18 APRIL 2007
"That's why I'm very excited about this," said Bulacan Governor Josefina 'Josie' de la Cruz. She paused briefly. Then it came: "But then my term ends May 30. So the truth is, to ensure that all I have worked for will not go to waste, I have allowed my brother, I have requested him, to follow me and vie for the post of governor."
Some of the women in the crowd fidgeted, some exchanged looks with their seatmates, while others nodded. Most, if not all, of them had heard rumors that the governor's brother, Bocaue Barangay Captain and ex-officio Provincial Board Member Joselito 'Jonjon' Mendoza, was going to run in the May elections. But it was still more than a month before the campaign period — and there was the governor, openly campaigning for her brother.
Plotting to perpetuate her family in power, however, is probably among the mildest of the accusations that have been hurled against de la Cruz. Among the most serious allegations is that she has allowed relatives to land lucrative government contracts, leading to graft charges filed against her before the Office of the Ombusdman.
De la Cruz has fought back, sometimes by filing cases herself; she has even slapped a journalist with a libel suit, and just recently threatened to do the same to those who would write "unsubstantiated news to malign (her) reputation."
And it's still quite a reputation. Now in her ninth straight year as governor, de la Cruz, for many observers, remains among the best of the country's local chief executives. It's not hard to see why: From the 1970s and up to late 1980s, Bulacan was a province on decline. But largely due to de la Cruz's bureaucratic reforms and innovative programs on education, health, social services, and economic development, Bulacan, which is just next door to the National Capital Region, seems to have won just about every award that could be given to a province since she became its governor.
Just last year, the Galing Pook Foundation, a nongovernmental group that promotes good governance, gave it a special citation for achieving significant improvements in practically seven of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The province's cooperative programs, for example, addressed the first goal on reducing poverty and hunger. Another initiative has addressed goal two on universal primary education. Other programs succeeded in tackling goals four and five on reducing child mortality rates and improving maternal health. Programs on reinventing public service by streamlining the bureaucracy and computerizing the capitol's operations responded to goal seven.
Not bad at all for the Philippines' third largest province in terms of population (2.23 million). Indeed, despite its large number of people (distributed across 22 towns and two cities), Bulacan is now among the provinces that rank highest in the human development index, with high employment and literacy rates.
De la Cruz's own awards include being named outstanding governor by various bodies, and citations for her support of social welfare and health programs. In 2000, she won the Lingkod Bayan Award from the Civil Service Commission, as well as the Huwarang Pilipino Award from the Philippine Broadcasting Service.
Brillantes adds that de la Cruz's success can in part be credited to her mentor, former Bulacan governor Roberto 'Obet' Pagdanganan, who himself won awards for the province for programs on social service delivery and cooperative and cultural development. During his time, Bulacan was also among the provinces with the highest family income average and had the most number of small and medium enterprises.
"When the trajectory of Bulacan was going up, she took over and took it even further," Brillantes says of de la Cruz, who began her political career in 1980 as a councilor. "She was the right person at the right time at the right place."
De la Cruz herself admits that Pagdanganan was instrumental in her rise to leadership.
"The truth is he gave me an opportunity," she says. "He gave me a chance to try out my ideas." And when she became his vice governor, she took on some of the executive functions, which, de la Cruz says, prepared her for the gubernatorial post in 1998.
Today, however, she and Pagdanganan are political enemies. The feud started in 2002, when de la Cruz fielded brother Jonjon to head the league of barangays and sit as provincial board member. One of Pagdanganan's brothers was said to have wanted to become the barangay league chief himself, but de la Cruz refused to yield. According to the governor, another of Pagdanganan's brothers, Ramon, who was president of the Bulacan Mayors' League, then began "defying" her. She says she moved to have him replaced as the league's head.
Family is a recurring factor in issues raised against de la Cruz and that contribute to talk that she has gone trapo. Malabon-City-Navotas Rep. Federico Sandoval II, for example, alleges that the real reason why the governor wanted to cancel the Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) of Rosemoor Mining and Development Corp., which had been quarrying tearose marble in Bulacan, is because she wants a rival firm, Tearose Marble Corp., to have the quarry all to itself. Marble is one of the province's major exports. According to Sandoval — a friend of Rosemoor's owners — Tearose Marble is a "dummy corporation" that is owned by de la Cruz's relatives only on paper.
In 2004, the Commission on Audit (COA) also scored Bulacan for buying P16.3 million worth of drugs without the benefit of public bidding. The supplier was BQS Drugstore and Merchandise, a small pharmacy in the provincial capital, Malolos, that is owned by the governor's distant relative. COA had previously told the provincial government to buy in bulk commonly requested drugs to lower costs.
Then there is Bulacan's purchase — reportedly without public bidding as well — of 53 vehicles worth some P17 million. These were bought from Freeway Motor Sales of Baliuag Corp., which lists among its incorporators three Mendozas, including Jonjon, the governor's brother.
"I cannot deny that some of my (relatives) are probably getting into businesses here," says de la Cruz, who admits one of her cousins supplies the waiting sheds for the province. "But I'm sure that they don't control it." And while she admits that she has "a difficulty having to exempt people from rules," she also says that "it cannot be that just because (you're my relative or close to me), you will enjoy certain privileges, which you cannot give to others."
Previously, she had dismissed the allegations about Tearose Corp. as "part of a grand propaganda" devised to "muddle the issue." Provincial lawyer Eugene Resurreccion, meanwhile, argued that if indeed Tearose "engaged in a wrongful act," the governor "cannot be made party" because she "cannot choose her relatives."
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