National transformation in Eastern Visayas


At the invitation of Bishop Crispin Varquez of the Diocese of Borongan, Eastern Samar, I traveled to Borongan last week  to talk about “the transformative role of the laity in Philippine politics.” This happened at their Diocesan Congress on the Laity on 11 October.

It was an unadulterated Church event, in observance of the Year of the Laity and in preparation for Pope Francis’  apostolic visit to the Philippines.

An impressive turnout of church workers from 34 parishes packed the capitol gym, but for a while I thought I was speaking to one of the two assemblies which had been convened by the National Transformation Council.

In recent months, Filipinos have heard a lot about “national transformation.” From August 27 in Lipa, when the first NTC-initiated assembly issued an “urgent call for national transformation,” to Oct. 1 in Cebu, when the second assembly defined “the first steps toward national transformation,” the phrase has become part of  the nation’s most important conversation. This was evident in Borongan.  There, the stress was on the moral and spiritual as the basis of, and the indispensable first step toward, the political.  And the people were eager to respond to the challenge, both as Church faithful and as citizens.

But the most striking work of physical transformation today is to be seen in Tacloban, which remains the gateway to Eastern Visayas. From Manila to Borongan, you first fly to Tacloban. From there you  travel by car for another four hours to your final destination.

You cannot possibly miss the spirit that fills the air. The whole city is being rebuilt from the ground  by the city government and the people themselves with a lot of outside help, but not from the national government.

In just a few days, the world will be marking the first year anniversary of super typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda, which flattened Tacloban on Nov. 8, 2013.  It is not known how the city intends to remember this unforgettable date.  Until now, the national government’s response to the  emergency has been at best tepid. In fact, a visitor from Manila is casually asked by ordinary city folk, where have all the foreign donations gone?

Some people who thought I was still a sitting “senator” wanted to know why the Senate has not summoned President B. S. Aquino 3rd,  Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, and Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman to explain what happened to the money from all those countries. Why are they giving so much official and TV time to those young punks in the Senate who are trying to bring down the survey ratings of the Vice President, while keeping complete silence on what happened to the foreign donations for the Haiyan/Yolanda victims?

They showed distinct outrage over reports that Aquino had yet to approve the proposed  master plan for the total recovery and rebuilding of Tacloban–nearly a full year after the US Seventh Fleet, the British Navy and most of the international humanitarian missions had come and gone.

In fact, one self-confessed promotion of the NTC  pointed out that if only for his heartless response to the calamity, Aquino should be run out of  his office, even without taking into account the other crimes he has committed against the Constitution when he used the pork barrel system to bribe the members of Congress to railroad the widely opposed Reproductive Health Law and to remove a sitting Supreme Court Chief Justice.

Despite all this, Tacloban has moved on and is determined to rise with a new face and spirit when Pope Francis comes to visit in January next year. The Pope’s much-awaited visit has become the biggest single motivating factor for people to quicken the pace of rebuilding and development.  Everyone is talking about it.  “This is where the Pope will say Mass,” “this is where the Pope can stop, if it gets to be too hot and he would need to take a drink or rest.”  “This is where I will stand and wave when he passes.” And so forth.

The show of solidarity is not limited to the Catholic faithful alone.  As I went around the city, my driver proudly pointed at the massive reconstruction of the Sto. Niño  church, funded by the world-famous Tzu Chi Foundation, which initiated the cash-for-work program at the height of the disaster.  “It’s the Buddhists putting in the money to rebuild this Catholic church,” he said.

But Tacloban’s greatest luck is to have a young, intelligent, hard-working and self-effacing mayor who is determined to get the work done with the people’s total involvement and support.  Mayor Alfred Romualdez, 52,  drives his people hard, but drives himself much harder still.  The result is a highly energized city government that has the courage to assume full responsibility for Tacloban’s rebirth.

Given the well-publicized effort of the President and his secretary of the interior and local government, Mar Roxas, to drive Romualdez against the wall during the first critical hours of the emergency, you would expect to find a highly resentful and antagonistic mayor when you mention the Aquino government.  There is none of that at all.  Romualdez is focused on doing what seems to be an impossible job, and getting his own people and the international community to support it.

Last September UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon invited both the President and Romualdez to participate in the Global Summit on Climate Change in New York.   Both accepted and went. But after the international security crisis in Iraq and Syria reshuffled US President Barack Obama’s priorities in favor of ISIS and away from climate change, Aquino found himself delivering an empty speech to an equally empty small room at UN headquarters. However Romualdez managed to keep his audience in a much larger room, and ended making some hands-on  recommendations, which won the support of the mayors of New York, Paris, and other big cities, and prompted the UN technical experts to put them forward for further discussions at the Paris summit on climate change next year.

In light of the unusually rude treatment Romualdez got from PNoy and Roxas, when they sought full control of Tacloban as a condition for providing  much needed national government help, asking the mayor to understand that the President was an Aquino, while he was “only a Romualdez,”  I fully expected the mayor to denounce the Aquino government’s inaction in the face of a grave emergency and ask  the UN to take disciplinary action against national governments that fail to respond to any type of emergency.

That would have made the Aquino government’s heartlessness and incompetence a matter of international public record,  and made such great running headlines in the world press.  But, noblesse oblige, there was no sign Romualdez ever thought of it.

Instead, he chose to be completely positive.  He asked the participants from all over the world to learn from the Tacloban experience.   He calculated that the various foreign governments and institutions that had rushed all sorts of assistance to Tacloban after Haiyan/Yolanda struck must have spent enormous sums of money to move ships, planes, machines, men and supplies for their individual operations.  And they would probably do the same thing again when the next calamity strikes.

But why not anticipate disaster, Romualdez asked, by identifying in advance the disaster-prone areas, and making the necessary investments in disaster preparedness and risk reduction management, etc. in order to substantially reduce the work to be done, and the cost to be incurred, when disaster strikes?

Apparently, it was the only proposal made with such authority and conviction that it not only won the ear of the UN experts but also gained for Romualdez so many invitations to speak before foreign audiences.  Amid the gloom that pervades the nation’s political scene, which has prompted the two NTC-initiated assemblies to call for PNoy’s early exit and for the organization of an “alternative government,” I spoke to Romualdez in his office in Tacloban, and got a rare treat.

I have not heard anyone of late, including those who believe they are destined for the highest office, who speaks with such conviction and confidence about the future of his city, and our poor degraded Republic.  How different things might have been if we had a working constitutional democratic system, and someone of this caliber sitting where PNoy now sits, or even where Mar Roxas sits.


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  1. it does not matter to abnoy is our people die infornt of him…he does not and will never care about the welfare of our people…..his only objective is proect and expand the oligarchs hold to the country…..and we filipinos must do everything to educate the youth,collect arms because the day of reckoning is inevitable…there is a war and loody scene in the horizon…and the MILF,Abusaff and the evil oligarch led by abnoy will continue and blatantly enslave us thru incompetence and his never ending style of Divide and destroy…..he knows that if he keep the youths focus n TV…Hungry,and uneducated…it is easier to buy their votes and divide and conquer them forever……..tama na kababayan kko…….MAGISIP AT TIGNAN NA NATIN ANG INAGAW NILA SA ATIN,DISGUISE AS PRIVTIZATION……..REVOLUTION IS THE ONLY SOLUTION

  2. the only reason why help was very very slow getting to the people of tacloban then and now is because the sitting mayor is a ROMUALDEZ. the pnoy and roxas tandem together with jinky soliman saw it fit in sending relief as slowly as they could so that they can turn the hearts of the the taclobanons against the mayor. somehow that back fired for now we see how the people of the city of tacloban can plan and proceed to stand on their own without the national government leading them. the mayor is sufficient enough to rally a city brought down to its knees and with sheer determination as shown by the people of tacloban, they will rise to the occassion. the hell with the the national government if the tacloban can pull this off. i know they can and they will. and if that happens, at least wala sila utang na loob sa gobyerno ni pnoy.

  3. Better bring the NTC here in Iloilo too! (As well as Negros Island) Why not Cardinal Vidal and the NTC top honchos visit northern Iloilo and Capiz (which is Roxas bailwick) which are also severely affected by typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan. They can spread the good word here about their vision at kung ano yung pinaglalaban po natin.

  4. victor m. hernandez on

    I imagine that typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) with its devastation still lingers in Eastern Visayas, physically and emotionally, will continue to linger up to 2016. It will definitely drowned the political personage that will carry the standard of “Daang Matuwid”. Climate change, and disaster risks issues will be two major election issues among other major issues, come 2016. .If NTC will not happen soon, it certainly will happen by 2016 and beyond.

  5. On record, Pnoy’s brashness when he speaks in an international forum portrays terribly an uncultured fellow. Attacking or maligning somebody, much more a fellow Filipino and a former president of his own country displays this trait and character fit only for the gutter.

  6. Simulan natin ang National Transformation sa Barangay level. Mag volunteer ang mga matitino at meron kaalaman sa mabuting governance kahit tatlong taon lamang. Tapos ang iba naman gayon din. Ang masamang sistema ng gobierno at katiwalian ay sa Barangay level nagsisimula. Maliit na bahagi lang ito ng bayan at magkakakilala ang mga tao kaya madaling baguhin. Walang pamumulitika kung lahat magkakaroon ng pagkakataon magsilbi at sa tatlong taon lang mag sasakripisyo para sa kapakanan ng Barangay. Mula dito unti-unti nang paakyat ang mabuti at tapat na pamamahala hanggang makarating sa Malacangang.

  7. Those who are proposing for President Aquino to step down, obviously the NTC, who do you propose to replace him with? The best thing to do, I think is to wait for the next election. NTC must help find the best candidate with impeccable record, with endearing attributes, fearless to deal with the overwhelming problems of the country with affinity for the poor. NTC must campaign for the FOI to become a law, abolition of POLITICAL DYNASTY, and make the crime of PLUNDER unpardonable.

  8. Mayor Alfred Romualdez performs like a leader and leaves petty politics behind. Aquino wake up and look at how someone acts Presidential. Even though less than 2 years are left, you can try to be a leader and not a divider.

  9. Ruben V. Calip on

    We must act more furiously. I suspect the Liberal Party and its allies, with Aquno as their battering ram, are bent on another kind of national transformation–emergency power or outright fraudulent amendment of the Constitution using the Smartmatic-PCOS machine. They will place the Philippines under a dictatorship so that Aquino, Abad and et al. escape prosecution for their crimes against the Constitutionand the rule of law and theie economic sabotage and impoversihment of the already poor, and their corruption.

  10. Dominador D. Canastra on

    This is the Mayor of Tacloban that President Aquino and Sec. Mar Roxas treated like garbage! May karma hit them! (That’s my translation into English of “May karma sana sila!”)

    • mabuti na lang at may mas may pinagaralan itong si mayor romualdez kesa sa tandem na sina aquino(boy sisi, hoity=toity) at roxas(boy pickup,boy kargador,boy trapik). kung ako si mayor gagayahin ko si boy sisi at ibubulgar ko sa u.n. forum na pinagsalitaan ko ang ginawa at walang ginagawang aksyon hangang ngayon ng dalawang ito. as i said, mayor is better educated.

  11. P. on

    I had the chance to meet Mayor Alfred Romualdez personally and I noticed his humility. How about, Romualdez for President, 2016?

    We need new blood, new face, new ideas and one who is sensitive to the people’s plight, to lead the country. Forget Binay and Roxas; they have done their parts. There is nothing to crow about as they have shown ‘mediocre’ performances. We need one who can inspire and rally the nation to a ‘rosier’ tomorrow. Neither has the “charisma” of being a national leader; both are “duds” and plain politicians with self-serving agenda. We need a statesman and a leader whom Filipinos here and abroad can be very proud of. We don’t need another “plastic” for a leader!

    • i agree with 100%. the likes of binay (biNOY), roxas, cayetano, escudero are the leaders WE DO NOT WANT in this point of time. we need new blood as you said.

  12. Hindi ba nahihiya ang mga pari na ang Buddhist pa ang nagpapagawa ng sirang simbahan, nasaan na million katoliko na dapat mag-ambag para sa pagpapagawa?
    Proud yung driver sa mga Buddhist hindi sa mga pari! Dahil walang-katiwa-katiwala ang mga katoliko sa paghawak ng pondo kaya walang gustong magbigay sa mga pari!
    Hinahayaan lamang giba ang simbahan,sana pagdating ng pope ay makita lahat at ipagawa niya! Marami namang yaman ang Vatican at siguro lalong matutuwa ang tao at hindi na aasa pa sa gobyerno! Sana!!

    • Kawawa ka naman at nagsasalita ka na kulang ang iyong nalalaman.. Wala pang institusyon sa buong mundo na nakapagbigay at patuloy na nagbibigay ng tulong sa mga napipinsala sa anumang kalamidad sa buong mundo kungdi ang simbahang Katoliko. Libo-libong congregasyon ng mga missionariong pari at madre na nagsasakripisyo para sa ikabubuti ng mga tao physical man o spiritual sa lahat ng panig ng mundo. Mag research ka muna kung anu-ano ang mga kawanggawa na ginagawa ng simbahang Katoliko sa buong mundo bago ka magsalita. Mag dalawang isip ka sa pag lait sa simbahang Katoliko dahil para mo na ring nila-lait si Kristo mismo dahil sa totoo lang ang simbahan ay katawan mismo ni Kristo. Ipagdasal ko na sana ay pagliwanagin ng Espiritu Santo ang iyong pag-iisip.

  13. Your report on the UN’s reception of Mayor Romualdez’ speech has been our much awaited piece of news since it’s occurrence. Thanks for sharing an important piece of news which has long since evaded headlines. Now we know why. Mayor Romualdez did so much better than the Abnoy who was listened to by just a token meager crowd.

    Your report has made us realize how unfortunate our country really is by not being gifted with national leaders who matter, who are worthy of respect and adulation by their commitment to duty, magnanimity and statesmanship. It seems we are always getting the short end of the candle and the “lemons” we have in the Executive and both houses of Congress is proof of this nagging suspicion.

    Your analysis has made us reflect that it is indeed time to separate the grain from the chaff if we do not want a repeat of this worst government we have, led by the worst president to ever come our way courtesy of the PCOS machines.

    The National Transformation Council with its proposed alternative government in lieu of the Abnoy and the present crop of corrupt leaders in all branches is a great idea whose time has come. Mayor Alfred Romualdez must certainly find his way to national leadership.