COLUMN: GRACE BECOMES GRACE  /  MORE MAIL ON FORTRESS

MANILA,  JUNE 15, 2004
(STAR) 
HERE'S THE SCORE By Teodoro C. Benigno  -  "Tapang o talino?" Ninoy Aquino once asked me in Boston on the eve of his fateful journey back to the Philippines mid-August 1983. I tried to get out of that one by replying both had equal weight. Pressed by this extraordinary man, who now sported a semi-sardonic but nonetheless cherubic and boyish smile, to choose just one, I didn’t hesitate to answer "Tapang." Ninoy knew himself. He knew Ferdinand Marcos. He knew the Filipino. He knew the ascendance of tapang over talino in Filipino culture. Ninoy anticipated death at the dictator’s hands.

He didn’t quail or quaver at all.

So, just past the stroke of noon August 21, 1983, a soldier-assassin lodged a single bullet at the back of Ninoy Aquino’s brain. Thus did events lead to the dictator’s craven and cowardly flight to Honolulu, courtesy of Washington. Thus did events spiral and lead 21 years later to the dramatic crisis now unravelling in Congress – like a snake moulting its skin – after the May 10 presidential elections.

I liked that immensely – tapang. I don’t see anybody in Congress who fillls the bill. Nor in Malacañang. I see it, however, in one person who last Monday was finally proclaimed governor of Isabela. Ninoy would have doted on her – Grace Padaca. Courage for him was the only hallmark that could really define a man or woman. And Ninoy, superbly intelligent as he was, lived this courage, a hundred bandoliers of spiritual bullets wrapped around his body.

Grace Padaca, dear lady, you somehow fit in that mold. Since early childhood, you had both legs shot from under you due to polio. You should have sought the safety of the shadows, of anonymity, of a medical retreat for the crippled. But you didn’t. Your legs shriveled to pathetic matchsticks, you bravely fought for your due in society – a normal life. It was sheer agony, relying on twin crutches to navigate this earth, suffering the jeers of your fellow Filipinos who can really be cruel, studying as only you could study, achieving top scholastic honors no less, bending misery and misfortune to your sheer, indomitable will. That was guts.

No such woman as you in Philippine politics breathes today.

You could have been angry and bitter when you were finally proclaimed Monday. The Dys of Isabela, finally spurned by the Isabelinos who had had enough of them for 32 years, tried their best to stall your victory, stop your proclamation. Damned you as a communist adventurer. They never anticipated somebody beneath their class, a lowly daughter of teachers, physically wasted, a social outcast in Isabela’s high society, no glitter to her name, no frills, no folderol, no pedigree, would ever beat them in an election.

Well, Grace Padaca did.

I do not know you at all, Grace, but you must be some woman. And if I don’t miss my guess, your having walked down the political promontory as you did was no different from traversing two mountains, ten miles apart and connected only by the steepest of bamboo bridges. And on crutches at that. Bravo.

You’ve come a long way, Grace. And you came at a time when everything was Invictus. Remember the poem? Out of the night that covers me, black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever Gods may be for my unconquerable soul. Nothing about the May 10 elections redeemed itself. It was cheat and let cheat, fool and let fool, spend and let spend. trample and let trample from the very outset, verily an orgy of the rich and powerful seeking to preserve their imperium in our society.

You can see that in the ongoing congressional canvas.

But somehow, a little candle was lighted. And there was this Isabelina lady, who nobody ever knew or spotted before beyond the ken of her province, coming to the fore. And the results of the Isabela gubernatorial elections showed she won over Gov. Faustino Dy Jr. by more than 44,000 votes. There was no bombast in her voice. Neither was there elaborate elegy, nor the ringing of festive bells. Grace was just herself, modest, poised, smiling, saying she was not ecstatic about being proclaimed, only relieved.

The Dys knew when they were licked. There were some lingering protests, a diminishing accusation she was backed up and voted to power by the communuists, that beware, beware, the real power behind her was the New People’s Army (NPA).

Fie and forstooth! The Dys had stretched their luck, their fortune and their power too far.

A Jane Bardos, identifying herself as Special Education Teacher, Cauayan, Isabela, warns me in a letter the whirlwinds I have been raising aginst the Dys might blow me off course. Then, insolently, she asks me if I have ever visited Isabela. No, Ma’m, I haven’t visited Iraq either, or Afghanistan but I have a hell of a lot of knowledge about these two countries. So don’t dare me about Isabela, about the Dys. I know a steaming stew of court cases – including rape – against the Dy sons. And in one case, involving two visiting American girls, they were convicted.

I know a lot more.

Now back to Grace Padaca. Leave her alone. In due time, you Isabelinos will be proud of her, as we, who are now privy to her saga, are proud of her. If she perseveres, I do predict she has a great political future ahead of her. Ah, Ninoy, we could have talked to this lady together!

* * *

Letters continue to pour and we might as well publish a last representative if small batch of reactions to our two-column topic "Fortress establishment." It is with extreme jollity that we report that we have been much more commended and praised than villified – as we said earlier three-to-one – by these letters. They were of widespread domestic and foreign origin, which astonished me. I did request responses on purpose to find out how Filipinos and others were reacting to the continuing political convulsion shaking the Philippines as a result of the May 10 elections.

I also sought to know whether I was hitting target or fouling out. It does gratify a writer to know a huge majority agrees with him. Anyway, to resume.

Bobby Tordesillas (Quezon City): "What makes it so hard for you to believe there was no massive cheating when until now the opposition has not been able to come up with a solid evidence there was.Then you say the Church in the Philipines has no sterling record of helping the poor. If there is any organization in the country that has helped the poor, it is the Church. Have you gone out of your way to see how the different parishes, missions, church affiliate NGOs have helped the poor substantially ?"

Look, Buster, so much evidence has come out since you wrote your letter to prove or strongly indicate there was massive cheating. Even the Philippine Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), perhaps the most informed and responsible entity on this issue, just days ago distanced itself from the bishops of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). The bishops mentioned only "isolated cases" of cheating. The Council didn’t agree at all. Even before the elections, a top PPCRV official told me all indications pointed to massive electoral cheating. Kiddo, the Church has helped the poor substantially? You kidding? The Philippines remains one of the poorest nations in Asia, so poor, so wretched we are now the "basket case" of the continent. Care for figures? I can cram them down your throat from morning to midnight.

Juanito Cruz (no address): "It would be a tragic mistake for politicians in Congress for GMA to force a proclamation on or before June 30 instead of having a tally that is free from doubt even if such proclamation goes beyond June 30." G.D. Chan (no adddress): "I find it disquieting that religious leaders (Catholic, INC, El Shaddai, Episcopalians, etc.) could say ‘Oh there is a little cheating all right but I find it acceptable.’ A little murder is acceptable? A little kidnaping is acceptable? Keep up the good fight, Mr. Benigno."

Vicente del Fierro (President, Coalition for Consumer Protection and Welfare): "The truth is that no one since time immemorial has been convicted and punished. Illegal loggers go unpunished. Gambling lords and drug syndicate lords can hire the best lawyers. Their millions can buy and even bribe prosecutors, judges and justices. Sovereignty is supposed to reside in the people. As it is, sovereignty resides in the government. It is only the poor and the powerless who are convicted."

Efren N. Padilla (Ph. D. Professor of Sociology and Urban and Regional Planning, Cal State Hayward): "I believe we can still create ‘new cities on the hill’ in tandem with our respected gentry class and foreign capital. If we decide to think and to act differently, I am convinced that we can raise our per capita income, refine our manners, and gentrify our intellect. Unfortunately, Ferdinand Marcos blew his date with history. And so, here we are – living in a Malthusian trap, juvenile in ways, vulgar in manners, and mediocre in intellect. Quo vadis?"

Frank Wenceslao: "As former SC Justice Cecilia Muñoz Palma said in the Bulletin, I agree that by June 30, a proclamation should be in effect as provided for in the Constitution, but this should not be done through speedy canvassing, short of prudence, credibility, and transparency to avoid a crisi of faith in government. In other words, while the June 30 proclamation is desirable, it is not absolutely necessary if counterchecking of some COCs with the SOVs and, if further needed, down to the election returns."


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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