It’s hard to change people’s minds especially those that only know them from what they see in the media…
by: Loejan Anudon
The TV interview featuring the Cojuangco couple, Mark and Kimi, on October 10, 2012 in GMA News TV Channel 11, BAWAL ANG PASAWAY KAY MARENG WINNIE, was an attempt to address the issue of political dynasties – a custom that has become prevalent in the country today. Granted, political dynasties is nothing new in governments. Every country has one but in a small country such as the Philippines, it seems to be much more obvious when you see the same surnames in positions of power over and over again. As in most situations, dynasties also has its pros and cons. However, where typical political clans are concerned the negative implications outweigh the positive.
This episode of Bawal and Pasaway opened with a couple of clips showing two women who state that they have not noticed significant change in their lives since the Cojuangcos took office.
Dubbed in the article announcing their appearance at the show as a “power couple” of the 5th District of Pangasinan, one cannot argue the moniker given the developments initiated and implemented during their time in office. During the interview, the couple was asked for proof of improvements in their district. These are some highlights of the projects in the district that they have had a hand in.
For instance, a gargantuan rice and corn dryer and mill, the first of its kind in the region, now stands in Villasis while another is currently on the rise in Alcala. According to the former congressman, it will take only sixty days to dry the entire rice/corn harvests of Villasis while also yielding a higher quality of grains.
Another one of their innovative enterprise is the creation of the cooperative dairy farm in Maraboc, Laoac which started out with 200 cows, has grown to over 800 heads and is well on its way to reaching benchmark levels in production. Aside from its profitability goals, the dairy produces subsidized milk for school children in the district, supplementing their nutritional needs.
Farm to market roads that are standardized to meet the growing population and increased number in vehicles have been laid in almost all barangays of the district.
From the congresswoman’s Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), both representatives have made it their practice to earmark P500,000.00 to each of the more than 200 barangays in the district, allowing each barangay and its leaders discretion to use the fund where they see fit.
It was the vision of Congresswoman Kimi Cojuangco to open the municipality of Sison to become globally competitive. During her term as mayor of Sison, she built towering internet poles for Wi-fi connections in almost all public high school grounds. “It is my wish to make Sison a free wi-fi municipality”, she once said.
All schools were given free computer sets and school heads with free laptops. For those who do not have computers, she opened the municipal library to all students, teachers or anybody who wish to do research activities all for free. Heavy and gargantuan water drilling machines were imported from abroad to provide clean and continuous potable water supply to all the barangays. These projects were once confined in Sison alone but her election to congress that provided her a broader role made her bring the projects in the entire district and is now thriving in all the towns.
Lately, the congresswoman was able convince Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary, Jose Rene Almendras, to fund the electrification of all barangays and sitios in her entire jurisdiction. The money is now deposited to their specific electric providers and implementation is ongoing to most areas.
Furthermore, the plight of women such as those depicted in the opening of the show is exactly what compels the congresswoman to advocate so strongly for the RH Bill. She has seen and met too many of them in her district. Those two women may not have met her personally yet and they may still remain untouched by the work she has already done in her district, but rest assured, women like them are very much in the congresswoman’s field of vision and is working towards their and their families betterment.
In her commentary, the TV host, Ms. Winnie Monzod, remarked on the lack of incentive for political dynasty leaders to improve the lives of their constituents, and many serve merely to improve their personal interests. She made a point of asking the Cojuangcos how they have benefited personally from their time in office, bringing into focus their asset declared in their SALN (Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth). The couple answered the question without guile stating that their assets have more or less stayed the same over the years they have been in politics. In other words, they have not gained financially because of the positions they held.
The Cojuangcos of Pangasinan are certainly unconventional in their sincerity and charm as can be seen in their interaction with Mareng Winnie; and those in their circle and who have come to know them, can attest to their genuineness.
Mark’s security aide who has been working for the family since Mark Cojuangco’s boyhood once commented of their deteriorating vehicles after noticing their mechanic performing McGyver like remedies to keep their vehicles running, “Sir, noong si daddy mo basta masira ng medyo grabe ang sasakyan namin, kinabukasan nandiyan na ang kapalit na bago (sir, during the time of your dad, when our car sustains damage, a new car arrives the following day). To the aide’s amusement, the former congressman retorted, “Bert! Si Mark lang ito! Hindi si Danding!” (Bert! This mark only. Not Danding!).
Funny enough, Kimi’s statement on the show that she has more money than Mark, has become great fodder for memorable one liners among their staff. On several occasions, the former congressman whined to his secretary, “Dhang, uuwi ako ngayon sa Manila, wala akong pera” (Dhang, I’m going home to Manila now. I do not have money). His secretary was heard answering him one time, “Sir, meron naman kayong e-pass para sa toll gate” (sir, you have e-pass for the toll gate).
Many of them marvel that a Cojuangco goes through the some of the menial worries most of us experience such as not having enough bus fare or enough petrol but they happen on many occasions. After all, when you come down to it, they are just like the rest of the people they lead. They have the same worries, the same concerns and the same passions. They just have a slightly bigger budget to work with than the rest of us. It’s all relative.
Having a larger budget than most, it is inevitable for people to seek their financial assistance which happen daily and when they are able, they comply with funds from their personal coffers. Unlike others who use public funds to perpetuate their personal beneficence, they both emphasize that to slice a cut from their PDAF or CDF for this purpose is illegal.
During a meeting with the officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways from the region and the district, former congressman Mark Cojuangco announced to everyone present that he doesn’t want to take part of any SOP (the metonymy for the percentage cut from the allotted fund) which has become a common practice especially with government funded projects. “Huwag niyo na akong isali sa kung ano mang SOP diyan! Ayusin niyo ang trabaho niyo kasi pag may nakita akong mali, aawayin ko kayo!”(Don’t involve me in any of your SOP! Better make sure to perform your work properly or you will have to answer to me!) the former congressman said.
Cojuangco is undeniably a name associated with being a political clan. The question is, are the Cojuangcos in Pangasinan typical of political clans who seek personal gain or are they breaking ground for the new generation of public servants who happen to be associated with clans but are now comfortable in their position to seek genuine service for their constituents? It is hard to erase old perceptions of political dynasties and the memories of the havoc that some of them have made in this country but perhaps rather than automatically voting for or against the familiar name, voters should take the time to also consider their candidate’s track record and their platform.