Local exec for RP president in 2016?

by Miriam Grace A. Go, Newsbreak

Posted at Oct 08 2009 11:39 AM | Updated as of Oct 08 2009 11:09 PM

‘Outstanding mayor or governor could lead the country 20 times better’
MANILA - Mayors and governors who have performed well were told to set their sight on the presidency in 2016, following their apparent disappointment in 4 presidential aspirants who failed to present a clear stand on local government issues in a forum last Tuesday. 

Former finance undersecretary and now reform advocate Milwida Guevara told a group of about 100 local chief executives in Makati City that she initially hoped one of these local reformers would run for president in 2010 and make it.

“Naunsiyami ang aking pangarap. Masyadong maaga ang 2010 para ang uupo rito ay mula sa inyo (My dream was scuttled. 2010 is too early for one of you to be sitting here),” referring to the seat in the hall in the AIM Conference Center where each of the 4 invited “presidentiables” sat to be grilled by local officials.

“But the reality of politics is, kailangan mo ng milyon-milyon, bilyon-bilyon (you need millions, billions [of pesos to win],” she said.

Senators Benigno Aquino III, Francis Escudero, and Manuel Villar Jr., and Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro gave vague or non-committal answers when the local executives asked what reforms in the local government sector they would undertake if elected president.

This prompted former Negros Occidental Governor Rafael Coscolluela to say, “If a candidate claims sympathy for [the plight of] local governments, he should be clear with his stand [on issues]. All I heard were motherhood statements. I want to hear specifics,” he added.

‘Insane idea’

Guevara, who is president of the Synergeia Foundation, one of the organizers of the forum, said the next challenge, therefore, for outstanding local leaders and reform advocates is to “look at 2016,” the next presidential elections after next year’s.

If one of the mayors and governors who have performed well would be elected in 2016, she said, he or she “will lead twenty times better.”

Earlier, during a break in the forum, Mayor Jesse Robredo, a Magsaysay Awardee for Public Service, sat on stage to prepare as moderator of the interview with Senator Aquino. With the delay in the senator’s arrival, the audience started cajoling him to occupy the seat for the “presidentiables.”

“Lahat tayo baliw—walang reformer na hindi baliw because we challenge the system (We’re all insane—any reformer is),” Guevara said at the close of the forum.

In the post-Marcos era, the first former mayor to get elected president was Joseph Estrada in 1998. However, it wasn’t the local stint in San Juan, Metro Manila that made him win—it had been a very long time before 1998. What apparently did was his popularity as a movie actor and his consequent national exposure as senator and vice president.

Estrada’s presidency was cut short when an elite- and middle-class led demonstration in Metro Manila forced him to leave Malacañang in 2001 over allegations of corruption.

For the 2010 elections, incumbent local officials—Pampanga Governor Ed Panlilio and Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay—earlier announced their interest in seeking the presidency. Panlilio had backed out, while Binay is sliding down to seeking the vice presidency.

Former Marikina City Mayor, and now Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chair Bayani Fernando, was keen on running for president as well. His party, the Lakas-Kampi-CMD, however, chose to nominate Secretary Teodoro instead of him.

No instant machinery

In recent history, local officials have failed to get elected to national positions if they were relying solely on local government leagues to carry them. The League of Municipalities, the League of Cities, the League of Provinces, the Liga ng mga Barangay, and the Sangguniang Kabataan National Federation obviously do not translate into instant political machinery for them.

In 1998, Puerto Princesa Mayor Edward Hagedorn, at the height of his popularity as an environmental leader, was courted by the opposition to be included in its senatorial ticket. In 2007, multi-awarded Bulacan Governor Josefina dela Cruz and Naga City Mayor Robredo were urged to run for senator. They all refused, mainly because they found the cost of running a national campaign prohibitive.

From 1987 (Eighth Congress) to the present (14th Congress), only 7 former local officials made it to the Senate: Richard Gordon (mayor of Olongapo City), Alfredo Lim (mayor of Manila who has since returned to that post), Vicente Sotto III (vice mayor of Quezon City), Francis Pangilinan (Quezon City), Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. (governor of Cavite), Jinggoy Estrada (mayor of San Juan, and president of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines), and Lito Lapid (governor of Pampanga). 

Five of them won because of their showbiz backgrounds or connections; Gordon, because of his exposure as tourism secretary; and Lim, because he had gone around before, in 1998, for his failed presidential campaign.

In the 2007 senatorial race, those with no other network or exposure outside of being local officials lost in the polls: Chavit Singson (governor of Ilocos Sur) and Vic Magsaysay (governor Zambales).

All 4 presidentiables who spoke before local officials on Tuesday served as congressmen for 9 years before 3 of them were elected senator and 1 was appointed to the Cabinet. Newsbreak checked the bills they filed in both chambers pertaining to the resources and the extent of the authority of local government units (LGUs).

Teodoro filed only 1, in 2002, but it was a focused and specific proposal: for 40% of the value added tax collected by the customs bureau to be set aside to help finance the hospitals and health care facilities that had earlier been devolved to LGUs without the corresponding funds.

Aquino filed 4, but these touched only on concerns that were parochial (reverting to the national government the operations of the hospital in Tarlac province) and minor (like giving the LGUs the leeway to choose their depository banks).

Villar filed 10 bills, one of which, filed in 2004, could have been relevant now because it seeks to allow LGUs to use 25% of their calamity funds for preparatory activities, not just for relief and rescue.

Escudero filed 11 bills, mostly seeking to revert to the national government the responsibilities that had been devolved to LGUs without the corresponding funding, like health and agricultural services. (Newsbreak)