MANILA,  JUNE 24, 2004
THE SOUTHERN BEAT By Rolly Espina  -  Well, sometimes voices from the provinces have more sense than those of national political leaders. And, just for the heck of it, perhaps presidential candidate Fernando Poe should heed the example of Negros Occidental Gov. Joseph Marañon, one of his staunch supporters. And, of course, the statesmanlike gesture of Sen. Panfilo Lacson.

Marañon and his brother, Rep. Alfredo, dumped President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during the last stretch of the campaign period. They were joined by several congressmen of Negros Occidental, 15 mayors and Vice Gov. Isidro Zayco, former provincial Lakas chairman.

Marañon, who was re-elected by an insurmountable margin, together with Zayco (who ran unopposed), called last Monday for reconciliation after the congressional canvass ended with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the lead.

GMA won overwhelmingly in Negros Occidental. Her margin over Poe, including Bacolod City’s returns, topped 250,000 votes.

But, for a time, it took the administration machinery a lot of hard work to avert a Poe tidal wave from engulfing the province. But after that was stemmed, administration campaigners, headed by campaign manager Rafael Coscolluela, former presidential adviser on cooperatives, managed to turn the tables and gave the President the unprecedented lead.

Marañon and company, however, coasted along to victory. But it was not for lack of effort that Poe lost overwhelmingly in the province.

It is significant that Marañon immediately offered the hand of reconciliation last Monday. He stressed the need for reconciliation to ensure development and prioritize service to the people.

That was the same call made by presidential candidate Panfilo Lacson who urged Filipinos to rally behind Mrs. Arroyo.

Despite Poe’s insistence that he was cheated of victory, Lacson pointed out that with the joint canvassing committee having finished its job, "everyone (should) leave politics behind and give the President-elect a chance to rebuild the country."

But Manny Portes, chairman of the FPJ Movement, refused to concede to Arroyo, claiming that the masses will stage a protest larger than EDSA 1, 2 and 3.

Portes echoed the opposition line that Mrs. Arroyo cheated her way to winning and warned that the people would not allow her to get away with it.

This drew a sharp retort from Rep. Monico Puentebella (Bacolod City) who pointed out that nowadays "we find very few politicians who concede to the people’s will." He added that the mindset of Portes is "what stops the country from moving forward."

Be that as it may, Puentebella observed that "people are very tired of destabilizing tactics and just want to move on with their lives."

Well, sometimes one should listen to words of wisdom from the provinces, especially from those who were in the thick of the fight and have learned to accept the outcome.

Marañon even went out of his way to express gratitude to President Arroyo for the P10-million aid from Malacañang to help complete the renovation of the provincial capitol which cost P82 million.

Regionalize Fare Hike

As earlier reported, there was a furor over the "universal fare hike." Both local government officials and local transport workers filed urgent petitions with the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) to review its approved fare hike.

In effect, the United Negros Drivers Operation Center (UNDOC) called for a reduction or the new fare rate in the face of widespread outcry against lack of affordability.

The LTRFB implemented an increase in basic fares of P1.50 for jeepneys on June 12, or a minimum of P5.50 for the first four kilometers and an additional P1 each for the succeeding kilometers.

UNDOC secretary-general Jessie Ortega, however, said their members have agreed to charge only P5.50 for the first five kilometers and 63 centavos for the succeeding kilometers.

In addition, students, senior citizens and the disabled will be charged only P4 for the first five kilometers.

Negros Occidental Gov. Joseph Marañon, at the same time, asked local transport groups to sit down with him and members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to thresh out a more realistic increase in transport fares.

Bacolod jeepney drivers risked lowering the fares despite the threat by LTFRB regional director Porfirio Clavel that overcharging or undercharging is a violation of the law.

At the same time, LTO head Dionisio Custodio warned that under Memorandum Circular 93/693 operators or drivers will be penalized with P1,000 for undercharging or overcharging.

Clavel also extended the need for the fare matrix up to June 30.

LTFRB chairman Ma. Elena Bautista has reportedly given regional directors the authority to schedule the fare rate after consultation with operators and drivers.

Sangguniang Panglunsod members Lydon Cana and Greg Gasataya hailed the move of UNDOC and allied organizations to risk their livelihood for the sake of the riding public.

They also issued an urgent petition to set aside the "uniform fare rates matrix" for Bacolod and Negros Occidental. They also urged a new hearing to adopt a regional matrix that could be adopted by the city and the province.

Hopefully, Rep. Monico Puentevella could bring down to Bacolod Bautista and LTO chairman Anne Lontock for a public hearing on the fare rates.

Gov. Marañon also invited UNDOC to a dialogue. Vice Gov. Zayco also said he has secured a copy of the Bacolod SP petition. The Sangguniang Panlalawigan, he said, hopes to come up with a resolution consistent with that of Bacolod as required by Clavel.

Despite the fervid furor over the revision of the fare rate, there is the bugging question exposed by UNDOC and its lawyer that they had long submitted to Clavel their petition after completing the requirements of the LTFRB. But it seems the petition for a localized rate increase had never reached the LTFRB board that could have saved some local drivers the cost of having to pay for a matrix that cannot be implemented locally without rousing public indignation as what already happened.

In short, for those who had bought the matrix, they should not be compelled to pay twice when a regional or local matrix is approved. Just a fair shake.

Ironic Awards For Drug Campaign

This week, Bacolod received five major awards from the Regional Anti-Illegal Drugs Operation Task Force 6 for its performance in the campaign against illegal drugs.

The awardees were Mayor Joy Valdez, Bacolod police Superintendent Mario Avenido, and barangay captain Zenaida Paduano. And the surprise awardee was police Inspector Clarence Dongail who received the award for the Best AID-SOP Group.

Bacolod received the awards for the best City Anti-Illegal Drug Abuse Group and City Anti-Drug Abuse Council. Paduano was cited for the best barangay Anti-Drug Abuse Council.

Dongail, it may be recalled, still has a pending charge for kidnapping with murder before the Dumaguete City prosecutor’s office. This was in connection with the abduction of former Barangay Pahanopoy captain Eleuterio Salabas and two companions. Several Bacolod policemen were involved in the case.

Of the 396 people arrested, 80 have been charged in court. This means that the police anti-drug unit has apprehensions every other day. And Dongail pointed out that he has to attend three hearings a week. But then, Dongail also has to face the charges against him. Shades of irony.

Mambucal Resurrected

Last weekend, hundreds of lowlanders and tourists trekked to the Mambucal Summer Resort to attend the Mudpack Festival which has earned a reputation as a major tourist drawer.

While the visitors enjoyed themselves, Mambucal also provided them the rest, calm and beauty needed by many to escape from the maddening crowd.

But the surprise. For just the period from January to June this year, Mambucal’s income reached P6 million and could conceivably hit double that figure by yearend. That’s a major boost for the provincial government which has only completed the rehabilitation of the inland Negros resort. It was once famed all over the country as such. It was the favorite spot of the late President Manuel L. Quezon.

Lawyer Jose Valencia, chief of staff of Gov. Marañon, glowed as he recalled how Mambucal had to be rescued from "disuse" or abandonment only two years ago. But now it is a blooming and inviting tourism resort of the province, a favorite of weekenders.

Even if only for that feat, Gov. Marañon’s reputation has been enshrined. He was the one who restored Mambucal to its fabled past and modernized it. Instead of just one hotel, component cities of the province constructed modern resthouses which can accommodate dozens of visitors, thus earning income for the local government unit.

Nestled just at the base of Canlaon Volcano, it provides a cool and refreshing ambience aside from the spectacular view of Panay Island and the Guimaras Strait. And one of its most dramatic sights are the hundreds of fruit-eating bats who fly out late in the afternoon as they careen around the mountain resort with its giant trees.

The provincial tourism program has also paid off. Internal visitors, i.e. Negrenses visiting other scenic spots in the province, reached 350,000 last year. And domestic tourism continues unabated, although the fare increases may have somewhat toned down the peregrinations of the Negrenses.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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