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Monday, March 4, 2024

Magalong’s quest

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“The multi-headed hydra of corruption most gross along with incompetent service to the public that placed officials in power continues, and fattens itself to this day”

You could almost hear in the background the music of Mitch Leigh in the Broadway hit titled Man of La Mancha, where the lyrics of Joe Darion-immortalized “The Impossible Dream,” as Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong launched the Mayors for Good Governance.

The film version of the musical was shown in 1972, eerily the year Ferdinand Marcos Sr. declared martial law, and would have ruled “forever and ever” (from Handel’s Messiah which then First Lady Imelda chose as the “anthem” for her husband’s third inaugural at the Quirino Grandstand in 1981), after a “mock” election the dictator held to impress upon his friend Ronald Reagan that our leadership was, in the words of then Vice President George Bush, in “adherence to the democratic principles and the democratic process.”

Marcos Sr. and his wife are described by some writers and journalists as among the “most corrupt” leaders in world contemporary history, a judgment that may be harsh when placed against the continuing reign of greed in our country after him.

Magalong along with his 100 mayors launched their movement for good governance 40 years after the murder on the tarmac of Ninoy Aquino, the man who returned to our country from his Boston exile armed with the “impossible dream” of convincing his Upsilon brod to freely give up the reins of authoritarian power and pave the way for a peaceful return to the democratic form.

History has a way of creating ironies.

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This article about Magalong and his 100 is being written for print on August 31, the 40th anniversary of Ninoy Aquino’s historic funeral which drew millions from Sto. Domingo Church in Quezon City to the Manila Memorial Park in Paranaque.

Magalong, the upright police official who after retirement from the police force took the reins of corruption-tainted Baguio City Hall, and has been systematically changing the face of the summer capital from urban decay, is perhaps the best person to lead a crusade against corruption.

Among close friends, we always wonder why Baguio has never had a competent and upright city mayor, until Benjie came along.

The observation, unkind as it may be to past city mayors, is borne by our experiences in the once City of Pines.

As a small kid, I was already going to Baguio, and when I was in primary school, my mom and I would go there each month to collect payments for dry goods sold to the big department store there, Tiongsan, and the stall owners in the public market, by my grand-uncle’s factory which made school uniforms of khaki and cotton shirts as well as denim pants.

After college and up till the turn of the century, it was a habit to be in Baguio from December 26 till the 30th, sometimes even to welcome New Year.

And so I have seen how the once lovely summer capital deteriorated through the years, especially when SM bought Pines Hotel from the government, and converted the same into a humongous mall that killed the shops at tony Session Road.

Nowadays, the traffic alone has become reason to shy away from the city, and in the fewer times we are there, the visit has been confined to the Camp John Hay and Baguio Country Club area and environs up to St. Joseph’s Church.

Shocked at the substandard public works and the effrontery of contractors and district officials to offer him bribes, and juxtaposed with his worries at the huge national debt, the fiscal deficit, and the fiscal collapse attributed by our finance officials to the unsustainable MUP of which he is one among hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries, Magalong rightly pounded on corruption as the single biggest culprit, the hindrance to good governance.

And he has been most vocal about this.

His former superior, Ping Lacson, has been railing against corruption, eschewed the pork barrel and the budgetary insertions of his fellow members of Congress, exposed graft so gross for years and years, and has for now retired from public service without seeing his crusade move even an inch forward.

Lacson, when he first ran for president in 2024, diagnosed the main problem of governance in the country, and stated in plain and simple terms, that “the problem of governance is government itself.”

Running as an independent against the incumbent GMA and the uber-popular “king” FPJ, he placed third in an election where a year later and after the death of the cheated, Hello Garci almost made the administration of PGMA collapse, were it not for her stubborn and decisive hold on generals and legislators.

Even the upright PNoy in 2010 who made “Daang Matuwid” his battle cry could not defeat corruption, and had to succumb to the dynasts and “development assistance funded” legislators, while LGU officials with their IRA feasted upon their bonanza and used the same to perpetuate their families in power.

Neither did the hard-fisted PRRD succeed in taming public greed.

The multi-headed hydra of corruption most gross along with incompetent service to the public that placed officials in power continues, and fattens itself to this day.

Listening to an interview of Magalong, he modestly said he and his initial 100 mayors will organize small groups and discuss “how to move forward.”

“We will have to define our mission, vision, what our plan of action will be. If we grow, it will be an overarching movement,” the mayor said.

“Anybody can join,” he responded to a question, adding they “assume that there is something good in people, (that) people change…although “we also should have a filtering.”

Well stated. To be inclusive, rather than exclusive as those of the hypocritical among the derided “yellows” and their re-incarnation in the “pinks,” is a good first step.

Their two-page manifesto calls for the rule of law, responsible leadership, transparency, prudent fund management, citizen participation and empowerment, and youth development.

All these may be “motherhood” statements unless they are rightly implemented in action more than words, whether through a swift cleansing or through incremental progress.

“We shall embrace a strong public service orientation, putting the welfare and needs of our citizens at the forefront of our agenda. Our decisions will prioritize the common good over personal or political gain,” the manifesto said.

We can only hope that Magalong’s quest, along with his 100, will bear fruit in time, for the sake of our youth whose future we have squandered on the shoals of incompetence, corruption, a lack of vision and direction, and ineffective “service.”

“It will be tough,” the mayor said in his speech at the launch.

“But we are not going to give up because if we abandon the cause, it is as if we have given up for the future of our kids, the future of our children, the children of our children, and the future of our nation.”

One hundred fifteen retired and active military and police officers expressed their support for the movement.

A hundred mayors out of almost 1,600 and 115 out of legion may be viewed as a small start, and even now, some cynics have called Magalong the new “Man of La Mancha,” his quest for good governance quixotic, an “impossible dream.”

But we can never give up.

Otherwise, we doom our future, and we collectively discard what little love of nation still persists amongst us.

***

Once again we grieve at the loss of a dear friend, Mike Enriquez, and we condole with his family at the irreplaceable void he left in their lives.

Mike was a sentinel for good government, a sympathizer on the plight of the man in the street, an advocate for good sense in the day-to-day workings of government.

I have been privileged to know him well, especially in the 12 days when we and his physician-wife, traveled together with a few other friends in a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2004, where I witnessed closely the engaging humor and the love of his chosen profession by this simple man.

Hail and farewell, dear Mike.

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