SK is back with a blast! Ilocos Norte town SK get busy with beauty contest

Pagudpud SK
Pagudpud SK Officials pose with their winning bets.

THE REFORMED SK is back. It’s officials in Philippine barangays assumed office on July 1.

Much has been said about the reforms made in the new edition of the Sangguniang Kabataan, through Republic Act 10742 or the SK Reform Act,especially on how youth leaders have been empowered to better contribute in national development, thereby erasing the reputation it has sadly earned in years past—that it is irrelevant, corrupt, and a bane to an already bloated bureaucracy. Bringing SK back to life was a big challenge, but its believers, including my friend James Ventura, who is commissioner-at-large of the National Youth Commission, are holding their hopes high.

It seems like the youth leaders of Pagudpud town here in Ilocos Norte are up to the challenge. In their first days in office, they got themselves busy with their first assignment, their baptism of fire: a beauty contest. The town is celebrating its 64th Founding Anniversary, and SK officials in the different barangays were in charge of scouting for candidates and preparing them for competition, and in serving as ushers and production staff during the competition proper. I learned from my interview with Rex Benemerito Jr., the SK Federated President of Pagudpud, that these assignments were given to them by the Municipality’s Tourism Office. What kind of competition did they get busy with?

It’s actually the brainchild of the town mayor. Straight males get dressed and made up as women, inspired by the Paloma character in the epic television soap, Ang Probinsiyano. Ten contestants from different barangays vied for the title, Miss Paloma 2018. While the competition is already on its third year, Kevin Riveral, the SK chair of Brgy. 2 explained, “Kami po yung partner ng LGU para maging possible ulit ang Miss Paloma 2018.” (As the partner of the LGU, we—the  SK—made possible the restaging of Miss Paloma 2018.) Kevin said he is “so happy a naisabak kamin uray katugtugawmi pay laeng.” (We are so happy that we got to work immediately even if we have just assumed office.)

The event was a crowd drawer. Expectedly there was a lot of laughter as it’s an old, tried-and-tested formula to get Filipinos entertained by male cross-dressing. But what actually did Pagudpud achieve with this? Well, organizers say, it gave men the rare opportunity to experience what a woman goes through.  But isn’t it lame to have that mindset? Being a woman is certainly more than wearing heavy make up and high heels. You could, in fact, be a woman even if you have a different sense of fashion.

If at all, the pageant only perpetuates gender stereotypes. “It doesn’t promote gender sensitivity because the candidates are being a laughing stuff,” PJ Quitoriano, a well-distinguished young transgender from Pagudpud, notes. He also lamented that the show fell short of promoting neither the empowerment of women nor the LGBT. The same sentiment was echoed by the Head of the Committee on Gender and Development of the nationally acclaimed Sirib Ilokano Kabataan Association: “It only promotes the culture of domination because participants are reduced to being objects of laughter.”

I will leave it to you, dear reader, to assess the merits of the first activity Pagudpud’s youth leaders embarked on. I will be cruel if I don’t give them credit for their effort. Some of them (and I know this because I was their speaker on Public Service ethics during their mandatory SK training held in May) may actually be truly eager to serve and make a difference.

But they started on the wrong foot.

While SK is back to life, I maintain that there are things that should have remained dead.

I’d be happy to be proven wrong.

Here comes the Rodolfo CG. Fariñas, Jr. National Science High School

House of Representatives

RA 10965

Expected to open next year in Laoag City, particularly in Brgy. Vira—a hilly village where large Fariñas estates are located—is the Rodolfo CG. Fariñas, Jr. National Science High School.  President Rodrigo in December signed Republic Act No. 10965, the law mandating its creation.

People had mixed feelings about this news. While the creation of a new, modern, well-funded science high school in Ilocos Norte is a welcome development, not a few are baffled with its name.

The most vocal critic is Board Member Vicentito Lazo who repeatedly pointed out in the sessions of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan that “a street, plaza, or government building could be named after a person only after 10 years after his death except when that person had attained highly exceptional achievements or when the cause of death is due to patriotism or in the service of men.” The new science high school is named after Congressman and Majority Floor Leader Rudy Fariñas’ son JR who perished in a vehicular accident in 2015.

I would not deal with JR’s worthiness for such an honor or whether other great men and women better deserve the distinction, lest I be accused of disrespecting the dead, something I am not inclined to do. The Fariñas family, through the good congressman known for being a devoted father, have all the right to honor their departed loved one by any means allowed by law. And the law creating this science high school is by no means a weak piece of legislation.

After all, it was the Majority Floor Leader together with no less than the Speaker of the House, Pantaleon Alvarez who introduced House Bill No. 5235 entitled, “An Act Establishing a National Science High School in the City of Laoag, Province of Ilocos Norte to be known as Laoag City National Science High School and Appropriating Funds Therefor.” Note here the originally proposed name of the school.

After going through the process in the Lower House, in August last year it was sent to the Senate, requesting for concurrence. After being read on First Reading, it was referred to the Committee on Education, Arts and Culture chaired by Senator Francis Escudero and the Committee on Finance chaired by Senator Loren Legarda.

The joint committee recommended the bill’s approval without amendment and was thus presented on December 6 to the plenary for Second Reading through its sponsor, Senator Escudero. It must be noted that on that day, the senator made an omninus  sponsorship speech for 17 bills that seek to establish, separate, convert, and/or rename one elementary school and 16 secondary schools—including the Laoag City National Science High School.

In his explanatory note, Escudero posited that “Laoag City, being the capital of the Province of Ilocos Norte, deserves to have its own science high school to cater the needs of its growing number of elementary school graduates every academic year. The establishment of the Laoag City National Science High School aims to offer courses that focus on the fields of science, technology and mathematics. These courses will enable its students to be equipped with the proper training and adequate education for a science-oriented career. Thus, the Laoag City National Science High School will not only provide free and quality education but will also facilitate better opportunities for the future of the city’s youth.”

Normally, senators are given time to review proposed bills before the period of interpellation, but considering that the 17 bills are of local application and that local legislators, in this case the members of Congress who sponsored the bills, are “better informed and better equipped to make a judgment on these proposed bills,” the senators proceeded with the interpellation.

But no one stood during the interpellation and no amendments were proposed for any of the 17 bills… save for one. Senator Franklin Drilon made a manifestation proposing that the Laoag City National Science High School be named instead as Rodolfo CG. Fariñas, Jr. National Science High School. This proposal was accepted by the Sponsor, and there being no objection, the Body approved the amendment to House Bill No. 5235. It was approved on Second Reading that day, and was subsequently approved on Third (and final) Reading on Dec. 11 through a unanimous vote.

On Dec. 13, HB 5235 was sent to the Office of the President of the Philippines. A few days after, Dec. 19, it was approved and signed into law by President Duterte, and became Republic Act No. 10965.

What I wanted to show here is that the law creating the Rodolfo CG. Fariñas, Jr. National Science High School clearly went through the process and had the overwhelming support of the legislature and the Philippine president.

Is it legal? Yes. Unless someone challenges R.A. 10965’s constitutionality in the Supreme Court where it is declared as unconstitutional, it is a law that must be enforced and respected. But will anyone challenge it before the High Court? And who?

I don’t think even Governor Imee Marcos will go at great lengths to challenge this in the Supreme Court. She is now busy in her senatorial run, and this is not the best time to be at loggerheads with Congressman Fariñas. The memories of the 7171 congressional probe are still fresh. In fact, the inquiry has not yet even been fully, finally terminated and thus remains a potent bargaining chip of Congressman Fariñas.

Granting that somebody brave would challenge the wisdom of the Legislature and the Executive Branches of Government and would actually file a case in the Supreme Court, such person would all be but a hopeless martyr, if not a fool, wasting time and resources, and not least because after the Sereno impeachment, who among the justices would wish upon themselves the ire of a major presidential ally such as Congressman Fariñas?

And so we can say now with certainty that the Rodolfo CG. Fariñas, Jr. National Science High School, barring any major political upheaval or popular dissent, will open next year. According to news reports, the initial science building will cost at least P110-M and will stand on a three-hectare government lot. Indeed, I have no doubts that Congressman Fariñas–especially because their family name, his beloved son’s name is at stake–will do everything within his vast powers to make it a good one, a great one, one hell of a model science high school in the country. And if this happens, the Ilocano learner will stand to benefit.

But this science high school, having been named the way it was named, will also be a publicly funded monument of a family’s love for a departed member. It will moreover be an unmistakeable proof of something we in this country already know and are doomed to endure for a longer time, perhaps for eternity unless we move towards political maturity: that politicians do things because they could.

What I owe MVF

Laoag City Vice Mayor Michael V. Fariñas
(Photo from philstar.com)

If there’s one blogger-journalist who has hit hardest on Michael V. Fariñas, both when he was mayor of Laoag and in his tenure as vice mayor cut short by a tragic accident last night, it could be me.

Over the years, I have written about him on a range of issues, nothing personal and all of public interest. Each time I’d do so, people would ask if I was not afraid. He was, after all, the leader of the city, a member of Ilocos Norte’s powerful family, and a man preceded by a certain reputation. Even my editor at The Ilocos Times—deeply concerned with the political repercussions it will have on our publisher who is now back in politics as a barangay captain—once edited out some lines about a throwback issue people today not dare talk about.

Was I afraid? I wasn’t. At all. I think Sir Michael fully embraced critics like me—and here I remember my late friend Steve Barreiro who also wrote explosive columns on MVF—as an important part of a democratic city. To his credit, MVF never caused injury nor harm to me or my family, and my commentaries notwithsatnding, he always flashed for me a smile and extended a firm handshake each time we cross paths. As he does to other people, he prepends my name with “Apo” as in “Apo Herdy.”

On one occasion some years ago, I told him: “Sir, you are my favorite mayor,” to which he replied with a chuckle, “Paborito a tirtiraen.” (You’re fond of hitting me.) Then we had a nice photo together. His wife, Mayor Chevylle and his kids are also very nice to me.

Last April, in what would be our last encounter, MVF visited us at home during the “last night” of the wake for my dad. Surrounded by barangay captains, including my brother Herry, he stayed for seven hours until almost the break of dawn. I sat right beside him for about half an hour during which he told me how he has always respected my thoughts and how he chooses not to get affected by criticisms and unfair accusations and how he prefers to “just do his job.”

Never that night or ever did he tell me to shut up or tone down.

I love living in a city where a person can freely and responsibly express views, no matter how uncomfortable it may be to the powerful. That is why as a dutiful son of Laoag, I share my thoughts and talents in the ways I know, always with pure intentions, always with humility, and a dash of courage.

MVF helped make that possible. He consciously made Laoag a fertile ground to write, a safe place to disagree, a conducive place for the practice of journalism.

I thus say that MVF, simply by being MVF—with all his human strengths and frailties—helped me nurture a career in writing.

For that, I am thankful.

So long, Sir Michael. Rest now. May God be with you.

Is Imee Marcos running for Senator?

By the looks of it, yes, Imee Marcos is seriously considering a senate run next year, 2019.

The governor, whose third term ends next year, has been going around provinces from Nueva Ecija and Pangasinan to Metro Manila cities, and, as I write this, to Iloilo where the Dinagyang Festival is ongoing.

Imee presses flesh in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija (Photo from the Imee Marcos Facebook page)

Once hesitant to run for a national post (she said she would rather go back to her first loves: filmmaking, graphic animation, and theater), Imee seems to be now considering the growing clamor for her to run for senator. Such clamor, I suspect, is getting stronger as the vice presidential protest of her brother Bongbong is at snail pace. Bongbong can’t run for the senate without jeopardizing his protest, and people want a Marcos in the national scene.

Imee is no stranger to legislative work. Prior to becoming governor, She was representative of the 2nd District of Ilocos Norte for 9 years. As governor, she focused on programs for education and youth empowerment, agriculture, economic development, tourism, and the advancement of clean energy, winning for Ilocos Norte a host of awards.

Whether her clash with Rudy Farinas—House Majority Floor Leader and himself a possible senatoriable—which led to congressional hearings would affect her chances remains to be seen, but judging by the very warm reception she experienced in places she has visited thus far, a senate seat is not beyond her reach.

Congressman Fariñas, non grata

persona

BY A resounding vote of 8, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Ilocos Norte in their regular session on June 27 declared Rudy Fariñas as persona non grata. The congressman was expectedly piqued, but he was right to point out in his statement that referring to someone as persona non grata is to say that “he or she is ostracized, and that such a person is for all intents and purposes culturally shunned, so as to be figuratively non-existent.” That exactly is what board members have done to him.

The term “persona non grata” is Latin for “a person not appreciated.” It was originally meant for diplomats and foreigners who have been deemed undesirable or unwelcome, but it is not the first time a Filipino citizen has been declared non grata in his own country.

Ramon Bautista was declared persona non grata by the Davao City Council for his hipon jokes in a party in the city during the celebration of Kadayawan Festival in 2014. Bautista joked that many women in the city are “hipon” which is a derogatory term for a person with a sexually appealing body but with a less attractive face.

Last year, the Sagguniang Panlalawigan of Pangasinan also declared Dr. Dexter Buted, president of the Pangasinan State University (PSU) as persona non grata after he snubbed the board’s three invitations to him and other university officials to appear before an inquiry.

But this indeed could be the first time a sitting congressman is declared persona non grata in his own province. What are its implications? Continue reading “Congressman Fariñas, non grata”

Rudy wins… and loses

photo from rappler.com

RUDY Fariñas is no doubt a brilliant lawyer and a skillful politician. He can amaze you with his analytical mind perfectly matched with his gift of gab. He can dazzle you with the wit and humor that go well with his good looks. This congressman, who loves to remind people that he is an Ateneo graduate and a bar topnotcher, can indeed make so-so lawyers look like total idiots.

I once wrote after his successful comeback to the national consciousness through the Corona impeachment trial that he should run for the Senate and that it will be a great disservice to the nation and a great injustice to his gifts if he doesn’t. And in another article after his glorious resurrection from political death, I sang my hallelujahs for the triumph of the human spirit. “You have seen the worst in me, now is time to see the best of me,” he said. And most of us believed him.

In 2010, he ran with Imee Marcos under the slate of One Ilocos Norte. Imee won as Governor. Rudy was elected congressman of the province’s First District. Such political union was short lived and in 2013, it was One Ilocos Norte no more.

But the rift between Rudy and Imee climaxed in recent weeks with the congressional investigations on the supposed misuse of R.A. 7171 funds. The House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability Committee, of which Rudy is part, alleged that some P66 million in funds intended for the welfare of tobacco framers were wrongfully used for the purchase of vehicles, and that there were obvious irregularities in procurement procedures.

I will leave the facts and legalities to the experts, for I am neither a lawyer nor an accountant. But let me give my two cents on who is winning in this political battle.

Rudy is winning. He has managed to keep six Ilocos Norte Capitol employees under detention for contempt. He has also thrice defied the Court of Appeals which is hearing the petition for habeas corpus filed by the detainees’ lawyers. I say “he”, and not the “Committee” or the “House” because, come on, we know that it is all Rudy’s orchestrations. The congressmen, afraid to lose positions and perks they enjoy if they draw the ire of the majority leader, will always toe the line. Although a political butterfly who gracefully fluttered his wings from the Yellows to the current administration, Rudy enjoys the trust and confidence, not only of the House Speaker, but President Duterte himself. And with all his feats, we can say, with just a little exaggeration, that Rudy Fariñas is master of the universe. Continue reading “Rudy wins… and loses”

Why Senator Miriam chose MMSU

 

TRANSCRIPT:

Last month, nag-usap-usap kami ng aking staff saan kami mag-inaugurate o mag-launch ng aming presidential at vice-presidential. Some suggested the North, some the South because I come from the Visayas, some wanted the rally or whatever event might happen inside Metro Manila, some outside Metro Manila. Pero bandang huli, dahil marami na masyado ang nagsasalita, ka’ko, dalhin niyo ako sa campus where I have always been most comfortable with an audience, but only a campus consisting of ordinary students. I want a campus with a high IQ.

(Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago at Mariano Marcos State University, Batac City, Feb. 9, 2016)

 

And, of course, the obligatory pick-up lines here:

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