By ANGELO GUTIERREZ
Four local executives have started recruiting principled local government officials for a group that wants to change the country’s deteriorating political situation.
"After others learn about this new group, Kaya Natin! (We can), hardworking and ethical local government officials will come out, hopefully," Isabela Gov. Grace Padaca announced during the group’s launch at the Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City on Wednesday.
Padaca and three other local government officials – Pampanga Governor Eddie Panlilio, Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo, and Mayor Sonia Lorenzo of San Isidro, Nueva Ecija – have agreed to come together and lead Kaya Natin.
The group claims its members are "good Filipinos from different sectors of society that aim to espouse genuine change and ethical leadership in our country."
The Isabela governor, who was able to topple a political dynasty in her province, said Panlilio and Lorenzo know other local politicians who are also idealists and who have made gains in uplifting the quality of life in their own localities.
Robredo, a multi-awarded local official, however, said local politicians who may have vested interests cannot easily breach the group.
"It’s not the four of us who will choose the members. There is a group that strictly studies [the politicians]," the mayor said, adding that there were already a few politicians who have been excluded from the group.
He said the group needs politicians who "stand by their principles" and abide by the ethical standards of good governance.
‘Selfish means started the group’
Robredo said the group was formed after months of informal meetings between him, Padaca and Panlilio.
He said the three of them have been speaking in several forums, separately. Some faculty members of the Ateneo School of Government then convinced them to form a group that would promote reforms in the local government system.
Last month, the three officials invited Lorenzo to join them in launching the group.
Panlilio said discussions during the initial meetings were about their experiences of political harassments, problems with the police and gambling, graft and corruption, and their similar styles of eradicating "illegalities and criminalities" in the local scene.
The priest-turned-governor said the four of them wanted allies for the "selfish" motive of getting protection from political harassments.
"Kaya Natin started because we have common problems. We have realized that we have a common goal, common vision and common ways of governing our locality," Robredo said.
He added: "We said that maybe we should come up with a group and let’s share our own experiences, let’s share our problems and practices."
Robredo said they came out hoping their ethical way of governance would be "replicated" by other localities and eventually "multiplied" around the country.
A fifth politician, Ifugao Gov. Teddy Baguilat Jr., has been invited to join the group.
Exposing them young in politics
On top of the group’s agenda is to recruit and convince young Filipinos who "adhere to good governance and ethical leadership."
Lorenzo said her town, San Isidro, has become a haven of young political wannabes.
She said the municipal government, with the help of Ateneo School of Government, has been conducting seminars that teach the youth how to run for a seat in government, particularly in the Sangguniang Kabataan elections.
She said majority of the students are "poor, talented, ideal and energetic."
The Nueva Ecija mayor said the group will recruit and train future politicians who may provide good leadership for the country in the future.
She said campus talks will be conducted by the group around Metro Manila and other regions to encourage the youth to get involved in the coming elections, not only by running for posts in the barangay or municipal level but to help well-meaning incumbent officials to win the elections.
Padaca said the volunteers will also be asked to prepare early to fight election cheating.
The group is also planning to put up a website intended to promote its cause to Filipinos around the world.
Harvey Keh of the Ateneo School of Government said several Filipino groups around the world have responded positively to the group’s invitations.
Keh said the group's website will have video streaming and live online chat for the overseas Filipinos to directly interact with local government officials.
Eradicating corruption, ‘jueteng’ doable
Panlilio also said during the launch that in his first year as a politician and governor of Pampanga, he was able to eradicate corruption.
The governor said his group simply warned construction and medical suppliers that the local government of Pampanga will not accept commissions or kickbacks.
"Surprisingly, kaya pala (it can be done)," he said, adding that the provincial government did it with the help of civil society.
Panlilio said that with corruption eradicated in Pampanga, he is now concentrating on killing the illegal numbers game, jueteng.
The campaign to eradicate jueteng in Pampanga started with the filing of a plunder case against alleged jueteng lord Bong Pineda, the former governor.
Panlilio said jueteng should be stopped at the local level to prevent it from "poisoning" Malacañang and the President.
Pineda is a close political ally of President Arroyo in Pampanga. Mrs. Arroyo is also a native of the province.
Robredo, meanwhile, said one of the hurdles that local government officials would have to overcome in fighting illegal gambling is erring policemen.
He said the group would be pushing for amendments in the Local Government Code to be able to regain their power over the local police.
"One of the reasons why we decided to form this group is our common problem with the local police," he said, adding that the four of them have been wanting to replace the police commanders in their localities but they don't have the power to do it.