COMMENT: Prayers of No Avail. By Patricio P. Diaz

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/15 August) – If, in 1872, the great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy wrote a story of the same title, “God sees the truth, but waits,” now it can be told: Present-day god may see the truth, but ignores; prayers are of not avail. I don’t mean God in Heaven.

Just the other day, I bumped into Ley (Virgilio L. Leyretana, Sr.), erstwhile chair of Mindanao Economic Development Council. The last time we saw each other was in 2003 when he came to the house, together with newsmen Rommel Rebollido and Butch Galicia, for a copy of my book Understanding Mindanao Conflict. Seven years has been quite a time.

Ley and I were close neighbors in Cotabato City. In the 1990s we – he as vice mayor and I in the academe and in the media – discussed the economic plans he had drafted for Mayor Ludovico D. Badoy. I was not surprised that he later landed in MEDCo chair and devoted his time for the economic development of Mindanao.

Over our cups of coffee, I kidded him. “I heard you did a great job running MEDCo and doing the dirty work of preparing its conversion into MinDA (Mindanao Development Authority). You should have been the first chairman of MinDA.”

In his familiar horsey laugh among us friends, he said in our dialect: “Ako ang nagtanum.  Ako ang nag-ani. Ako ang nagbayo. Ako ang nagtig-ang. Iba ang nagka-on. (This is a common remark in Ilonggo usually referring to rice: I planted, I harvested, I pounded, I cooked.  Others ate).”

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed Republic Act No. 9996 or Mindanao Development Authority Act of 2010 on February 17, 2010. From February 22 to March 6, nine petitions had been sent to the President for the appointment of MEDCo Chairman Leyretana as chairman of MinDA.

On February 25, the regional directors of DILG Regions IX, X, XI, XII, and XIII and the regional secretary of DILG-ARMM recommended through DILG Secretary Ronaldo Puno the appointment of Leyretana. They vouched:

We know Usec Leyretana to be a person with sincere dedication and commitment to public service. Under his leadership< MEDCo was properly provided the guidance, vision and motivation in conceptualizing the implementation of its mandates in Mindanao.  He was instrumental in the monitoring of Super Region Projects and was in the forefront in promoting the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East EAGA Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA).

With vision and under his guidance, RA 9996 will not only be an important piece of legislation that will ensure institutional stability and introduce coherence, continuity and consistency in the implementation of government projects in Mindanao but will form part of the mechanism to motivate benign changes in the Island that is reflective of the needs of the stakeholders and the people in Mindanao.

On February 26, Archbishop Fernando R. Capalla of the Archdiocese of Davao, as chairman of the Bishop-Ulama Conference wrote, on the behalf of the BUC, President Arroyo thanking her for signing RA 9996 and endorsing Leyretana for appointment as “chairperson who can put MinDA above and beyond politics in the interest of Mindanao”. His endorsement:

While serving Mindanao in various capacities, Usec. Leyretana has contributed significant efforts to rally government sector, private sector, non-government organizations (NGOs) and civil society groups in advocating Mindanao’s stand on wide-ranging issues that greatly aft this island.

Over the years, he continues to be a respected voice and s strong advocate for Mindanao and Palawan, both here and in Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-the Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA).

He has also proven himself to be a zealous leader, having been able to steer noteworthy achievements both in the government and private sector work, as former deputy presidential assistant for Mindanao, head of Task Force SPDA, executive director of Mindanao Peace and Development Fund and local chief executive of Cotabato City.

While currently as the MEDCo chair, he has remained deeply committed to helping Mindanao peace process move forward in his capacity as member of the Philippine Panel on Peace Negotiations with the “Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng mga Manggawa-Mindanao (RPMM)”.

In collaborating with various government and private institutions, he has also embarked on a number of activities that bear significantly to our effort in addressing peace and development as well as in accelerating the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-the Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) sub-regional cooperation.

These “fervent prayers” were repeated in parts by petitioners Auxiliary Bishop Jose Colin M. Bagaforo of the Archdiocese of Cotabato; RD Fishing Industries, Inc. of General Santos City; Southern Philippines Deep Sea Fishing Association of Zamboanga City; Philippine Tri-Media Multi-Purpose Cooperative; SOCSKSARGEN Federation of Fishing & Allied Industries Inc.; Metro Cotabato Chamber of Commerce and Foundation, Inc.; and Muslim-Christian Solidarity of Panabo City.

The “god” in Malacañang, must have seen the truth in the “fervent prayers” but ignored the appeal and only appointed Leyretana executive director of MinDA. He felt “sick”, rejected the appointment, and went on sick leave.

Last July 29, MinDA Chair Jesus Dureza wrote Malacañang offering to resign to give President Benigno S. Aquino III the opportunity to appoint the MinDA head who he thinks could carry out his policies. The chairmanship has a fixed term of six years. But Dureza clarified he did not resign – and has not resigned since his offer has not been accepted as of August 14 (MindaNews, August 15, 2010).

The report of Dureza’s “offer to resign” must have been misinterpreted as “resignation” or has been expected to be accepted. But Dureza remains in his chair, clarifying, too, his appointment that according to President Aquino’s Executive Order No. 2, “mine wasn’t a ‘midnight appointment’.” Is “Comedy of Error” in the offing?

In his August 6 commentary in MindaNews, Davao City business leader and MEDCo chair in 1998-2001 Sebastian Angliongto, emphasized that in addition to the qualifications mandated by law, the MinDA chair must (1) have a strong administrative skill and will power; (2) have direct access to the President; (3) know the history and culture of Mindanao; (4) have personality that is not that of an elitist and can jive well with the island’s cultural diversity; and, (5) be one whose heart and soul think of Mindanao.

Angliongto floated the names of Edmundo D. Prantilla, Ph.D. and Amina Rasul-Bernardo as “noteworthy of the Search Committee’s consideration. Prantilla is a professor in the School of Applied Economics of the University of Southeastern Philippines in Davao City. Amina, daughter of former Sen. Santanina Rasul, is lead convenor of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy and an active leader in various socio-civic fields.

At the time that Dureza submitted his “offer to resign”, there had been a spirited on-line discussion in Kusugmindanaw by Muslim professionals about the need to appoint a Muslim as chair of MinDA. Was Dureza’s “offer to resign” his reaction to that? Among the names mentioned were those of Amina and Professor Moner Bajunaid. Leyretana’s name was also floated by some from Cotabato City.

Many names must have been recommended to President Aquino for appointment as MinDA chairman. All the recommendees must have been backed with “fervent prayers” like that in the case of Leyretana.

But, as in Leyretana’s case, “fervent prayers” were not enough. An “intercessor”, a “saint” close to the Malacañang “god”, was necessary – one that he evidently did not have. Adding to his handicap, Dureza was a Malacañang “saint”.

Who will the present Malacañang “god” appoint as chair of MinDA? Unless Aquino is a “god” different from his predecessors, the aspirant – whoever he or she is – will need a “saint” to intercede, more than just “fervent prayers”.

But wait! There’s no vacancy. Secretary Dureza is still the sitting chair. Unless his “offer to resign” is accepted, all talks about appointing a Muslim – or whoever – as MinDA chair is empty talk and speculation.

(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at