danger to society. We detest the proliferation of drugs and gambling because they necessitate the establishment of sub-social structures that render the formal state structures ineffective.

 Drugs and gambling create a strong system of political economy that renders state institutions inutile and weakens the coercive state instruments through the bastardization of government agents and their cohorts. In some states and localities, drug lords and gambling lords even control governments and their many instruments.

 Finally, the disturbance to peace is admittedly the logical consequence of poverty, but, admittedly too, not all indicators of unpeace are attributable to a harsh economic situation. Experiences of other communities and nations would also tell us that unpeace also results from the collapse or weakening of state and social institutions, and the eventual collapse of human character.

 Let me end by asking a simple question: “What shall we do after this forum?” My answer is also simple: “Let us go back to our communities, to our puroks, to our barangays, to our schools and to working places, — and start the discourse for peace.”

 Some may accuse me of trivializing an otherwise future-defining issue by suggesting a non-challenging task. To them I say, “let us try it, and very soon we will know that it is not as easy as we think.”

Thank you.

I am now starting to serialize in this space the old article I wrote for Darlene, with a hope that we can contribute in the task of social mobilization to enable the new local administration to redirect our local community in accordance with the social covenant it forges with the people during the newly-concluded local elections. This article will come out in eleven series. Let us begin:

The life of Darlene Magnolia Recasa Antonino-Custodio, Representative of the First Congressional District of General Santos City and South Cotabato, can be readily viewed in graphic details by merely putting to in-depth scrutiny her unpopularized resume or biodata.. An examination of her kilometric list of achievements is enough for us to conclude that she is, indeed, a woman of wisdom and achievement, and one public official with sufficient preparation for executive or management tasks.

However, such a resume, being mere product of mechanical listings of the efficacious achievements of Congresswoman Darlene Antonino-Custodio, now the mayor-elect of General Santos City, is not enough to capture all the beautiful abstractions lurking beneath every facet of her feats as a person and as a young politician. Of course, it cannot be denied that her resume, mechanical as it is, has been welcomed by many quarters with some degree of awe. For a very young politician, like Darlene, her achievements stand taller than herself.

In the past, Darlene is one among the few politicians whose academic preparation and initiation for public office are always put to doubt. Probably for the other politicians, the issue is legitimate. But for Darlene, the reason is that there is no aggressive effort on her part to advertise or popularize her competence, much more her achievements. Unlike other politicians, she finds it culturally repugnant to engage on any matter that borders to the self-serving.

Thus, the primary task of this work is to breathe a fresh new life to Darlene’s statistics of achievement by bringing to the fore the human contexts through which they were given shape and form. A resume, if not put in the context of human struggle, becomes  merely a repository of a lifeless data. Any monumental achievement, even if it had emerged overarching among all others, may still be rendered meaningless if not viewed through the lens of humanity, and without considering them in the context of human experiences that passed through different vicissitudes of an ever changing social landscape.

If Darlene has succeeded to have herself prominently decorated in the national political stage by virtue of her being a no-nonsense legislator, a crusader for good governance and a development activist; it is not a feat and a social stature that just spurt out by the mere stroke of a magic wand. It is primarily attributable to Darlene’s a glorious lineage, to her formidable formal and informal initiations and apprenticeships in the arena of governance and development. Some said that it is because she has the looks that suits well with the requirements of our contemporary boob-tube politics, but others posit that it is because of her in-born charisma, reinforced by her good-natured eloquence. (To be continued)

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We are also waiting for some materials from the information officers of Governor Migs Dominguez in Sarangani Province which we will use to update our readers about the economic and governance trends and events in this seashore area. We have been receiving feedback from our friends in Sarangani that they appreciate the post-election analysis we previously published in this space. We will continue doing it so we may be able to enliven the economic and political discourses in this speedily growing seashore province.

General Santos City and Sarangani Province are interesting areas for economic and political discourses are they are both managed by young and dynamic leaders who have, this early, captured the national political stage because of their proven expertise in the field of politics and governance.

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Yellow Bus Line – The giving of this report is quite too late, but I am constrained to do this because the drivers of Yellow Bus Line or YBL still continue to drive recklessly along the General Santos City-Davao City route. We will continue to discuss here the abusive ways of YBL drivers as our mission to prevent the tragedy that these drivers could inflict on the lives of many passengers in the future.

At about 2:00 in the afternoon of May 15, 2010, we almost fell on the ravine while the bus we were riding was negotiating on a mountainous part of Malungon, Sarangani Province. This accident was not caused by anything, except the abusive ways of the driver manning the bus.

This near fatal accident happened because the driver, instead of reducing speed, was steeping on the gasoline on curves and corners to the consternation of the passengers. As we experience it, this has been the brand of driving of abusive YBL drivers. Almost all YBL drivers are doing this.

The bus did not reduce speed, as it always did, and instead moved speedily as we approached a very dangerous curve located at one of the highest mountains in Malungon. Beyond said curve is a deep ravine which is approximately more than 300 meters deep, with which the bus could easily fall into that deadly abyss by the driver’s slight mistake.

But despite that dangerous curve, the driver did not loosen the gasoline. While the bus was nearing the edge of the ravine, the driver maneuvered to avoid the abyss by sharply moving the bus towards the left, causing it to skid, with its right tires no longer touching the ground. With the driver almost losing control, the bus speed off into the rocky mountainside on the left side of the road.

To prevent the bus from bumping on the rocky mountainside, the driver moved the bus back to the right, causing the bus again to skid, with its left tires this time no longer touching the ground, towards the deep ravine. Then the driver maneuvered to avoid the ravine for the second time, until the violent movements of the bus were finally stabilized.

I got a scarce on my left hand. My wife turned as pale as paper. Some passengers also suffered slight injuries as a result of the incident. What was frustrating of all was the fact that the driver and the conductor did not apologize to the passengers.

Few weeks after this incident, it was reported in the news that one of the YBL units was featured in a self-accident; it fell due to its own weight and speed. I still observe that YBL buses continue to step on the gas even on dangerous curves, forcing the passengers to strongly hold on their seats to avoid being thrown away.

I still have plenty of tragic experience with YBL. I commit to inform the public about it, until Ritchie Yap, the owner-manager of YBL, will do something to discipline his abusive drivers.

Manny Piñol, of North Cotabato, and Ace Barbers, of Surigao, lately appeared hilarious in public when they questioned their failed bid for reelection for the position of governor in their respective provinces. They appeared funny as they undertake their unlikely post-election maneuverings because all the people know that they are the ones who were in the better position, or who have the stronger arsenal, to do electoral cheatings.

We have big trouble with politicians. They find it hard to learn. It took them a very long time to realize that their defeats are caused by their own respective follies. For Piñol and Barbers, their defeats were actually wake up calls that came too late in the day, and were made in their most painful shape and form – their defeat.

The defeats of these two defeated political giants were wake up calls made after their deep slumber, giving them no time to reinvent their ways and save themselves from perdition. The wake up calls to remind them of their near-inutility and erroneous social positioning were their very electoral defeat, and these what makes them do a ridiculous act of crying foul against their financially disadvantaged opponents.

That these two fallen giants were unsuccessful in their respective bids for reelection for governor is not what make them ridiculous. It is because of the fact that, by complaining electoral fraud against their disadvantageously-placed adversaries, they appear like invincibly battle-clad warriors who pitifully sob before their unarmed, but determined, enemies.

Close to home, the political scenario was diametrically different. Congresswoman Darlene Magnolia R. Antonino-Custodio had captured the mayoralty post in General Santos City with comfortable ease, despite being subjected to the most brutal form of propaganda that had ever been undertaken in the history of Philippine politics. That form of propaganda was too repulsive to the conscience that it cannot be mentioned here.

In the last election, the people have finally spoken. By their spontaneous act, they repudiated such dirty type of politics, in a much clearer language. The number of votes which Darlene had garnered in the newly-concluded local elections was bigger by more than half than the combined votes of her three political adversaries.

With such repudiation, we can only hope that no such form of propaganda will ever be initiated in General Santos City in future local elections. With public consciousness radically skyrocketing, as our society flirts with modernity, black propaganda has already lost its magic spell.

But Darlene has something to think about with regards to the results of the recent elections. It is not perfectly correct to say now that Darlene’s landslide victory would mean that everything could go well as usual, and that guards could now be loosened down, without any future danger. To believe otherwise is to tread on a dangerous proposition.

Although Darlene had emerged convincingly triumphant in the last election, it does not, at all, mean that the last election just passed by without any danger signal. In fact, there was a wake up call, not for Darlene, but for the other members of the Achievement with Integrity Movement (AIM).

The current post-election period presents a very telling future political scenario; that is, the possibility of the 2013 local elections emerging to be the most contentious elections in the history of General Santos City, with the apparent capacity of the current local opposition forces to level the political playing field.

It is still too early to define the new local political landscape after the latest local elections. But the present formation of forces in the local political stage serves as a wake up call on AIM politicians, especially the AIM city councilors, that they must now veer away from their bad habits of depending solely on the integrity of, and the great respect that the people have for, Darlene and the party’s founder Adel Antonino and on the loyalty and dedication of AIM’s mass-based leaders for their electoral victory.

By their own serious efforts, the AIM city councilors and other AIM politicians must contribute to the strengthening and vitality of the party, and they must not be contended with the usual situation where they are merely collateral beneficiaries of Darlene’s and Adel Antonino’s public support and respectability.

In Sarangani, Roy Chiongbian did not survive the onslaughts of Congressman-elect Manny Pacquiao, who is armed with awesome popularity and financial power. The reason for this is the fact that his brother-supposed-to-be predecessor, out-goin Congressman Erwin Chiongbian, has not performed well as an advocate in, and out of, Congress.

Not only that Erwin Chiongbian slept on his job, but he also failed to maintain his rapport with his constituencies in Sarangani. The reason for this is simply Erwin’s mistaken belief that, since he is a Chiongbian, he is unbeatable. This mistaken belief pained Roy Chiongbian all throughout the electoral campaign. The public frustrations on Erwin transcended and made a heavy toll on him.

What made the local election in Sarangani too dreadful for awhile was the fact that Governor Migs Dominguez almost became a collateral victim of Manny Pacquiao’s political tsunami. Fortunately for Migs Dominguez, his outstanding performance as the province’s chief executive and his constant immersions with the people even in the remote villages in the province saved the day for him. He is considered by the people as indispensable in Sarangani’s journey towards economic prosperity.

The good name he had painted in the canvass of public consciousness was the reason why his last line of defense against the overwhelming effects of Manny Pacquiao’s gigantic financial arsenal did not crumble at the crucial hour of the battle.

Previewing the nature of the governance of an incoming administration is a political forecasting, which could hardly have any scientific basis. But equipped with a comprehensive appreciation of ONE’s political and governance fundamentals and history, any person could venture on political forecasting involving an incoming administration, and still turn out accurate on his postulation of future political events.

If I were to enjoy the luxury of “little” vanity, I can rightfully claim that, of the 500,000 residents of General Santos City, I am one among the very few who are privy of the fundamentals and the evolution of the politics and governance of the Antonino family.

Again, please excuse my vanity if I declare here that my quite complete privity of the Antonino family’s politics and governance makes me an “authority” in the task of foretelling the outcome of the maiden administration of the incoming City Mayor, Darlene Magnolia R. Antonino-Custodio.

I have strong basis for this claim. Those who were hooked on their radio and television sets from 1987 to 2001 would readily agree with me that I was, once, the harshest critic of the Antonino brand of politics and governance.

To effectively play this role, I constantly studied and analyzed the history and political ways of the Antoninos for the primary purpose of hunting for loopholes and gray areas to qualify the logic of my venomous tirades against them.

In fact, to add power to my verbal cannons, I traced the roots of Darlene’s father, Adel Antonino, to a group of English prisoners who, in 1817, were exiled by Captain James Cooke to a continent now known as Australia.

Of course, admittedly now, it was a commentary founded on malice for I was then leading a struggle against the, then, incumbent city mayor, Adel Antonino, as a public sector union leader. Actually, such a claim of mine lacks basis in history.

I have been told by those in the know (this fact carries a heavier weight) that the forebears of Adel Antonino’s mother, Magnolia Welburn, who later married Guadencio Antonino, can be traced from a group of Irish immigrants who peopled Australia during the renaissance of modernization.

There are still more in my experience which could ably predicate my claim (I will try to present them in my future writings), but I think that the above discussion is already enough to establish my “authority” to make a forecast on what the incoming administration of Darlene Antonino-Custodio would become within the next three years.

Let me begin:

-I am very certain that the formulation of a welfare and humanist program would be Darlene’s priority, not only as an amelioration strategy, but as an economic strategy aimed at increasing the family’s per capita income. Certainly, Darlene would veer away from the traditional view that a welfare program is just an expense program and, therefore, an odd thing in the economy. My study of the Antonino economics is that the implementation of a welfare program, if done under a well laid-down framework, increases the expendable income of the poorest of the poor by radically reducing their household expenses. It is my opinion that Darlene, as a well-learned individual, will do this because she is fully aware that so many advance states had embark on a comprehensive welfare program not only as a social balancer in favor of the poor but also as an effective solution to poverty-related social problems, and become successful in the process.

-I am very sure that Darlene would focus primarily on economic or income-based infrastructure projects, which would connect the city’s center to different food production communities, as a strategy to revitalize the basic communities by increasing production and by ensuring the easy access of food production communities to local, domestic and international markets. I say this because, based on my personal study, all the Antonino’s programs and projects in the past were formulated and implemented, with an eye sharply focused towards the establishment of self-reliant and self-sustaining communities. Thus, I see Darlene’s administration as glory days for social institutions in both rural and urban communities.

-I am convinced that the maintenance and improvement of the city’s peace and order condition will be the center-stage of Darlene’s administration, knowing fully well its indispensable role in the success of any economic development endeavors. But, in doing this, Darlene will deviate from the traditional practice of making the government armed instruments as primary forces to ensure social tranquility. I am also sure that the strengthening of both formal and alternative centers of power in the barangays to ensure people’s access to justice and community resources will be Darlene’s primary peace and order strategy. With this strategy in place, the coercive instruments of the state will only play a supportive role in the city’s peace and order drive under her administration.

-It is my opinion that Darlene will exert substantial efforts to ensure the establishment of investments with locally-driven capital, without looking askance at environment-friendly foreign ventures that bring into the city liquid capital, and not just borrow money from local or domestic banks for their investment needs. Appurtenant to this, I am sure that Darlene will, foremost, encourage local investors that would engage in labor-intensive ventures to ensure the steady increase in local employment rate and prevent the abortive effects of the massive outflow of capital, resources and income.

-Towards this end, Darlene will strengthen and empower the local bureaucracy, headed by a dynamic city administrator, to enable it to pursue its tasks without much supervision from her so she could focus her attention more on important social mobilization works. With an empowered bureaucracy in place, we will be seeing Darlene actively leading the people towards a direction which she will formulate with the democratic participation of various key players in the economy. Thus, we will also be seeing a city where the wider segments of the population are actively involved in the affairs of the local government.