11 APRIL 2007
by ISA LORENZO
Padaca has been hailed by local and international media as a hero and a giant slayer, for defeating then Governor Faustino Dy Jr. and wresting the post that various members of the Dy family had monopolized for 34 years. Her supporters have since said that she has made a good beginning by opening up democratic space, granting unprecedented access to her constituents, and instituting programs that benefit many Isabelinos.
Yet for Padaca, the transition from dynasty to democracy has been an uphill struggle. She inherited a bureaucracy mired in patronage politics and which owed a hefty debt. Also, the lack of cooperation from many of Isabela's mayors would also hinder the province's growth; Padaca has been unable to convene provincial bodies such as the school board, the health board, and the peace and order council. And despite her best efforts, perennial problems like jueteng and illegal logging still persist.
Padaca believes that her 14 years as a radio commentator on dzNC Bombo Radyo were instrumental in securing her victory in 2004. As host of Sa Totoo Lang and Bombo Hanay Bigtime, she wrote and broadcast five-minute editorials every day.
"Unlike a showbiz personality or basketball player who gets elected because of mere popularity, I am associated with issues on justice, good government, truth (and) freedom," she notes.
"And the thing is," she adds, "I did not conduct myself in such a way because I will run [in] elections later." By the year 2000, Padaca had become assistant station manager of Bombo Radyo. Yet she soon decided to resign. As she explains it, "I had had it. Even if I kept on talking and talking on air, the people of the dynasty (continued) to be elected."
She says it was bad enough that the Dys had a monopoly on power; the farmers, says Padaca, also failed to prosper during their reign. But although she had much to say about the Dys, she didn't challenge the clan at the polls right away. She worked as a state auditor for the Commission on Audit until 2001, when she faced off with Faustino Dy III for Isabela's third-district seat in Congress. When Dy was declared the winner, Padaca filed a protest with the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET). It ruled in Dy's favor, yet Padaca says that her protest ensured that Isabelinos still remembered what had happened when the 2004 elections came around.
Many residents in fact say that they voted for her because they wanted a change of leadership. But Padaca herself says that she never expected that she would become governor. "(It's) such a big shift," she says. "I am a person who was physically handicapped since the age of three. So even though we were poor, I was used to being taken care of. Now, I have to take care of 1.4 million people. That was the hardest shift for me."
In her 2007 State of the Province Address (SOPA), Padaca admitted that during her first days, she was too overwhelmed by the things that she had to do.
Early on, she learned that everyone wanted a piece of her. After her first few months as a governor, she began to dread being invited to parties as a guest of honor, because people would use the opportunity to tell her about their problems. Even the simple act of saying good morning took on new meaning. She says she feels guilty because she doesn't have enough time to exchange greetings with the people who flock to the provincial capitol. "The moment that your eyes focus on them," she says, "they will use that opportunity to bombard you with resolutions and requests."
During a recent ugnayang bayan, plastic folders are piled high on the table before Padaca. It is mid-afternoon, and there is only a small clump of people left sitting on the plastic chairs before her. Padaca, who usually is in crutches, is in a wheelchair, having hurt her foot in an accident.
She calls the waiting people by barangay, releases checks, and asks for written proposal from those who have come to ask for funds. When the officials of one barangay ask for money for a new community center, she tells them that when it comes to infrastructure, farm to market roads are her priority.
Midway through the ugnayang bayan, she calls for a laptop to review data. As she releases each check, she takes a picture with its recipient.
Some of her constituents have been grumbling over this meticulous system, says Father Antonio Ancheta, the director of the Social Action Center in Isabela: "That's why they've been saying that it seems the capitol has become a university (with all that scrutiny). But it's right to study things, instead of simply saying yes to it."
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