ADVOCACY MINDANOW: Sen. Ping Lacson for President, if…

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/18 Dec.) — Sen. Ping Lacson is putting his neck on the chopping block by accepting the task of being “Yolanda” rehab czar. If you ask me, the work is herculean in that by the end of the Aquino administration the rehab efforts will not be completed by then. And for sure, there will be those who will endlessly complain and blame government — rightly or wrongly.

If I were Sen. Ping, I’d look first before I leap. He must be given all the powers as rehab king and crisis manager, given the magnitude of the problem. He must directly access to the President no less and not get meshed up with the bureaucratic maze. For one, the title “presidential assistant” is not of cabinet rank. During my time in Malacanang, a presidential assistant was a “usec” position. If his is of cabinet level, it should be “presidential adviser”, unless they have changed the protocols there now. Then I heard Sen. Chiz Escudero downplaying his role by saying he is “merely a coordinator”. (Oh well, as they say, titles are not really that important. Powers are what matter.)

The bureaucracy, for one, is full of institutional obstacles. He must short circuit them for quick substantial results. But Cabinet members are protective and jealous of their turfs. Then there are political rivals and carpet baggers lurking by the wayside who will pounce on any mistake or shortcomings. Victims facing TV cameras will overshadow whatever good deeds and accomplishments done. TV crews and newspaper reporters will seek out the farthest and remotest areas looking for those who have some complaint and you’ve bet there are so many of them out there simply because we can never satisfy everyone.

Believe me, it’s a no-win situation for Ping if his eyes are still moistened by the reported plans of running for the presidency. Unless he decides at some strategic time later when it becomes mission impossible to just resign with flair.

Another point: an ideal rehab czar must be one who is ideally non-political or at least will remain “non-aligned” and a professional who can span and survive the next administration because the work will definitely be carried over to the next president beyond Pres. Aquino’s time. Sen. Ping does not fit this bill “to a tee.”

But, here’s a big ‘IF’. If notwithstanding all of the above, he surmounts them and makes dramatic accomplishments, then welcome to Malacanang palace in 2016, Sen. Ping!

SORRY, MAR ROXAS — A glaring example of a casualty by force of circumstance is DILG Sec. Mar Roxas. Unfortunately for him, he was thrust by reason of office and function to be in the forefront of calamities, both natural and man-made to include “Sendong”, “Pablo”, Zamboanga siege, Bohol earthquake, “Yolanda”. He had no choice but to plunge himself into the calamities that were so daunting that even the best of him could not cope. Not anyone else, as a matter of fact, could handle better just by the sheer magnitude of the situation. Too bad for him, his challenges were beyond handling. What is tragic is that his public performance is being juxtaposed with his perceived presidential ambitions. He is the favorite object of public bashing today. His alleged mishandling and mistakes, projected in media, worsened the situation all the more.

Unfortunately for him, his supposed run for the presidency is suffering from this beating. Social media is merciless for officials in similar situations. Whether he would be able to shake off those barnacles, only time and future events will tell. I have known him personally and I think he deserves a better assessment than what he is getting today. But failing in reversing this trend, I guess it’s time for him to kiss his presidential ambitions goodbye this early.

DISARMAMENT? — Even before the ink dried in the new agreement on power-sharing with the MILF, everyone is now talking about the “disarmament” of rebels as the last hurdle. This will need creative handling because, one, the MILF will never give up their firearms at the signing of the agreement and two, the general public is now wary about allowing rebels to keep their firearms with a final agreement sealed, taking a cue from what is happening with MNLF and other violent incidents due to the presence of heavy weaponry in the hands of non-government forces.

Let’s see what happens!

ZAMBOANGA REACTION — I got word that a lady councilor in Zamboanga City got so peeved at some publications that she asked the council that I be declared “persona non grata” and barred from visiting Zamboanga City again. Wow I was almost floored there. But on second thoughts, my guess is that she had not read my series and she was shooting from the hip. But that’s understandable. She’s a neophyte and on her first term.

I didn’t realize disagreeing with or criticizing some Zamboanguenos would result to one being barred from entering Zamboanga City territory. Good that the other city councilors thought it was a rash judgment call and wanted to hear me expound some more on my written thoughts. I committed to appear before the august body in January after the holidays.

I was glad this happened because it’s about time that some wakeup call be made on some Zamboanguenos. No one is talking about the distrust and the hatred arising amongst groups due to the three-week Zamboanga siege. The terrorism inflicted by MNLF’s Ustadz Malik had polarized the locals. There is now seething anger and distrust against Muslims, specifically Tausugs, even if many of the unfortunate innocent victims were Muslims themselves. When I was there recently, even the earnest plan of the city in not allowing the return of Muslims to where their houses were burned was being viewed as discriminatory against the tribes. I talked with ordinary folks in the streets, mostly Christians and they were angry and distrustful at Muslims. They knew only Christians were taken and held as hostages by Malik during the siege while Muslims were freed and allowed to go. Let’s face it. We must rebuild these broken relationships amongst groups because Zamboanga is the focal center of diverse peoples coming from the neighboring island provinces of Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-tawi. Unless we heal those “social wounds”, incidents such as this one could recur.

What the good lady councilor did may be reflective of that gap that we must all help to bridge. I had funny thoughts. To her Zamboanga City is good only for those who agree with her. To her those who do not share her views ought to be forever barred from entering Zamboanga City. She wanted to keep Zamboanga an exclusive enclave. She’d rather that those who “do not belong” to keep off Zamboanga. I do not blame her for being traumatized by the MNLF incident, just like many Zamboanguenos I have talked to. But as I said, her formula would not work. It is a prescription for more trouble. Because just like the Muslims and Tausugs, I would keep coming back to Zamboanga Hermosa, whether I am wanted there or not. It’s better to rebuild broken relationships and restore trust for sustainable peace. I learned this in my long work in other conflict-affected areas in Mindanao.

And by the way, the last time I checked, we are still in a democracy. (Lawyer Jesus G. Dureza was government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF under the Arroyo administration from 2001 to 2003 and was later named Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (2005 to 2008). He heads Advocacy MindaNOW Foundation, Inc. and was recently named publisher of the Davao City-based Mindanao Times. This piece is from his syndicated column, Advocacy MindaNOW).