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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.

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The big difference

Although it’s  just a little over three months into the Defensor administration at the Iloilo capitol, there is already an abundance of stories coming from various sectors of the community on their unpleasant experiences with the brand of leadership being displayed by Governor Arthur Defensor Sr.

A common theme has emerged, and it can be lumped into the broad category of “the big difference” in the conduct of public service between the previous governor, Niel Tupas Sr., and the incumbent. The words “arrogance”, “indifference”, “hot temper”, and “betrayal” are becoming the most commonly used words to describe the present dispensation. This is a sharp contrast to the pleasant manner the Tupas administration has been described during the previous nine years.

The irony is that the most vitriolic of these complaints come from individuals who had openly supported the candidacy of Arthur Defensor Sr. Not surprisingly, a tide of regret is now sweeping their ranks as frustration and disappointment are being experienced in rapid fashion.

One of those who groused about his sad experience is a barangay captain in Passi City who swung his support for Defensor shortly before the May 10, 2010 elections when he obtained a handsome financial package from Rep. Ferj Biron. This barangay captain hails from one of the biggest barangays of Passi City, and he thought Defensor would enthusiastically look after his request when he went to the capitol a few weeks ago.

To his bitter disappointment, the barangay captain wasn’t even granted an audience by the governor. Worse, his request was just filed inside a thick folder which didn’t look as if previous requests were favorably acted upon.

Harsh words about the new governor were also uttered by a barangay captain from Dumangas, Iloilo who sought the assistance of the capitol for a dog bite victim in his barangay. This official obtained a note from a Sangguniang Bayan member who is a relative of the governor, thinking this would open doors for him. When he knocked on the doors of the governor’s office, he was surprised the handwritten note didn’t even warrant a cursory reading. His request was rejected.

It seems Ilonggos will have to expect more of this kind of treatment from the governor for the next 32 months of his term of office. Well, it’s not as if they weren’t warned about the character of this man. Many voters allowed themselves to be swayed by the P50-bills with the name “Art” stapled to it. They will have to suffer the consequences for this error in judgment.