Politics is like mahjong

I was privileged to have served the late Governor Niel Tupas, Sr. as Provincial Administrator during his nine years at the Capitol. Every day was a learning session for me about politics. Talking with the man was like getting a one-on-one tutoring on the arts of politics, leadership and governance. Those nine years, I believe, make up the most exciting and memorable phase of my 59 years.Niel-Tupas

And there was one lesson that really sank into my consciousness about politics. It’s that politics should be devoid of hatred and bitterness. Politics is a vehicle for public service, and never as a means to pursue power for its own sake, and especially not to amass wealth. Politics is about being with the people, looking after their welfare, and using one’s power and influence to achieve that end.

Gov. Niel put it this way: “Politics is like mahjong. After an election, everything goes back to square one. The cards are shuffled (“ginabalasa”) and everybody gets a fresh start.” For him, acrimony has no place in his heart, which is perhaps the reason why Gov. Niel was so well-loved by his constituents and respected even by his foes. In the nine years I worked for him, I never heard him raise his voice in anger. It’s not that he never got angry; when he got mad, he would just frown and mutter a few words expressing displeasure. But then, he was always able to recover and get back in a good mood after a minute.

I will never forget what former 1st District Congressman, and now Guimbal municipal mayor Oscar Garin Sr. said two months after their 2004 gubernatorial battle. The two met at the Jaro Cathedral for the oath-taking of newly elected local officials. Then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was the guest of honor. I was with Gov. Niel aboard his Nissan Patrol vehicle. Mayor Garin saw him and approached with a wide smile, extending his hand in reconciliation and friendship. Garin quipped: “Pati na gid man ako nga pirdi ang kwarta sa pikpik sa abaga (Now I believe that money can be beaten by just a pat on the shoulder).”

The elections had started as a close race between Gov. Niel and Mayor Oca. The latter had the edge in terms of money and logistics. But when the results came out, Gov. Niel had won by over 180,000 votes against Garin, who had never before experienced defeat in an election. Garin had the money; Gov. Niel had the love of the people.

With the national and local elections just a year away, I think it would be good for potential adversaries to ponder upon the wisdom of Gov. Niel in the field of politics. He never spoke ill of anybody. He was the type who would turn the other cheek if insults are hurled his way and get hit. He was always kind and helpful, never spiteful and arrogant.

Indeed, if politicians are looking for a role model, the late Gov. Niel would be the perfect leader to copy. He was the epitome of a genuine public servant and leader. He was Mr. Public Service.


The controversy over the “zona libre” issue for the position of Vice Governor of Iloilo will put Mar Roxas in a no-win situation. It will cause the “unity ticket” that he and Franklin Drilon put together in Iloilo province to crumble before the campaign period for the presidency could even start.
Here’s what happened:
Four years ago, Mar Roxas recruited into the Liberal Party the political clans that wielded power in each of the province’s 1st and 3rd districts. He welcomed into the LP fold Governor Arthur Defensor Sr. and former 1st district Congressman Oscar Garin Sr. In the process, Roxas dislodged the original LPs like the late Niel Tupas Sr., now vice governor Boboy Tupas, Gen. Gerry Flores and many more.
Rojas wanted the Iloilo vote to be solid for him in the 2016 presidential elections. It was a given that incumbent 2nd district Congressman Arcadio Gorriceta and 5th district Congressman Junjun Tupas would throw their support for him.
But that solid political front is about to disintegrate. Mar Roxas broke his word to the Garins that the race for vice governor would be “zona libre”, meaning the LP will consider the two candidates for the position, Junjun Tupas and Christine “Tintin” Garin, to be equals. The Garins didn’t expect Junjun to run, and thought Tintin had the position on a silver platter. To everybody’s surprise, Junjun filed his COC at the last minute.
The Garins brought the matter to Roxas as the LP standard bearer. According to the father and son Garins — Oca and Congressman Richard — Roxas assured them it was going to be “zona libre”. And that’s what the Garins told the people of Iloilo.
This claim was quickly disputed by Junjun. The Garins were lying, he said.
The controversy reached its peak when Roxas arrived in Iloilo City for the “Dinagyang” festival last Jan. 24. Pressed by media to comment on the issue, Roxas said there is no free zone: Junjun Tupas is the lone candidate recognized by the LP.
It is unlikely the Garins will accept this turn-around of Roxas just like that. It is a stab in the back for them. Oca Garin was heard over radio as saying that Roxas did not deserve to be President if he could break his word. That is short of saying Mar Roxas can kiss his ambition good-bye. The Garins will withdraw support from him at the last moment.
This situation will give Roxas a migraine. The last poll survey showed he could count on only 47% of the Iloilo vote. That’s bad by itself, because it means he could not build enough cushion to cover areas where he is expected to lose heavily. With the Garins junking him, Roxas can expect his voter base in Iloilo to precipitously drop as election day draws nearer.
Poor Mar. He is getting a dose of his own medicine.

Salt can corrode P-Noy’s anti-corruption campaign

On May 30 and 31, the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) will be conducting region-based public biddings for the supply of salt intended as fertilizer for millions of coconut trees. The contract is worth hundreds of millions of pesos, and it appears a syndicate that controlled the supply of salt to the PCA is sharpening its knives to make another big killing. This consortium of companies is working closely with PCA board director Oscar Garin Sr. It’s a relationship that began more than three years ago when he was still PCA Administrator.

Not too many people understand the money behind salt as fertilizer for coconut trees. Salt isn’t just for the dinner table; it has been found to be good fertilizer material for the “tree of life”. Indeed, we’ve always associated the images of coconut trees with beaches. They grow better, and produce more nuts, in salty environments. When this idea came to Garin, he saw an avenue to make money, not for the industry as a whole, but for his own.

It was former Agriculture Secretary Leonardo Montemayor who exposed the overpricing and rigged bidding for a P1.89 billion salt fertilization project sometime in April 2008. Of course, Garin denied any anomaly in the transaction. But sources have stepped forward to validate the reported irregularities. They also pointed to the role of Garin in covering up the collusion among bidders that the Bids and Awards Committee had uncovered. Garin made sure there were no hitches.

What was this anomaly that Garin covered up? During the bidding, the two companies that took part were found to have only one and the same person as board secretary. It was a seemingly insignificant detail, but that had earthshaking consequences. It proved that the two groups were conniving to corner the project. It was a crude attempt to rig the bidding. But this didn’t result in the blacklisting of the suppliers. Garin just glossed this anomaly over, and he allowed the transaction to proceed.

According to sources, Garin held meetings with Artemis Salt Corp. and Saltland Corp. at the Sulo Hotel to iron things out. He made it possible for the two corporations to take part in the transaction despite blatant violations of RA 9184, or the Government Procurement Law, on collusion among bidders. Of course, it needs no saying that he got his cut from the deal.

Now Garin, even though he’s been demoted to a board position in the PCA, wants to use the salt fertilization project as a fountain of money. He is reportedly jockeying to have Artemis Salt Corp., and another company, J.Y. Corp., to take part in the bidding for this year’s requirements for the salt fertilization project and corner the transaction. With Garin’s meddling, Artemis was not sanctioned by way of blacklisting.

The big question is: Will the Aquino administration allow this mockery of his anti-corruption campaign to succeed?

To make the next bidding more transparent, the PCA has split up the supply contracts to its regional offices. It is supposed to give local salt producers a better chance to get a share of this project. But it appears Garin isn’t getting the message for him to back off. He is reportedly making use of his remaining clout and influence to corner a big slice of the contract with Artemis as his front.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala should immediately look into this. He should demand an explanation from the PCA Bids and Awards Committee why Artemis Salt Corp. wasn’t blacklisted and is, in fact, still being allowed to transact with the PCA. Artemis Salt Corp. is also selling imported salt from Australia. If this company snares the contract, then local producers will end up holding an empty bag. It will also put to naught the President’s campaign against corruption in an agency which has been marred by scandals during the incumbency of Garin as Administrator.

A not-so-subtle hint to get out

Former (let me repeat that: FORMER) PCA administrator Oscar Garin was given a Halloween present when Malacanang announced his appointment as a board member of the Philippine Coconut Authority, an agency he headed for about five years and which he used as platform to launch a new party-list to electoral victory in the House of Representatives.

Garin was technically fired from his position by being given a lower position in the agency, and it should register in his mind that he is now being given a graceful exit from government. President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III is according him courtesy and respect as a former colleague in the House of Representatives by not throwing him out just like that. The President politely gave Garin a cushion to land on. But the message is unmistakable: YOU ARE NOT WELCOME ABOARD THE SHIP.

This happened even after the Garin family maneuvered hard to keep the patriach in his position as PCA administrator. His daughter-in-law, Rep. Janette Garin, was all over the court trying to get “ninongs” and “ninangs” to curry this big favor from the Aquino administration. It came to a point when they already boasted that Garin was going to stay as PCA administrator and ultimately get his entire family into the Liberal Party.

As it happened, the Liberal Party in Iloilo asserted its right of refusal against the Garins. Its leadership drew up a manifesto strongly opposing any move to admit the Garins into the party. Just over a month ago, no less than President Noynoy assured the Ilonggo LPs nothing of the sort will happen without their consent and approval. This demotion is a signal from the President that the voice of the Iloilo LP was heard loud and clear.

What Garin does in the next few days will determine whether he belongs to the category of the “kapit-tuko” lambasted by President Noynoy in his first 100 days speech, or take the strong hint for him to get out.

Garins unwelcome, say LP Iloilo leaders

From the day President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III assumed office, a political clan in Iloilo province has kept busy trying to build bridges to get themselves admitted into the new ruling party, the Liberal Party.

This “never-say-die” effort by the family of Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) administrator Oscar C. Garin Sr. was witnessed on national TV last July 26 when President Aquino delivered his first State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA) before the joint session of Congress. The entire nation saw 1st district Rep. Janette L. Garin, who was part of the reception party that accompanied President Aquino from his holding area, literally stuck to him like a leech as he made his way to the podium.  She monopolized the President’s ears as the party walked across the hall, and it’s easy to surmise what it was Rep. Garin was trying to tell him.

Acceptance to the party in power has always been a goal relentlessly pursued by the Garins. Shifting party affiliations is so easy for them as changing clothes every day.

But local LP leaders have asserted their right to first-refusal and appealed to the national leadership to reject any proposal to admit the Garins, particularly PCA head Oscar Sr. and Rep. Janette, as members. In a manifesto signed by the LP provincial directorate headed by former Gov. Niel Tupas Sr., the local LP leaders made it clear they consider the Garins unwelcome to the party because it would go against the grain of its own core values and ideals.

The Garins, local LP leaders said, are not trustworthy allies who jump from one party to another, depending on who is in power. They rejected the “politics of money” to which PCA head Oscar Garin Sr. has become known for and his involvement in alleged cheating as demonstrated by the “flat zero” result obtained by the President’s own mother, the late President Corazon C. Aquino, in Guimbal town during the February 1986 snap presidential elections. At the time, San Joaquin mayor Ninfa S. Garin, wife of the PCA administrator, was mayor of Guimbal.

Presently, the elder Garin is clinging to his position as PCA administrator despite his having been named to the position by former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Party sources say his daughter-in-law is pursuing every avenue to ingratiate themselves to the new administration that won on the battlecry, “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.” This core value would be violated once the party allows the Garins to join, the Iloilo LP leaders complained.

During the last elections, the Garin clan openly supported the candidacy of Lakas-Kampi standard bearer Gilberto Teodoro while running a shadow organization to support Manny Villar of the Nacionalista Party. Three days before the elections, when it became clear that then Liberal Party presidential bet Noynoy Aquino was headed for a landslide victory, the Garins put up his name as their candidate of choice.

The treachery of patriach Oscar Garin Sr. is also a major reason the local LP is against his family’s admission into the party. Garin had persuaded the Tupases not to put up a congressional candidate in the 1st district with the promise that he will not support Lakas candidate Arthur Defensor Sr., who got Oscar Richard Garin Jr. as vice gubernatorial candidate. “You have to believe me,” Oscar Garin Sr. told a family gathering of the Tupases. “I will not break my word.” Several times during the campaign, Garin phoned LP gubernatorial candidate Raul “Boboy” Tupas to reassure the latter about his “word of honor”. The younger Tupas was certain to win in his district, Garin said. Jjust 10 days before the elections, Garin even told Boboy Tupas that “it’s just a matter of days, and you’ll be Governor of Iloilo.”

However, on election day, Garin gave marching orders to his machinery to defeat Boboy Tupas in the first district. Tupas lost by more than 20,000 in the 1st district, a job made easier for Garin because his daughter-in-law was unopposed. It was a political double-cross of the highest order. Because of this, the admission of the Garins to the LP will only reopen the wounds he inflicted on Boboy Tupas and family. It  will  be a personal insult to a family that fought hard for President Aquino’s victory in Iloilo province.