Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Deserving Grace

by Sonny Coloma

This article was originally published in Mr. Sonny Coloma's column, VECTOR, in the Business World Online on May 22, 2009 (Manila time). He has given Barangay OFW his kind permission to re-publish this article. You may reach him at

"The people deserve the kind of government they want" is a timeless maxim on democracy. If we choose wisely and well, we may yet deserve to have a national leader like Isabela Gov. Ma. Grace Cielo Magno Padaca who was honored by the Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Foundation as its 2008 awardee for outstanding public service.

"When I was elected governor in 2004," she told members of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX) the other day, "I thanked God, saying, ‘Lord I was only joking. I did not expect you to take me seriously!’ "

But after 40 years of the Dy family’s hegemony, voters in Isabela chose wisely and well. Against the three Gs — guns, goons, and gold — they elected a polio-stricken broadcaster as their new leader.

Thus did Ms. Grace complete the transition from 1) CPA -- Certified Public Accountant (she graduated magna cum laude in BS Accountancy from Lyceum University) to 2) CPA -- Courageous Public Announcer (14 years as a broadcaster with Radio Bombo), and finally, to 3) CPA -- Competent Public Administrator (second-term governor of Isabela and Magsaysay laureate).

She was reelected in 2007, with a slimmer winning margin, but she felt vindicated. "This was sweeter than when I first won," she said, "because the people reelected me on the basis of my performance, and not anymore on my promises."

With prudent fiscal management, Isabela was able to pay off more than 80% of its more than half-billion-peso debts to the Land Bank, Philippine National Bank, and DBP.

She increased farm productivity by providing subsidies to rice and corn farmers. Isabela is the largest corn-producing province and the second largest rice producer. Her administration was also able to enroll more than 100,000 Isabelinos in PhilHealth so that they now enjoy medical insurance benefits.

She has introduced transparency and accountability. Awards of contracts and release of checks to contractors are publicized in the provincial capitol. Businesspersons and investors have found it profitable to do business and invest in the province because they need not pay bribes or incur unnecessary costs due to corrupt practices of government officials. She urged people to report to her directly any anomalies in government transactions.

But the road to the governorship was rough, bumpy, and fraught with danger. She was immobilized by polio at the age of three.

Her parents, both educators, gave her many books to read. She recalls reading stories about honesty, industry, truth, and fairness — and these filled her mind with positive thoughts and inspired her to dream of an auspicious future.

One of her dreams was to be a radio announcer, a job where she could be heard even if not seen. She went on to join Bombo Radyo where she had a daily three-hour program from Monday to Saturday. Her focus was "the abusive way by which resources of government were being squandered" by political "gremlins" that "seemed to forget that power is not theirs as a birthright."

Instead of being frustrated about not being able to do anything about irregularities that were being committed openly, she decided to seek public office.

"At least," she mused, "even if I lose, I will have peace of mind." She lost in 2001 and ran again in 2004, aware that she could lose then and probably lose two or three more elections before making significant headway in her crusade for good government.

She had an epiphany: "If fear is contagious, courage is also contagious." She urged her province mates to overcome their fear:

"Huwag kayong maawa sa akin dahil ako’y isang pilay at mahina. Maawa kayo sa inyong mga sarili at sa inyong mga anak kung wala kayong magawa kahit mas malakas at masigla ang inyong katawan kaysa sa akin."

("Don’t pity me because I am paralyzed and weak. Have mercy on yourselves and on your children if you can’t do anything despite the fact that you are healthier than I am.")

"What they saw in me was not my weakness, but my strength," she recalls.

Another important realization on her part is that, "People in government wield tremendous power. With just one signature, I could mobilize millions in pesos in resources. If used judiciously, political power may be harnessed to empower people and lift them from poverty."

Thus, she urged the executives in the audience to go into public service themselves, or encourage those who they know can become competent public servants.

Her speech followed a pitch for voter education especially among the youth. "But if the educated voters do not have credible choices among the candidates, even your best efforts may come to naught," she said.

"Those who think themselves to be too smart to run for public office are doomed to be governed by those who are too dumb. Elect the right people," was her spirited pitch. "Look at me," she said, "I am the embodiment of the power of the people expressed through the ballot."

When asked about her biggest asset and her worst liability, her replies elicited warm applause. She said that her staffers call her "Excel Governor" because she always required spreadsheets depicting relevant information and figures, especially when she deals with requests for assistance from barangay officials. Her attention to details (a discipline she acquired as an accountant) enables her to allocate scarce resources judiciously according to the real needs of her constituents.

But she longs for the gentler and kinder days when, as a private citizen, she received abundant care and attention from friends.

She plods on with great courage and determination. When she first won, only three out of 36 mayors supported her; now, the ratio is reversed. Only three have not reached out to her and two of these are members of the political dynasty that she ousted from power.

She is mindful of the need to build common ground even among erstwhile adversaries. "Maybe my being a dispassionate accountant is also one of my strengths; I never take differences personally against anyone." Instead of wooing political rivals, she said she would rather focus on serving the needs of her province mates.

When will we ever deserve the grace of having a national leader (president, vice president or senator) in the mold of Governor Grace Padaca?

Only when we have the courage to elect competent and dedicated public servants like her — and reject the empty enticements of well-entrenched politicians who have all brought our country and us on the road to perdition.

Comments may be sent to

If you would like to send a message to Gov. Grace Padaca you can text her at +63-919-3533-222 or send an email to

Monday, May 11, 2009

Alert OFW Lady Foils NAIA ‘Magician’

by Flori Tuazon
Her mother had been sick so my wife Marilyn went home to the Philippines on April 9, 2009. Marilyn’s arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) was uneventful.

She was overjoyed the moment she saw the smiling face of our daughter Melanie. Melanie who has recently learned how to drive had come to fetch her mother from NAIA.

My wife Marilyn spent most of her short visit caring for her sick mother and playing with our young grandchildren.

Time flew and Marilyn had to depart the Philippines on April 26, 2009. Melanie took her mother to NAIA where they said bitter-sweet goodbyes and embraced each other tightly and lovingly.

After checking in at the airline counter, Marilyn proceeded to the Bureau of Immigration area for the usual passport and visa check. She chose to line up behind a counter manned by Immigration Officer ‘Mukhang-Dolyar.’

The name of the immigration officer rang an alarm bell in Marilyn’s head and she wanted to change lanes. But she would have to go to the end of a kilometric line, so she stayed put.

Marilyn keeps her passport in a leather passport wallet with a zipped-up side pocket. Before leaving her mother’s house on that day, she put some dollar bills in the fabulous amount of US$70.00 in the zipped-up side pocket of her leather passport wallet.

Marilyn prayed that her transaction with Immigration Officer ‘Mukhang-Dolyar’ would be uneventful. And so it was, she thought. But she was wrong.

From the immigration counter, Marilyn went directly to her boarding gate. A few minutes after settling down in the departure lounge, she felt thirsty and wanted to buy bottled water. She took her passport wallet from her handbag to pay for the bottle of water. To her embarrassment, there wasn’t any dollar bill in the zipped-up side pocket of her passport wallet. It was empty.

After apologizing to the sales clerk, she sat down and collected her thoughts. As sure as she was sitting there at the NAIA, she knew that she had put US$70 in the zipped-up side pocket of her passport wallet.

Who else aside from her had access to her passport wallet? Immigration Officer ‘Mukhang-Dolyar’!!!

Marilyn rushed out of the departure lounge to go back to the desk of this NAIA ‘magician.’ She nearly bumped into the duty airport police officer whom she promptly asked for assistance. Together, they approached Immigration Officer ‘Mukhang-Dolyar.’

Mr. NAIA ‘Magician’ feigned innocence at first. But my wife Marilyn stepped on her gas pedal, so to speak, and screeched and screamed and shrieked! Soon, a crowd gathered around the desk of Immigration Officer ‘Mukhang-Dolyar.’

Mr. NAIA ‘Magician’ came to the rescue of his invisible twin, Immigration Officer ‘Mukhang-Dolyar.’ He pretended to look for the US dollar bills among his things, then bent down and – surprise! – found the fabulous amount of US$70.00 on the floor. He gave it back to my wife with a sheepish grin.

Mr. Regalado Medalla, the Duty Immigration Supervisor, noticed the commotion and approached the desk of Immigration Officer ‘Mukhang-Dolyar.’ Mr. Medalla asked my wife, the duty airport police officer, and Immigration Officer ‘Mukhang-Dolyar’ to come with him to the Immigration Office in the airport.

My wife Marilyn argued that it was impossible for her dollar bills to fall out of her passport wallet because they were inside the zipped-up side pocket. Accusing Immigration Officer ‘Mukhang-Dolyar’ of theft, Marilyn insisted that her complaint be written down in the airport police blotter.

Mr. Regalado Medalla, the Duty Immigration Supervisor, promised Marilyn that the Immigration Office would pursue the matter and would not let Immigration Officer ‘Mukhang-Dolyar’ off the hook. Mr. Medalla advised Marilyn to follow up her complaint.

As Marilyn was leaving the Immigration Office to catch her flight, Immigration Officer ‘Mukhang-Dolyar’ clasped his hands on his chest and begged Marilyn to have pity on him. He might lose his job.

As Christians, my wife and I do pity Immigration Officer ‘Mukhang-Dolyar.’ We don’t want him to lose his job. But he doesn’t deserve his job as an immigration officer at the NAIA. Surely, there are many upright men and women who can be recruited for the job Mr. ‘Mukhang-Dolyar’ will lose.

Since Mr. ‘Mukhang-Dolyar’ is gifted with sleight of hand, he will surely find a niche as a clown and magician in children’s parties!