Pinoy Solutions to
By Former Governor Grace
Silliman University Colloqium
August 18, 2011
Thank you to Senator TG Guingona for the hope he gives all of us in his admirable handling
of his crucial role as chair of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee. I remind myself to always think of his constant example of being cool, respectful and dispassionate despite the so many times when one would feel so angry and frustrated --over the many
dirty things being unearthed-- about those
on whom we have entrusted the
stewardship of government power and resources.
I never thought I’d ever be able to come to Silliman. I’ve always heard about Siliman University through a man who was always very nice to me, your former
president, the late Quintin “King” Doromal.
I am talking before you now as someone who never thought she would ever be in public
office. I was afflicted with polio when I was only three years old and my painful experiences of being taunted by other kids
made me very shy. Early on as a little girl, I consciously limited my dreams to what I
thought I could possibly achieve so that it wouldn’t hurt as much
if I’d not be able to realize them because of my physical handicap . From our faraway northern province of Isabela, I did not even dream to someday see
the Visayas or Mindanao.
If there was any dream that I nurtured at all, it was to become a radio announcer –
because it is a job where I could be heard but not seen. The Lord has a way of
fulfilling our deepest wishes. I went on to college and took up accounting and eventually became a CPA. But the first job
I had was yes, as a broadcaster in the Bombo Radyo station in Isabela. So I became instead a certified public announcer.
For fourteen years as a broadcast journalist, from 1986 to the year 2000, I anchored a radio program called “Sa Totoo Lang” that went on the air for
three hours every single day. News and issues came through me - giving
me often a close up view of the abusive way by which the meager resources
of our government were being squandered while our poor people kept getting poorer by the day.
We have been under the rule on one political family – the dy-nasty – for four decades. From the father,
to the sons ….and he had many sons… because he had many wives.
I said this is not what I have been taught democracy should be.
In his letter of invitation to us for this colloqium, President Ben Malayang said Siliman
University wants to put into practice what is espoused in the lecture-discussions in this institution-- in order to contribute
to a more meaningful application of theories, concepts, and skills. I understand
that you call this in Silliman University as service-learning.
I was not aware of that term before as a twenty-year old fresh college graduate. All I knew was that I felt frustrated because what I was seeing was not what
I have been taught in school to be the right things. What I was reporting about
as a broadcaster was not what I heard in church to be what was good and fair and true.
I was waiting for the opposition leaders in Isabela to do the fighting but they all have
lost whatever motivation they had, they’d always lose or get cheated anyway.
So in 2001, I did the unexpected – tumakbo
ako sa eleksyon kahit hindi ako makalakad.
Actually, the crucial point of my decision was when I read, on the night of the deadline
of filing certificates of candidacy, Paul’s first letter to Timothy.
Not many people know this but since I am in this Christian university, I know many of you will perfectly understand
why I let these verses lead me to the unknown with only my faith in God to hold on.
First Timothy Chapter 4, Verses 12-16 says
“do not let anyone
look down on you because you are young ( I took it to mean … because you are
poor, disabled), but be an example for the believers in your speech .....
( I remembered those who have listened
and looked up to me all the years that I was in radio), do not neglect the
spiritual gift that is in you( I thought
about my influence on a lot of the
masses) .... Keep on doing these things because if you do, you will save both yourself and those who hear you”
So I ran for the elections even if I can hardly walk.
I was a nobody compared to the dy-nasty. I myself knew I would never win but
I said, at least, even if I lose, I will have peace of mind. I will not
be one of those complaining why evil things were being done to us as a people, feeling mad and frustrated, but not lifting
a finger anyway to stop them.
To the people who mocked me, especially because of my physical handicap, I said “ang
kapansanan ay hindi lamang kapansanang pisikal. Mayroon ding kapansanan ng pagiging
duwag, kapansanan ng pagiging tamad, kapansanan ng pagiging makasarili. Siguro,
itong kapansanan ko na nga ang pinakamagaan sa lahat”
Let me fast forward the story to the time when I won the elections and became the first
woman governor of our province Isabela, after 4 decades of the dynasty.
In 2004, I inherited a debt of about one billion pesos, P300 million pesos of which were
due to contractors for infrastructure projects that were rushed just before the campaign period in the elections of 2004.
What was queer about it was this million peso contracts were concentrated in the hands of only three or four bigtime contractors. One contractor would have pages upon pages of collectibles from the provincial government.
It is clear that they were the favored ones. I was told that they had bidding processes that of course did not follow the
rules. The contracts were awarded to these favorites, they’d proceed with
the infrastructure projects and they’d just collect later.
They panicked when I unexpectedly won as governor. They could not easily collect from
me anymore. I asked for the proper documents. We conducted project inspections. I
asked some knowledgeable representatives of civil society help us sift through the papers. We made a schedule of payments,
in our own terms. I thank god that he made me a CPA first before making
me governor. Otherwise, I would not have had the confidence in understanding financial processes specially that I was surrounded
by the “holdover" key people of the dynasty even in the finance department.
My opponents had a heyday criticizing me for making the capitol, they say, like a school
or university dahil lagi ko daw sinasabi, pag-aaralan ko muna everytime a document is submitted to me for action. Of course, coming after people like them who are only waiting for me to make a false step, who should not
be extra careful?
Barangay officials who would come to my office for financial assistance knew that they
could only do so if they could account to me the previous releases I gave them. I
know because I have the records. It was not just a matter of giving in to people
because they come to you everyday, follow you around and badger you with
all those requests and resolutions.
Another thing that we did with regard to contractors and suppliers is to have posters
or notices saying “we are ready to pay you. I, as governor, have signed the checks. You don’t need to give anybody
anything to facilitate release. Report to me anyone who asks for that. My cellphone number is...”
Whenever, I talked with the contractors and suppliers, I made sure that I didn’t
talk with them alone or in a closed room. I scheduled my meetings with all of them present so that it’s transparent,
everyone knew about my decisions, and in a way, it helped me be consistent and fair with everyone.
In time, the favored contractors of the dy-nasty who at first hated me began to appreciate
what I was doing. Some of them began giving me tikoy during Chinese New Year, or a blouse or a bottle of perfume as pasalubong. Pag moon festival, mooncake. Until I said, wait a minute, these occasions will not
end. Come Valentine, they’d give again, easter sunday, fiesta.... Even if these were just gifts of simple food or small
items. So one December, I attended the bidding process for some infrastructure
projects and took the opportunity to tell about the 30 or so contractors present to stop giving even those small
gifts to me or to any capitol official or employee. I told them ... We will not run out of occasions. The truth is, I didn’t
want to get used to these gift-giving even if they were not in the millions of pesos.
If you allow this to happen without end, you will be establishing
some kind of a relationship which will eventually cloud your judgment. Let us
remember that it’s not only money that corrupts. It can even be kindness, especially in my case. There are many times
when I need to be assisted while walking or negotiating stairs. Perhaps I will remember kindness even more than money. Kindness
will affect me more.
In time, the number of contractors and suppliers participating `in our bidding processes
increased. Yes, we would have as many as 30 companies - no longer just 4 . They have come to know that we were fair
and rules were rules. There were no favorites.
It is common in many government transactions that invitations to bid are published in unknown newspapers - those with very limited circulation – just to comply with the requirement for publication.
I instructed our capitol people, let us publish in the Inquirer or the Star. Even if they are the most expensive, they have
the widest circulation, this way we can inform more contractors and suppliers of our bidding.
That way, we will have a wider choice, there will be stiffer competition for better quality at lower prices and the
government and our people will eventually benefit. Unlike past practices when they keep the bidding process to themselves
and of course, keep the kickback and SOP’s.
I am especially proud of a partnership we had in 2009 with the Transparency Fund International
and the Incite Gov, a NGO which was then led by Dinky Soliman, Ging Deles and Dina Abad.
They were looking for a governor who was willing to have multi-million peso infrastructure projects monitored –
from the bidding process to completion. I said, oh yes, let it be me. As a result of
my weekly People’s Day or Ugnayang Bayan, I had a lot of projects in all the 1,018 barangays of Isabela. I also
volunteered, for their inspection, our purchases of millions worth of medicines for our five provincial hospitals. I wanted to check the emergency purchases made by our doctors. I
wanted things to be done correctly and I needed help. They organized people in
select barangays as well as members of civil society and religious organizations and gave them training and technical knowledge. They were totally independent from us.
They were led by priests and laymen from the Diocese of Ilagan of the Catholic Church as well as from the Episcopalian Church, the Iglesia Filipina
Independiente, the United Methodists Church – in short an ecumenical group . They call themselves People’s Alliance
for Justice, Peace and Good Governance.
Let me please share with you what we did on the matter of the environment and forest
protection. One of the first things that I did as governor was to organize the
Isabela Forest Protection Task Force that went after illegal timber poachers. The
Department of Environment and Natural Resources or DENR in Isabela was very ineffective and clearly in cahoots so I had to
do something. We used our own provincial budget to finance the 24/7 operation of our task force which was augmented by troops
from the Philippine Army which we also had to provide meals and supplies for 24/7. In
less than two years, we were able to confiscate 1.7 million board feet of illegally cut common hard wood, Narra, Almaciga
and other endangered species in the northern Sierra Madre Natural Park. Just
how much is 1.7 million board feet? If we load these in ten-wheeler trucks, each
truck able to carry 10,000 board feet, imagine 170 ten-wheeler trucks.
170 ten-wheeler trucks for 1.7 million board feet of logs
Of course, many people got mad at me, especially the thousands of poor people who depended
on this illegal source of livelihood, also the DENR personnel who lost their juicy sources of illegal incomes. However, it was the fiscals and judges who had a heyday accepting bribes as they simply and so easily dismissed
the cases we filed against the illegal loggers. Hindi lang po mga armado naging
kalaban ko dito, pati mga mismong taga-gobyerno at iyong mga nasa husgado.
I have also seen so many local politicians stop short at doing the right thing as they
looked the other way because they didn’t want to endanger their re-election. But
such obsession with re-election can render you more paralyzed than polio. Sila ang naging totoong pilay, hindi ako, dahil
sila ang hindi naka-kilos. Sila ang hindi kumikilos.
We are talking about Pinoy solutions to corruption. Please be aware also that another
Pinoy situation is: kung sino pa ang salbahe sila pa ang may ganang magsampa ng kaso
sa Ombudsman laban sa kanilang mga kalaban. In the news recently was the
elevation to the Sandiganbayan of a case against me. The nerve of those who plundered our province’s resources all these
years to find fault in our programs which have gone through very strict processes. Alam
niyo po, if a warrant of arrest is issued against me, I might just opt to not post bail immediately. Funny, that I should be lumped with the euro generals and the Gloria Arroyo’s of the world. I am not afraid of spending time in prison just to protest this joke process of a
judiciary that we have. After all, I have already experienced being jailed before
when an Isabela fiscal filed a libel case against me when I took up the cause of a 16-year old rape victim. Serious corruption is nothing new to me both as a broadcaster and a government official. What I worry about is how our Filipino people would take the news that people like me have Ombudsman or
even Sandiganbayan cases. They might think “pareho-pareho
din naman pala kayong lahat,” and their withering faith in government would all but be erased. I have always called on our people to stop feeling helpless that we are hopeless but sometimes, people
like me, who they say give inspiration and hope, also need to be encouraged sometimes.
Truly, it is a lonely and difficult task. People like former DOTC Secretary Ping de Jesus
and DOT Secretary Bert Lim from the private sector can’t take it anymore. Genuine
public service really entails a lot of pains and sacrifices. I hope people like you in the Silliman University who care
will do even more to reach out and provide a solid support system for honest, dedicated, and competent public servants.
Let us also help work for the election into office of good governors, good mayors and
even good barangay captains and kagawads so that if we are not satisfied with the people at the top, there are still the local
governments to rely on.
Ladies and gentlemen, after my 6 years experience as provincial governor, I have confirmed
for myself that truly, people in government positions have enormous powers. One
signature of mine could cause the release of millions of pesos. One yes or no that I said affected the lives of so many people. If used well, power can be a good
thing. It can make you do so many things to uplift the condition of many poor people.
It can make you empower the common man.
But if you are not grounded, if you have not the right values, you can get easily get
tempted. Sana maraming tumulong at tumutok
sa spiritual life ng ating mga leaders. Ang laki ng magagawa kung mapaalalahanan sila palagi ng kung ano ang tama.
The good news is there are more Filipinos who support those who fight for what is right. I know it from all the encouragement and cheers that we get when we meet ordinary
Filipinos - salesladies in department stores, security guards, waiters and waitresses, as well as professionals, business
executives and even among our soldiers and policemen. As long as our kababayans
still feel offended and disgusted with the wrong things happening in our country and at the same time clamor for change we
will have a better Philippines. Let us not grow weary doing good.
Maraming salamat po for giving me this chance to share what each one of us can do to
confirm that there are lots of obstacles and difficulties along the way but also to prove that it is worth it. It is all worth it.