sunday shorts: of politics and sports

courtesy: davidlicke.com

Iloilo City – Flying into Iloilo City yesterday, it became obvious that election season is upon us. On our plane were UNA heavyweights Vice President Jojo Binay, Rep. JV Ejercito and Former Senators Ernie Maceda and Dick Gordon. They were on their way to Iloilo for the opposition group’s proclamation rally of their anointed candidates for the local races.

By coincidence, Mayor Jed Mabilog was also on the plane.

I was on my way to a meeting where my company was going to complete its entry into a joint venture company to build a new hospital in Iloilo City. The chit-chat prior to the meeting was also about politics. As former Speaker (of the US House of Representatives) Tip O’neill once quipped – “all politics is local”. Thus, this discussion of Iloilo politics was indeed very interesting.

It is also quite interesting, as the start of the Philippine election season happens to coincide with the tail-end of the US elections. It makes for a stark comparison of the relative maturity level of the two countries’ political discourse. The ideological divide which has made for some very nasty exchanges in certain US races is relatively absent in the Philippines. The ease by which politicians change from one party to another, if not create a totally new party altogether, speaks to the lack of a substantive mooring based on personal convictions and beliefs.

This also begets flawed candidates and eventually elected officials who would otherwise never even be allowed at the starting gate. The manner by which the Filipino electorate easily gets swayed and awed by personality-based politics and shallow works of “public service” does not raise the level of scrutiny where the morally bankrupt and those with questionable character through plain gumption and the lack of personal kahihiyan present themselves as viable candidates. The problem is that we let them get away with it dahil mukha naman siyang mabait, guwapo at kung anu-ano pang kadahilanan  by which we delude ourselves into condoning mediocrity.

The race for mayor in Iloilo is a race between someone who has done things for the city but whose manner of doing so may have rubbed people the wrong way and someone who has done things for the sake of doing it to “establish” his credentials as a man for the people. The former has alienated some people because they have felt their old way of doing things being threatened. They have felt threatened because they fear the culture of accountability and are loath to give up their sense of entitlement.

The latter, on the other hand, is a man of contradictions. He swooped in after a long absence from the city throwing money around. He goes around in flashy cars with bodyguards. On the other hand, he has established free “soup kitchens” for the poor. He has bought up newspapers, ran for and won the presidency of the local press club. He wails out at what he terms the “culture of corruption” at City Hall with hardly a shred of evidence. Yet, at the same time he faces a tax evasion case alleging a tax deficiency of P85 million.

He calls for transparency in City Hall transactions. His plans include putting up a digital billboard in front of City Hall to show the city’s balance sheet, full media coverage of public biddings and a “government-sponsored” TV channel to show all transactions between the city and its suppliers. I’m sorry – WHAT?

Even as he says all this, his own source of wealth remains a mystery. He claims some of it comes from a shipping and export/import business which the Bureau of Customs has never heard of. He has implied some business relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and claims that relationship enabled him to get rich in the minerals business. Hay…

In all likelihood, the incumbent mayor will win the election. He has the support of the business community who have seen a sea change for the better in the way business has been conducted in the city.

Our democracy allows the ability to change for the better by guaranteeing the freedom of speech to keep government honest (that’s the intent anyway). Yet when one of the organs of this freedom – the Fourth Estate – is hijacked by someone of dubious origins and character and worse, the political opposition anoints the hijacker as its chosen one – well, there is something really, really wrong with that picture.

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The historic victory of the Philippine Men’s National Football team, the Azkals, in the Philippine Peace Cup was noteworthy for the significant contributions of players who were either new or finally broke out. Denis Wolf, Patrick Reichelt, Matthew Uy, Jeffrey Christiaens, OJ Porteria, Anto Gonzales and my man – Ed Sacapano. It was also notable for the long spells of beautiful football played by the team marked by gorgeous interplay while on the attack.

For many in the know, however, this was a Cup that was ours to lose. The Philippines (#150 in latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings) has surpassed Chinese-Taipei (#176), Guam (#185) and Macau (#200) as a better team. Of course, actually winning still takes hard work and being stronger on paper does not make one automatic champions. The pocket tournament also allowed our team critical match time to jell and break in the new players which is very important.

The Suzuki Cup will be much tougher. It was just our luck to have been drawn into the Group of Death which currently includes host Thailand (#131) and Vietnam (#146). Another team will join this group from a qualifying stage which starts this coming week with the favorites being Myanmar (#183) and Cambodia (#188). The other group, on the other hand, includes host Malaysia (#156), Indonesia (#161) and Singapore (#168).

We have lost to Thailand 12 straight times although we have not played them since 2007. Our last victory against them came in 1972 when I was in my diapers. Having said that, things are different now and the morale-boosting victories we have had in the last month or so should hopefully give the team a fighting chance.

The Philippines has played Vietnam 7 times. Our record has been 1 win, 5 losses and 1 draw. The lone win, however, came in the historic Suzuki Cup match in 2010 in our last match against them. The Vietnamese are probably still smarting from that defeat on their home turf and our match with them in this edition of the Suzuki Cup should be a dog-fight.

Whichever team joins this group from the qualifiers, the Azkals definitely have their work cut out for them. To duplicate their semi-final finish the last time out they will have to beat the qualifier and either of Vietnam or Thailand to advance. I just hope that the PFF and the Younghusbands resolve their differences to give us a better chance of doing so. Hey – who doesn’t want a happy ending? The Suzuki Cup will be no Peace Cup, this will be war and we need all the help we can get.

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