Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Reviewing the ANC Leadership Forum: Part One

I actually intended to blog about the ANC Leadership Forum live and onsite two nights ago at the Ateneo's Leong Hall.

Seats were scarce and I was only able to get in because I was part of one of the participant's entourage.

I am struggling to write a relatively good post right now because I found it a bit short of what I expected. Struggling because I found no real issues being tackled. Struggling because of the many other things which I think could have benefited more from a more incisive exposition.

It was good enough if the intent was to merely introduce the people who are planning to run for President in the 2010 elections to the youth who are just beginning to get more socially and politically involved. Perhaps the producers of the ANC Leadership Forum didn't want the show's topics to be more accessible to those who have not been thoroughly initiated in the workings of Philippine politics.

Much can be said about the youth's capacity to make change happen and being the biggest voting demographic in the Philippines right now, you'd expect a higher turnout of those registering to vote for the first time. Perhaps the show is really part of a bigger effort to get more of the youth to register and vote in 2010 -- which will be truly historical if the Philippines holds its first nationwide automated elections.

The Comelec expects at least 2 million new voters to register during the continuing registration. But as of Jan. 19 only around 10 percent or about 200,000 of those who registered were first time voters. Data from the poll body showed that the Comelec-Election and Barangay Affairs Division (EBAD) has approved 191, 872 out of 196,011 applications for registration.

Another thing to consider is the very real possibility that if producers gave an indication that the program would really be thorough in scrutinizing the candidates, none of the candidates invited would have attended.

I learned from a friend of one of the show's staff that the candidates who were invited insisted that they first see the questions so that they can prepare their answers.

In attendance at the forum was Senator Francis Escudero, Senator Richard Gordon, Senator Mar Roxas, Pampangga Governor Ed Panlilio, and Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, who had earlier confirmed his attendance, notified the producers of the show at the last minute that he had suddenly taken ill (bum stomach?) and had to cancel. What made me roll up my eyes was that he sent word that he would attend the following leadership forum, only if other Presidential candidates (so called survey frontrunners) Senator Manuel Villar, Senator Loren Legarda, and Vice President Noli De Castro would be there.

The ANC Leadership Forum started off the first hour of its program with Tina Monson Palma interviewing Senator Francis "Chiz" Escudero.

Among those who have indicated their plans to run for president, Escudero is the youngest at the age of 39. The minimum age for those seeking to run as President in the Philippines is 40, according to the Philippine Constitution.

Some political analysts say that Escudero won his seat in the senate during the 2007 elections because of the enormous support of the youth, who they say identified with Escudero and therefore voted for him. He ranked second to Legarda in the 2007 polls, in the midst of speculations that like the 2004 elections, wholesale vote manipulation was conducted by some of the senatorial candidates.

Escudero's interview started off with Monson Palma asking Escudero about his greatest strength and weakness as a Presidential candidate.

Escudero answered that his critics would say it was his youth, which barely concealed an attempt to immediately identify with the youthful audience at the Leong Hall auditorium. It seemed like a typical answer for a slumbook or Facebook survey, if you want to be cute and witty about the answers. It was also an attempt to portray himself as an underdog, but no one has really questioned his qualification to lead because of his youth -- he had to raise this spectre himself.

In the course of the interview, he also managed to say that he was not born rich.

I almost laughed out loud when I heard this, because it is an ABSOLUTE LIE. The Escudero clan of Sorsogon (a vote-rich province) is among the richest clans in the Philippines. Salvador Escudero, his father served as Minister for Agriculture under the Marcos Regime and then again as Agriculture Secretary during the term of President Ramos. His clan, since time immemorial, has had at least a congressman serving in their district.

He was also asked about his being a member of the opposition while at the same time being a member of the Nationalist People's Coalition, which has the rest of its members allied with the current administration. He said that he was not a spokesperson for the NPC party.

This, to my mind, is indicative that he's only after the advantages of having a party but won't cleave to its principles or stands or go with its alliances.

Another thing that cropped up was the total amount of Congressional Pork Barrel he received during his three terms as Congressman. He said that he received P70 million a year for 7 years, all totaling P490 Million.

What surprised me was his answer that all of this allegedly went to road construction projects (which usually is a source of kickbacks) and a lighting cum electrification project for his district.

I am not saying that he did actually get kick backs from road construction, but consider that roads in Sorsogon have to be constantly rebuilt with the passing of seasonal typhoons. Without a disaster risk management plan in effect and without development plans that are in tune with disaster plans, Escudero could have been building roads which would eventually get destroyed and hence need repairs every year. He may have been pouring hundreds of millions of pesos in projects that eventually were a waste of money.

What made it even funnier is the fact that on Facebook (he has three accounts and 15,000 friends), he posted a note that took MMDA Bayani Fernando to task for the floods that happened in Metro Manila.

What he didn't mention in that note was that, unlike Metro Manila, at least ten (10) people in his province got killed during the onslaught of typhoon Dante, many were missing, and thousands of homes and businesses were destroyed. This happens every year in his province and Escudero has not done anything to implement a disaster risk management plan that would minimize the damage of typhoons which visit his province every year.

(More later)

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