Transformation in Pampanga

MANILA, Philippines–The last elections produced some jolting results, the most startling being the victory of Antonio Trillanes IV on the national level, and of Ed Panlilio on the local level. Both began their terms yesterday. Inexperienced in the ways of politics, both defied the organizational odds of “men, money and machine,” ran on plain guts, and won convincingly even if by slim margins. Both symbolized the yearning of our people for genuine reforms, and their disgust for “lying, cheating and stealing.”

Among Ed. Of Senator Trillanes, I shall write at another time. For now, I would like to talk of my province. Two weeks before the elections, on April 29, I was invited by my cousin, Dr. Ronaldo L. Panganiban, to his farm in Candaba, Pampanga. He and his charming wife, Nanette, were celebrating the bar exam success of their two children, Robert and Maria Lourdes.

The festivities were attended by about 500 relatives, friends and neighbors. Amidst the eating, laughing and felicitating were the many streamers and posters for “Among” Ed. Many young people were distributing leaflets, cheering, chanting and pirouetting to the tune of home-spun jingles.

I have never known Ronnie to be politically-inclined. He had always been a no-nonsense professional. So, I asked him why he allowed the political digression to steal the limelight from his new attorneys. He replied that, precisely, he waited for a major gathering to push for Panlilio. Even if he had not met Ed, he admired his spunk and believed in his cause. That is why he spent his own money and asked nothing from him. He pleaded with all his patients to vote for Ed.

The physician added, “If I do not help, who will? Father Ed has no money, no organization, no nothing. None of the 20 incumbent mayors are supporting him. His two opponents are both moneyed and belong to the country’s two major political parties allied with President GMA [Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo]. I am tired of corruption, patronage and jueteng. He is my only hope for decency, honesty, efficiency and emancipation from broken promises.”

Frustration and grit. I was super impressed by my cousin. He represented the frustrations and grit of my cabalens. Truly, after that spectacular victory, Among Ed bears the heavy yoke of meeting the high expectations and pent-up aspirations—sometimes too much and too demanding—of many people typified by Ronnie who toiled silently, even anonymously, for his cause. Ed cannot disappoint them.

But he cannot succeed by himself. He has to find equally honest and competent assistants, lawyers and administrators. He needs the support of the mayors and the cooperation of the national government. He will have to avoid the pitfalls of prominence, power and perks. To do that, he must proclaim a vision of what he wants the province to be, and detail specific programs to achieve it. Most of all, he needs to lead by his own personal example of excellence, integrity and hard work. Visionary leadership by example, that’s the way to go.

Judicial transformation. Reforming public service is difficult, but not impossible. This has been achieved in a less dramatic but equally significant transformation of the judiciary in the province. Prior to 2001, the Pampango magistracy was tarnished by corruption, inefficiency and incompetence.

Between 1995 and 2003, six municipal and one regional trial court (RTC) judges were dismissed by the Supreme Court for direct bribery, grave misconduct and sexual harassment. Two of them were caught in flagranti delicto, in the very act of receiving bribe money, by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation. The RTC judge was sacked for his unmitigated libido; he shamelessly documented his sexual overtures in a lewd poem he handed personally to the complainant.

The Pampanga bar—led by crusading lawyer Jose S. Songco and supported by several Kapampangan justices, notably my good friend retired Justice Jose C. Vitug—convinced the Judicial and Bar Council to nominate lawyers who personified what I call the four “Ins” of a good magistrate: independence, integrity, industry and intelligence. To her credit, President Arroyo responded positively. Over the last six years, she appointed 29 (24 were women) young outstanding judges, 12 in the RTCs and 17 in the municipal courts, who all exemplified the four “Ins.” I should know. I inducted most of them to office.

Let me cite some of them: Guagua RTC Executive Judge Pamela Maxino, magna cum laude, Silliman University, got a grade of “A” in 48 out of 51 law subjects; San Fernando RTC Judge Divina Simbulan was a dean’s lister in both Ateneo (pre-law) and UP (law proper); Guagua RTC Judge Mylene Isip obtained her Bachelor of Arts, cum laude, while being editor in chief of the MLQ University student publication and vice president of the College Editors Guild; San Fernando Municipal Executive Judge Meredith Malig finished journalism from UP cum laude and placed 25th in the 1997 bar exam; and Lubao Municipal Judge Amelita Corpuz, got her master’s degree with straight “1” grades in eight out of 11 subjects at UST.

The secret of the judicial reawakening in the province is visionary leadership by example as well as a dogged determination to excel and to render speedy justice for all. By the same measure, what Pampanga needs now are competent, dedicated and ethical people who share the vision, mission, principles and personal example of the leader, and who will help him carry out his mandate. Good luck, Governor Ed.

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