I WANTED Teteng Sales to be in the forum sponsored by student journalists of the Divine Word College of Laoag last Feb. 24. The former Pagudpud mayor, who claims he won the congressional race in 2007 over incumbent Roque Ablan Jr., intrigues me. I know so little about his position on issues, and I wanted to validate the general impression that he is an intellectual lightweight.
Apparently, however, he ignored the invitation to the event, the first congressional forum to happen in the province after the filing of certificates of candidacy. According to organizers, Teteng’s camp received the letter of invitation, and no less than his wife Maja was informed of the undertaking, but that they never sent a word, which is worse than begging off.
Former Sarrat Mayor Chito Ruiz was also unable to attend as he was in Manila, but his staff took time to convey the candidate’s regrets.
There was another congressional forum that was supposed to transpire last Feb. 26, the Anti-Kadiri Movement’s Congressional Hour. It was postponed, however, because Gibo’s visit to the province on that day made some personalities unavailable. Leaders of this anti-trapo movement say Teteng has also been ignored them.
This is sad, dear karikna, because candidates owe it to us, the voting public, to explain their stands on matters of public concern. Teteng’s popularity in the past was mainly due to the people’s tiredness of the old Ablan, a traditional politician who has been a fixture in the local political scene for decades. I say this will no longer be enough political capital for Teteng as he now faces four other candidates: Ruiz, Former Congressman/Governor Rudy Fariñas, Board Member Atong Peralta, and Ablan’s son Kris.
Rudy Fariñas was in his usual element. He was eloquent and sharp, an observation shared by Prof. Fides Bitanga, forum moderator.Some people perceive the 1978 bar topnotcher as arrogant and aggressive, but I did not see those qualities in him that afternoon. What I saw was a person who was simply raring to serve again. While he did not actually say these words, the message I got from him was: I am qualified, I have served you well before, and I am most willing to serve you again.
Kris Ablan was refreshing. He was somehow successful at conveying the message that he is different from his father, although he also occasionally justified, even took pride in, his old man’s actions. Nonetheless, there was sincerity in his voice.
What I wanted about both Kris and Rudy was their very clear positions on issues. Invited as a panelist, your karikna asked them about the Reproductive Health Bill. Kris said we really need one. Rudy said he is against it because he is Catholic, and that he considers the proposed legislation as “anti-life”. Then spoke Atong who said that it is an issue so complicated and controversial that he would rather not give a position.
I also asked them of their individual views on the Sangguniang Kabataan’s abolition pushed by some quarters because, 1) SK officials have become puppets of traditional politicians and political dynasties, 2) SK has become a breeding ground not of leadership, but of corruption and ineptitude; and 3) Because their projects are superficial, e.g. Search for Ms. SK, construction of basketball courts, and the like.
Rudy, father of the SK Federation presidents of Laoag City and of Ilocos Norte, said he is against its abolition, and went on to argue against contentions 1 and 3. Kris said he is also against abolition, but that he will propose reforms to the SK system.
You guessed it! Atong found the issue to difficult to handle so he did not make a stand. How confused can he get? Confused or compromised? Or afraid? I have never doubted the brilliance of this veteran politician, and that is why it was so disappointing when he chose gray when the lines between black and white were so clear.
Remember what Dante, the greatest Italian poet said about indecision? “The hottest place in hell is reserved for those people who, in time of crisis, remain neutral.”
But let’s give credit to Atong, at least he came, unlike two of his opponents. And he could do better in gatherings of similar nature soon. There are two congressional forums that we anticipate in March. The Kadiri Movement’s and the Laoag City Hall Press Corps’.
Straw voting was done before and after the event to determine how much the forum has changed voters’ preferences. Over 200 students from various universities in the province cast their ballots.
According to Jaime Lao, editor in chief of DWCL’s The Williamite, the entrance poll yielded the following results, in percentage: Ablan, 34.6; Fariñas, 26.7; Ruiz, 5.8; Sales, 5.3; Peralta, 1.6; and 26, undecided.
After the forum, the undecided fell to only 5 percent. Ablan’s figures rose to 60.3 percent while Fariñas’ had a slight decline at 25.2 percent. Ruiz and Peralta maintained their single digit figures but Sales’ votes votes plunged from 5.3 percent at the entrance poll to less than one half percent (.047%) after the forum.
It is safe to infer that most of the undecided voters, after listening to the candidates, decided to choose Kris, the youngest among the contenders.
The thirty-two year old lawyer and former UP Diliman Student council president radiated youthful idealism when he said that a congressman’s primary interest must be legislation and not the pork barrel fund. Fariñas was more pragmatic. He said that a congressman has two jobs: to legislate and to gather funds for his district, because local official come to them for help. Kris, in an interview I made with him before, categorically said that he is, by principle, against the concept of pork barrel fund, but will accept his district’s share if it is appropriated. In an article he posted at his Facebook account which is open to the public, he categorically labeled his dad, who finds no fault in the pork barrel fund largely perceived as fountain of corruption, as “traditional politician.”
The forum confirmed what everyone knew all along. The youth sector is Kris’ bailiwick. It was all worthwhile then that, for the forum’s sake, he postponed an important trip to Manila where his wife Ria gave birth to firstborn Alicia Beatriz.