, April 21, 2004
INSIDE CEBU By Bobit S. Avila - There’s no question that Philippine STAR publisher Manong Max Soliven is a tough act to follow, especially with his highly-acclaimed television talkshow "Impact" on ANC, where he interviewed Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (PGMA) at the Waterfront Hotel last month. So a month later, when I got a call from our good friend Cerge M. Remonde that Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (PGMA) was going to Cebu last Saturday and we were part of her hectic schedule for an interview on our Talkshow, "Straight from the Sky"… we had to look for topics that Manong Max hadn’t talk about on his hour-and-a-half long show. Coincidentally, we used the same venue that Manong Max used near the Presidential Suite.

Malacañang wanted to send me a list of my talkpoints and yes, we broke it down to national, local and international issues… however, I soon learned the President wouldn’t be able to complete a full-hour on our show and I settled for 30-minutes with her. Pres. Arroyo had just come from the 50th anniversary celebration of the Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (ALU-TUCP) which was held at the Ballroom of the Waterfront Hotel where she got a resounding pledge of support from ALU-TUCP President Democrito Mendoza.

Of course, as STAR reporter Marichu Villanueva wrote, former Sen. Ernesto "Boy" Herrera who is TUCP Secretary General, denied that the TUCP and ALU have endorsed GMA. As we all know, Boy Herrera is seeking to get back into the Senate, however he is running under the opposition KNP… and the endorsement by the Big Boss Democrito Mendoza was quite embarrassing for Herrera. But all the local newspapers in Cebu printed front-page photos of Mendoza raising the hand of the President… there can be no denying that.

Herrera’s denial was understandable, perhaps he was trying to save face or his neck, after all, he is the secretary general of TUCP, a group that endorsed the President of a rival political camp… coming from a large labor organization, this could be fatal to his candidacy because the KNP might just junk him for that faux pas… with Herrera tailing behind… I doubt if he can push it.

Meanwhile, when my interview with Pres. Arroyo began, she took me by complete surprise… when I asked her why she had that special affinity for Cebu, she told me that when her mother, former First Lady Evangeline Macapagal was studying in Cebu, she won Cebu’s biggest beauty contest and was named "Carnival Queen". This would be today’s equivalent of the Ms. Cebu City Tourism Pageant. She told me that the principal sponsor of her mother for that contest was the Cebu Advertiser! This was the pre-war English language daily owned by my grandfather, Don Jose Avila which was hit by a bomb during the Liberation of Cebu. That Pres. Arroyo remembered such little details in her mother’s past was quite remarkable!

My major topic was about Charter change… something that we’ve been passionately writing about… especially when the critics or political rivals of the President insist that another term for GMA would be much of the same. But apparently, GMA is serious about real reforms, reforms that she couldn’t push in her short three-year term left-over from deposed Pres. Joseph "Erap" Estrada. But this time, she’s focused on changing the structure of government, opting for a parliamentary and a federal system, because this is the system that is working in many nations, especially here in Asia.

The President said, "My commitment to a shift to federalism is based on my practical experience in governance. Our highly-centralized, inefficient and ineffective unitary form of government has to be replaced. For one, the elaborate checks and balances among the three branches of government have produced policy gridlocks and twice in the last 17 years, the people have launched people power revolutions, risking constitutional crisis and even civil conflict.

Secondly, federalism will empower regional governments by giving them more power, authority and resources. This will further lead to bringing governance and public service closer to the people, improving their lives and their access to decision-makers, reducing corruption and making government more responsive and accountable to the people. A Federal system will discourage destructive politics, promote peace and order, and achieve political and social equity."

I couldn’t have said it any better. Yes, for too long, one of the biggest ills of this nation is indeed our unitary system… a system that forced the demise of the Soviet Union. Best of all, a federal system embraces the cultural diversity of our country… after all, we are a nation of Cebuanos, Illonggos, Kapampangans, Igorots, Chavacanos, Warays, Ilocanos, Panga-latoks, Bicolanos and yes of course, Tagalogs. On this issue alone… one cannot say that a new GMA presidency would be six-years of the same kind of governance. If the President is committed to this, she assured me that the senators in K-4 are equally committed to this endeavor and apparently, even some of the senatoriables belonging to the opposition.

As a sort of practice move… to prepare us for the eventual shift to federalism, Pres. Arroyo ordered the transfer of the headquarters of the Department of Tourism (DOT) from Manila to Cebu and for Agriculture Secretary Luis "Chito" Lorenzo Jr. to move the DA head office to Mindanao. That was something unexpected and when this transfer is effected… that means, there will be added and future development of the countryside. Now this is what we call honest-to-goodness reform!

I wanted to talk about Cebu politics, especially the hotly-contested gubernatorial race, but the President didn’t want to talk about this issue… which means, the race for the governor of Cebu would still be in a free-zone. Todate, the three players, namely, Gwen Garcia, daughter of Gov. Pablo Garcia, Agriculture Undersecretary Celestino "Junnie" Martinez Jr. and Vice-Gov. John-John Osmena, son of Sen. Sonny Osmena are supporting GMA. It is for this reason that GMA can truly claim that Cebu is GMA country!

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For email responses to this article, write to Bobit Avila’s columns can also be accessed through He also hosts a weekly talkshow entitled, "Straight from the Sky" shown every Monday only in Metro Cebu on Channel 15 on SkyCable at 8:00 in the evening.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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