"Voters will make a critical choice next year."
At the cavernous atrium of the Tagum City Hall in gold and banana-rich Davao del Norte, the congressman of its first district who was Speaker of the House of Representatives for the first two years of the Duterte administration, launched a voter education drive with the slogan --- “We need a Leader – 2022”.
Pantaleon Alvarez, who resigned months ago as secretary-general and member of PDP-Laban, which has become the flag of convenience for the presidential ambitions of Sen. Manny Pacquiao, stressed the need for voters to weigh very carefully their choice of the country’s next president after Duterte.
“The COVID pandemic has reversed all the economic gains of more than a decade. So many business enterprises have shut down, and the jobs and livelihood of millions have been lost”, he said, in order lay the premise for his advocacy of educating voters all over the country in the next eight months before COCs are filed.
“If we make the wrong choice of president come 2022, it will not be COVID that will kill our people, it will be bad governance. We cannot have a president who will do OJT (on the job training) after he is elected. We need a leader who knows what must be done, and who will hit the ground running”, the former speaker explained.
Before a socially-distanced gathering of political friends from Mindanao’s Regions 11 and Caraga, including some from Pampanga and Tarlac, and former Makati congressman and taekwondo champion cum movie actor Monsour del Rosario, Rep. Alvarez listed the imperative criteria he believes are how the electorate must judge the “pretenders”:
Brains. “Kinahanglan aduna’y utok. May utak.”
Heart. “Puso, lalo na para sa mahihirap”
Courage. “May bay*g. Marunong manindigan at hindi takot gawin ang tama, sino man ang tamaan”.
Principled. “Sa Bisaya, ang tawag nanin diyan ay baruganan. Hindi sunud-sunuran sa Amerika o sa China, at gagawin lamang ang tama at nararapat para sa Pilipinas”.
I personally witnessed the launching of Alvarez’ voter education advocacy, as the former speaker messaged me even when I was yet in Taipei first week of October last year. When I got to Manila prior to the holidays, he called me from Tagum to inform me about this interesting voter education advocacy.
Bebot, Sonny Dominguez, Bingbong Medialdea, Bong Go and this writer were closeted at the executive board room of Marco Polo Hotel in Davao City with then Mayor Digong from 9 in the evening of January 7 until midnight, then proceeded to the bar downstairs for further talks that stretched till 2 in the morning of January 8, 2015.
Together, we got the mayor’s approval of a plan to go on a “learning tour” (Sonny Dominguez’ term for the testing the waters’ pre-campaign) while in the Marco Polo board room. Then and there, we agreed to launch Duterte’s tour January 23 in Butuan City, at my family’s events place, and Bong Go called Gov. Angel Amante Matba to assist at inviting key sectoral leaders in Butuan and Agusan del Norte.
After Butuan, we lined up Pagadian in Zamboanga del Sur and Puerto Princesa in Palawan, thence Cebu City, the heartland of the Visayas in the home province of the Duterte family. All these destinations were decided upon that fateful evening.
But when Speaker Alvarez proposed his voter education advocacy and timed its launch on his 63rd birthday, it was not just my curiosity as a political technician, or even as a columnist writing mostly about political developments that got me to fly all the way from Manila to Davao.
It was also because Bebot Alvarez is a good friend, who invited me as well to his 60th birthday celebration in 2018, when he was still Speaker of the House. I failed to attend that event, where no less than the President sang “Ikaw” and merrily joined Bebot’s shindig. When I sent greetings by text, the Speaker responded (in Bisaya, with a tinge of “pagmahay” or “tampo” in Tagalog) “minsan lang ako maging sisenta anyos.”
Now on his 63rd birth anniversary, and being in Manila, I resolved not to miss my friend’s celebration.
“We begin this journey now, and I will personally visit as many provinces as I can, before the filing of certificates of candidacy of those who will run for president in October this year,” he declared.
Clearly, it meant that at the end of the journey, the Reporma Party founded by former Defense Secretary Renato de Villa in 1998, and which was Alvarez’ party vehicle when he first ran for congressman of Davao del Norte in the same year, would endorse whoever his voter education advocacy group would choose before the October deadline.
The program was brief, and so were the welcoming remarks of Tagum City Mayor Rellon and Davao del Norte Gov. Edwin Hubahib. Alvarez’ speech was preceded by a clip from Ted Failon’s radio program where he stressed the importance of choosing real and not “fake” leaders in the forthcoming 2022 elections. Then a voter education “anthem” from international singer-composer Freddie Aguilar, followed by a Davao-based artists’ “rock” rendition along similar theme, after which the former speaker and present kingmaker of Davao del Norte delivered his short but pointed remarks.
Interviewed later by media while most of us were having lunch, reporters asked who he was referring to when he enumerated his criteria for choosing the “right” presidential candidate, Alvarez enigmatically smiled and said “Bato-bato sa langit; ang tamaan huwag magagalit.”
Sharing the table with me were De La Salle University Dean Julio Teehankee, a respected political scientist, and former Comelec Commissioner Goyo Larrazabal who drove all the way from his native Ormoc City in Leyte.
We agreed that Alvarez’ gambit was not only timely, but very much needed, as voters must make a very critical choice come May of 2022.
In my mind, I remembered a line from Pres. Elpidio Quirino’s speech before the University of the Philippines in 1952, where he used the following words: “It is not a question of who can lead, but who ought to lead.”
Sadly, through many, many years, amidst the boom-and-bust cycle of our economy and the deterioration of our political maturity as a people, one can only hope that Bebot Alvarez’ quest, similar to a Diogenes looking for an honest man, or in Dean Teehankee’s more upbeat analogy of St. John the Baptist as precursor, would help elicit support from an enlightened electorate to choose well “the leader for 2022”.