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Let’s say grace

/ 12:40 AM August 30, 2012

If you want to know what’s wrong with the Philippine political system, you need look no farther than Isabela.

The province of Isabela has been dominated by the Dy family for the past 36 years (so much for term limits and the constitutional ban on dynasties). The Dys have, as in so many other places, considered it their fiefdom. So they were greatly upset when they were defeated by a diminutive woman, Grace Padaca. A radio announcer and an accountant, Grace challenged the Dys in 2004 and 2007 and won, to their great consternation. This was an upset they could not accept. They went all out in 2010 and won the governorship back. But that wasn’t enough; the win had to be cemented by destroying Grace to ensure she couldn’t run again. They were that scared of the threat she posed.

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So what did they do? Through former Isabela Rep. Santiago Respicio, they took Grace to court for allegedly releasing a P25-million hybrid rice loan for the Economic Development for Western Isabela and North Luzon Foundation Inc. without public bidding on the spurious charges of graft and malversation of funds. But she wasn’t amassing funds for herself, as others in the province have apparently done. During the term of Gov. Faustino Dy Jr., for instance, the revenues in the provincial coffers averaged P514 million per year (2001 to 2003). Under Padaca (2004-2006), the revenues were P650 million per year, higher by a quarter.

The funds were used to support the provincial government’s Hybrid Rice Program, which was created to help improve the lives of the local farmers by increasing their yield and providing them reasonable borrowing terms. It was a success, with 10 Isabela towns becoming among the top producers of hybrid rice in the Cagayan Valley. Despite the legality of the project (it was approved by the provincial board, was authorized by the budget department, and had gone through the Commission on Audit) and its purpose, Grace was charged before the Anti-Graft court.

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I call on President Aquino and all decent citizens who want a clean society, break up the dynasties now, before the next election. Mr. President, use your power and influence. Tell the Ombudsman to junk this scurrilous accusation against Grace. Appoint her as Jesse Robredo’s successor in the Department of Interior and Local Government. If she declines, use all your party’s resources to support her for the governorship of Isabela in 2013, and consign the Dys to where they belong—forgotten.

I know Grace: She is an honest, good-hearted woman who cares. And who knows how to get things done. Just look at this partial list:

Grace paid off around two-thirds of Isabela’s debts. Before the end of her term in 2010, the provincial government managed to record savings, overcoming the huge debt incurred by the Dys.

The Capitol intensified the construction of irrigation projects, farm-to-market roads, and multipurpose pavements used to dry crops.

She formed a forest protection task force for the Sierra Madre National Park that seized a record-breaking volume of 900,000 board feet of illegally cut wood in just a week of raids in June 2009.

She implemented a price support fund with the National Food Authority that allotted a P5-per-kilo subsidy for the purchase by the NFA of palay and corn from the farmers, increasing their incomes substantially.

She augmented the meager incomes of the overworked public attorneys with a P2,000 monthly allowance. This was implemented even before the national government enacted Republic Act 9406 or An Act Reorganizing and Strengthening the Public Attorney’s Office.

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In 2005, the provincial government enrolled more than 100,000 elderly Isabelinos in PhilHealth. This translated to the coverage of close to 700,000 Isabelinos as a single membership covers the entire household. From 2005 to 2008, the Capitol invested around P98 million in premium payments. Grace also doubled the allowances of barangay health workers.

The list goes on.

Like Jesse Robredo, Grace is a Ramon Magsaysay awardee, among other distinctions. And I like the sign in the budget, accounting and treasury offices during her term: “To all contractors/creditors: Your checks are ready for release. You do not need to give anything to anyone in order to be prioritized. If anyone asks you for anything, report him or her to me at once.”

The President has shown he truly wants to clean up the system. Here’s a glaring example of where a stiff broom is needed. Warlords must go, private armies must be abolished. Families like the Dys must be exposed for what they are, and denied a role in the politics of this country. Grace is like Jesse; let’s reward her while she’s alive, not recite eulogies after her death.

Then there’s another woman who’s already a good choice by the President—the new Chief Justice, Maria Lourdes Sereno.

She has shown an independence of spirit in controversial decisions where she did not go along with the majority who seemed (quite strongly) to favor former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

She did not agree that the creation of a Philippine Truth Commission was unconstitutional. The majority ruled against it on the basis that it singled out one administration over others. Of course it did, and should.

She dissented from the decision to suspend the House of Representatives’ impeachment of then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, who, subsequent events showed, indeed deserved to be impeached.

She argued that the Supreme Court should have allowed the Senate impeachment court to compel PSBank to disclose then Chief Justice Renato Corona’s foreign currency accounts.

She dissented from the majority decision to issue a temporary restraining order on the government’s travel ban on Arroyo.

All these decisions show an independence of thinking that we need today.

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TAGS: DILG, dy family, grace padaca, graft, hybrid rice, Isabela, jesse robredo, malversation of public funds, Peter Wallace, politics
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