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At Large
Welcome to the family

By Rina Jimenez-David
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 21:01:00 07/17/2010

Filed Under: Politics, Government, Human Rights

VICE PRESIDENT Jojo Binay has finally joined the official family of President Aquino, with Binay?s acceptance of the post of chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council. This is the post former Vice President Noli de Castro also headed.

Perhaps ?V-Nay,? which is the nickname bestowed on him by those wishing to create an image parallel to that of P-Noy, realized that without a formal Cabinet portfolio, he would be consigned to a voice in the wilderness, roaming the country promoting himself but with no real power or a cause to espouse. Now, as ?housing czar,? Binay has the chance to carve out his own identity in a separate realm.

Housing, after all, has the potential to drive the economy. If the government is serious about building the number of houses needed to put an end to homelessness, the funds poured into the endeavor would fuel not just the real estate field but also industries like construction, steel, cement, finishing. It could also provide countless jobs while giving poor citizens the security and permanence they need to pursue bigger dreams.

Binay has insisted in the past that he does not need a Cabinet position since as Vice President he has both a mandate and a formal office. This is true, but he may have realized that he needs an assignment to occupy him while he?s busy staying alive and ensuring succession. He may also have woken up to the fact that in these early days, he needs to hitch his wagon to ?Mr. 88%,? and show the public that he also shares in the lofty goals promised by the President.

* * *

MANY of my friends expressed ?delight? at the news and especially at the photos of the Arroyo family dutifully lining up like ordinary citizens in front of an immigration counter before taking a flight for Hong Kong.

Stories contextualized the Arroyos? behavior as part of the new order of things after P-Noy?s ?no wang-wang? inaugural address. The former president, her congressman-son and her husband, it was said, were merely conforming to the new ways of officialdom, after the President promised a regime of no special privileges and no sense of entitlement.

But my happy friends saw the news in a different light. The scene showing a humbled Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo waiting meekly behind the yellow line struck them as comeuppance, proof of how the mighty have fallen. Perhaps now, they say, the Arroyos will realize what ordinary Filipinos had to endure while they spent nearly a decade reveling in the privileges of power.

* * *

I WONDER, though, if any other candidate had won, would we also be enjoying this regime of social and political equality? Would any other president have read the public mind as keenly, aware that it was the symbols of privilege and special treatment that rankled ordinary Filipinos?

A group I was allied with once conducted focused group discussions with ordinary folk to gather their views on the public health system. What they most resented, the respondents said, was the way clinic staff discriminated between a few moneyed folk and the rest of the great unwashed. ?If someone wearing shoes arrives, he will be allowed to enter at once,? one respondent observed. ?While the rest of us wearing only slippers have to wait in line.?

Filipinos, it seems, don?t mind the inconveniences of accessing public services. What they do mind is seeing authorities giving preferential treatment to the obviously better off. What they mind even more is seeing public officials behaving as if they deserved better or are exempted from any sort of hardship.

That is why the ?no wang-wang? speech was such a success. The ?wang-wang? is but a symbol of official privilege and arrogance. And by taking note of the pesky sirens, P-Noy showed he is one of us.

* * *

PERHAPS the fact that both rightists and leftists have protested the appointment of former Akbayan partylist Representative Loretta Ann ?Etta? Rosales as the new chair of the Commission on Human Rights should convince P-Noy that he has made the right choice.

Though for now the appointment is still ?unofficial,? many of Rosales? friends and supporters celebrate the designation. Even with the feisty former CHR chair Leila de Lima now the justice secretary, I bet that with Rosales at the helm of the commission, the public and the media will not lack for equally colorful and brave declarations from the former congresswoman.

During her terms as a partylist representative, Rosales proved a most outspoken and dogged defender of human rights and lent her voice to victims of state and military excesses. But this was a political stance Rosales had taken long before she joined Akbayan and won a seat as a party-list representative. As founding chair of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, she became a familiar face speaking out not just on teachers? rights but also on many issues the Left had been raising against the government.

I don?t know what led Rosales to break away from her colleagues in leftist organizations, but I do know the animosity between the groups declaring allegiance to the cabal in Utrecht, on the one hand, and Akbayan and similar organizations, on the other, is real and fervid. The different choices of presidential candidates to back were only to be expected, although I was kind of taken aback that Bayan Muna?s Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza chose to run in the senatorial lineup of Manny Villar, not previously known as a supporter of progressive causes.

That Akbayan, in the person of senatorial candidate Risa Hontiveros, allied itself with P-Noy merely proves it astutely reads the popular mood. Rosales? appointment may indeed be the result of political accommodation. But no one can deny that Rosales is the right ?fit? for the CHR and I for one look forward to her making this commission finally live up to its name.



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