MANILA, February 5, 2004 (STAR) FROM THE STANDS By Domini M. Torrevillas - During the past three weeks I went to places in Mindanao upon the invitations of NGOs and GOs. I was in Zamboanga City on the invitation of Amina Rasul to attend a meeting on empowering Muslim women. Then twice to Davao City for a conference organized by Raul Contreras for a group of Lumads and a small-grants workshop organized by USAID-AED for organizations engaged in family planning programs. Last week I was in Marawi City to attend a Muslim economic empowerment forum organized by the Philippine Muslim Welfare Society and the Mindanao Institute for Peace of Mindanao State University, then in Cagayan de Oro City, the town of Talisayan, and Gingoog City (all in Misamis Oriental) to observe coastal management projects of the Bureau of Fisheries, and gather material for an article for Filipinas, a magazine published in San Francisco.

One would think that I was on the campaign trail! The truth of the matter is that during these conferences, I was able to see and hear peopleís choices from among the aspirants in the coming presidential elections.

The two most popular presidential candidates are GMA and FPJ, the supporters for the latter coming mostly from classes C and D, with a sprinkling of professionals. But when an avid GMA admirer talked about how much better it was to vote for someone who has had "a learning curve" of three years and who doesnít need to cram for a six-year exam, some of the listeners nodded, as if they were having second thoughts about voting for the movie actor.

In Marawi, I had the occasion to chat with women members of the Philippine Muslim Welfare Society PMWS. Wearing the traditional malong and head scarf, Aida A. Rauf and Nailia Lanto took turns explaining that they want to make elderly Muslims aware of Islamic teachings, good governance and peace-building, and that they value the importance of education and having some form of livelihood such as poultry-raising and dressmaking.

Another group, the Mindanao Womenís League, wants support from the government for the training of Islamic teachers. The president, Fatima Macarandas, studied and lived in Egypt for nearly 18 years.

Quite articulate were Dr. Dipsy D. Marahon, an energetic NGO leader, and Dr. Buenconsejo Navarro.

In Cagayan de Oro, our group leader, Saeed A. Daof, who is the director of the Center for the Promotion of Peace and Development of Mindanao and who was recently appointed member of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) Negotiating Panel for Peace Talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, was the center of attention of Upsilonians in that city. We stayed in the home of a classmate of Saeed in UP Los Banos in the 50s, Dem Talian, and his gracious wife, Lucing. Upsilonians who were excited about meeting a brod, were Tito Mora who has a daily talk show over Chanel 28 and runs Swift Travel Agency with his wife Girlie, lawyer Adonis Nicanor, businessman Bage Pernia, farmer Frankie Bonto and Bombit Consunji, PHILCOM manager.

We drove on through the Marcos Highway (imagine, this highway was built in the 60s by a Korean firm, but it has remained sturdy, without potholes, whatsoever), and stopped for a sumptuous lunch of very fresh fish at a restaurant by the sea in Talisayan. Our host was David Ernacio, assistant regional director of the Bureau of Fisheries (BFAR).

After lunch, we met with the town mayor, Rommel Maslog and fishermen involved in a community effort of raising bangus within fish cages. This project is supported by BFAR and the Asian Development Bank. The mayor is running again, under the Lakas banner, and was candid enough to say that FPJ appears to be the popular candidate, although the trend could change when election day nears.

Then we moved further east, to Gingoog City, my beloved hometown. Here people said the excitement is more on the mayoral candidates than the presidential contenders. The two are Remy Rodriguez, wife of the incumbent mayor, Romulo Rodriguez, whose third term expires in June, and Ruth de Lara Guingona, wife of Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr.

Remy, who has a bachelorís degree in music, has been helping her husband via social and civic projects. She is the quiet type, of the Jacinto clan of Davao. Ruth is the feisty one; a native of Gingoog and a commerce degree holder from Assumption Convent of Manila. She ran for and lost her bid for governor of Misamis Oriental , but then it was discovered she had won just five months before the next gubernatorial election. She ran again, but lost to the now incumbent governor.

Ruthís father, Vicente, had served as a city councilor, then governor of the province twice, and congressman thrice. Add growing up in a political family to being wife of a senator, then vice-president, and with a son (Tootsie) running for Congress, and Ruth has enough exposure to running campaigns. She has a vision for Gingoog Ė to build port facilities and continue the present administrationís mini-hydro project to attract investors and see the formation of factories. "Iíve travelled a lot, and people told me they want to invest in Gingoog, but they want to see better facilities," Ruth said. She also wants to build a childrenís park. "This is the only city which does not have a public park."

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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