Pacquiao’s Sarangani: a very poor province

With Manny Pacquiao seemingly intent on pursuing his grand ambition to run for the Presidency, a good place to start in looking at his track record as a public servant is Sarangani province where he comes from. This assumes high relevance because one of his first promises is that he will eradicate homelessness in the country in a matter of 4 to 5 years. One needs only an ounce of common sense to know that this is one of those “suntok-sa-buwan (punch at the moon)” promises that traditional politicians are known to dish out in abundance.

But we have to admit that such a promise made by Pacquiao will gain believers among the country’s multitudes. Early in his political career, Pacquiao learned quickly that patronage politics remains a powerful magic potion that can achieve electoral victory. The first time Pacquiao tried his hand in politics, he ran against Darlene Antonino for the congressional seat in General Santos in 2007. He thought his popularity was enough to propel him to victory. The diminutive young woman trounced the world boxing champion at the polls.

Pacquiao didn’t want to risk losing a second time and moved to Sarangani, the home province of his wife. This time, he came prepared with his money. Long before the elections, he literally threw money around to buy political loyalty among the province’s deeply-entrenched leaders. In 2010, he won the seat as congressman of Sarangani.

That was 11 years ago. When he won, he promised he would pour all his pork barrel into projects in the province. “I don’t need it anyway,” Pacquiao was quoted in The New York Times. It was a subtle admission that as congressman, he could have pocketed the 70 million pesos a year in pork barrel funds as many legislators have been wont to do. He also promised to build 1,000 houses for indigent families in the province. Pacquiao wanted to solve the poverty problem in the province.

Now that his name is being tossed about as a possible candidae for President in the May 9, 2022 elections, it is about time his track record as poltician for a decade now is scrutinized under a microscope. That need assumes a sense of urgency because in survey after survey, Pacquiao’s name is consistently in the top five possible candidates, even higher than Vice President Leni Robredo. Clearly, his popularity has earned him a substantial political base to make him a serious contender.

Hence, the question begs to be asked: What is the feasibility of Pacquiao’s promise to give every “eskuwater” a home — a condominium unit or a house — in four to five years, without having to pay a single centavo? Coming from Pacquiao, that kind of a promise can easily bite into the consciousness of the poor. Pacquiao, in their eyes, is one of them. He knows their suffering and their aspirations. He shares their frustrations and dreams.

The logical thing to do is scrutinize Pacquiao’s track record as an elected public official, from his six years as congressman of the lone district of Sarangani and five years as Senator.

Eleven years are enough time for Pacquiao to have made an impact on the economy of Sarangani and uplift the lives of his constituents. If Pacquiao was serious about pursuing that goal, significant progress could have been achieved by now, especially in providing free housing for the poor. Perhaps Sarangani could be made a model for inclusive development for the entire country to emulate.

Unfortunately, nothing of the sort happened. There was no miracle that the poor may have hoped for. After 11 years, Sarangani is still poor. In fact, it holds the distinction as one of the 20 poorest provinces in the country. That fact is rather strange, because Sarangani is next door neighbor to General Santos City, a highly-urbanized city labelled as the “Tuna Capital of the Philippines.” Its capital town of Alabel is only 15 kilometers by car from General Santos. Remoteness from economic activities could not possibly be the reason for its people being poor.

The table above shows that Sarangani in 2015 continued to experience a high incidence of poverty while Pacquiao was congressman. In fact, the poverty incidence rate slighty grew from 46.0% in 2012 to 47.3% in 2015.

What happened to Pacquiao’s promise to pour all his pork barrel into the province? What projects did he implement that should have given an impetus for the economic growth of the province? And with economic growth will definitely come improvement in the quality of life for the people. Obviously, the situation only turned from bad to worse.

At the least, it shows that Pacquiao didn’t know how to make the best use of his pork barrel to bring about a better economy for his people. Most probably, he spent his pork barrel on patronage projects — non-essential projects that made mayors and barangay captains look good but didn’t contribute to progress.

If he couldn’t make a difference in a small province like Sarangani, why would Pacquiao now want to take on a much tougher responsibility of being the President of the Republic? Well, it’s obvious to me it’s all about power. He simply loves power.

Pacquiao promised to build 1,000 houses to poor constituents in Sarangani. That was 10 years ago. How many did he actually deliver? My research shows that he was able to fulfill less than one-half of that number. And here he comes with another incredible promise to provide every homeless Filipino with a condo unit or house, without having to pay a single centavo. His time frame: four to five years.

It’s sad to see that Pacquiao has become the worst traditional politician in the 11 years he has been in politics. His vow to help the poor hasn’t gone beyond the words. Every once in a while, he goes around giving cash to people. But how many got to receive P1,000 from him? It’s not even enough to feed them for a week.

We shouldn’t take Pacquiao’s ambition to run for the Presidency lightly. The man has quite a substantial political base, composed mostly of the poor who are prone to believe his most unbelievable promises. This early, we have to expose him as a fraud. And even if he backs down from a presidential bid, we should make sure he doesn’t get a second term as Senator if only to deliver a strong message to individuals like him that Filipinos have matured.

Isko Moreno for President?

Wala pang dalawang linggo si Isko Moreno bilang alkalde ng Maynila pero uma-ani na ito ng napakaraming papuri dahil sa paglinis niya sa lungsod at pag-ayos ng mga problema na matagal nang nakikita sa paligid.

Kaya hindi nakakagulat na ngayon pa lang, may mga nagpupuna na isang “presidential material” si Mayor Moreno para sa bansa sa 2022 national elections.

Pinapakita ni Mayor Moreno ang tinatawag na “political will”, ang pagtugis ng mga desisyon at hakbang na hindi nababahala kung ano man ang resbak nito galing sa mga taong apektado.

Sa napakatagal na panahon, parang naging imposible na ma-clear out ang mga lansangan sa Maynila, lalo na diyan sa Quiapo area. Naging madumi ang lungsod. Masikip ang mga lansangan na halos hindi na mada-anan ng sasakyan.

Pero sa unang araw pa lang ni Isko bilang Mayor, naipakita niya na puwede pa lang gawin ang paglinis ng Maynila at isalagay sa maayos na kalagayan ang mga street vendors upang hindi sila makaka-obstruct sa traffic.

Malayo pa ang 2022. Kung ma sustain ito ni Isko, hindi malayo na makakarinig tayo ng mas maraming paghimuk galing sa taumbayan na tumakbo siya bilang Pangulo. Kailangan lang ni Mayor Isko ang “endurance” at “sustainability” upang hindi ma diskarel ang kanyang mga programa.

 

Inexperience

With just over a month before Filipino voters head for the polling precincts to cast their ballots and pick their new set of leaders, I feel compelled to ventilate my opinions about issues raised against Senator Grace Poe, particularly on her so-called lack of experience to lead this nation.
One only needs to do a quick review of history to find out that there is no job experience that prepares an individual to be a leader of nations or armies. In fact, the greatest leaders of the world didn’t have an impressive track record that marked them for the important roles they played in their nations’ histories. The same can be said about military leaders. Leadership is more of character, an ability to bring together people and forge a national agenda. It is about decision-making and a courage to tackle difficult challenges. Often, great leaders just leap out of the shadows, where they used to occupy positions of little significance.
Perhaps a good example would be General Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower. Before the outbreak of World War II, Ike was just a major doing menial staff work for the flashy General Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines. Ike was a quiet, unassuming army officer who went about doing his work efficiently, meticulously. He was hardly noticed except by his superiors who came to depend on him to deliver on the tasks assigned to him. There was nothing spectacular about Ike.
But in just a matter of three years, Ike climbed through the military career ladder in rapid fashion, ultimately becoming the Supreme Allied Commander who successfully led the combined American and British forces that liberated Europe from the grips of the Axis powers – Germany and Italy. The more popular generals like George Patton and Omar Bradley became his subordinates. Even the irrepressible British general Bernard Montgomery had to play second fiddle to him.
In politics, the late Ferdinand E. Marcos seemed destined to be the country’s best leader. A war hero, Bar top notcher, brilliant Congressman and Senator, Marcos had a track record that many politicians coveted. On top of that, he had a very beautiful wife in Imelda Romualdez. While he had a good start, including the first few years of martial law, Marcos became mired in corruption and human rights violations that he was ultimately toppled down in the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution.
Where does this put Grace Poe?
Senator Poe’s public service as chairman of the MTCRB was brief. But she was able to establish a good track record that boosted the public’s confidence enough to make her number one Senator in the 2013 national elections. As Senator, she demonstrated intelligence and courage in carrying out her legislative work. Her highest point was in conducting the Senate investigation into the Mamasapano massacre as chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs in which she showed depth of understanding and probity in delving into the misadventure of an inept commander in chief and his best friend who was suspended as PNP director general.
Apparently, Senator Poe captured the confidence of many Filipinos, and this encouraged her to seek the Presidency despite entreaties of the Aquino administration to recruit her as running mate for Mar Roxas. And I would say that Senator Poe has the makings of a good President. She has an ability to break down complex issues and present them in as simple a manner as possible for people to understand. More importantly, she knows how to get talented individuals to work together. She does not hesitate to seek advice and listen to suggestions. There is no arrogance in her personality.
Finally, Senator Poe has shown she can stand her ground against the so-called tougher male rivals for the Presidency. She thinks well on her feet, and always comes thoroughly prepared in facing tough questioning. During a forum in Iloilo City last February, Senator Poe was confronted by a hostile question at the University of Iloilo. She listened calmly and answered in a cool voice, never showing the slightest trace of irritation, the university professor who threw that question.
Courage and calm under fire might yet become Senator Poe’s greatest asset. The Presidency is not an easy job, and more than on-the-job experience, the individual wielding its powers will need more of EQ than IQ. She finds it easy to navigate through the minefields of politics to pursue what needs to be done, unmindful of the swollen toes which she might step on. Leadership isn’t about knowledge of the job; it’s more of tough character to do what matters most to get the job done.