If ‘Bayani’ means ‘hero’, this time GMA truly made the right choice
BY THE WAY - Max V. Soliven () - June 17, 2002 - 12:00am
The President, it seems, rebuked her Press Secretary and PMS Chief Silvestre "Yoyong" Afable for saying there was no ongoing Cabinet revamp. Let’s hope there really is a Cabinet revamp.

Yesterday afternoon, GMA surprised a great many moviegoers at the Glorietta 4’s cinema number 6 by showing up, with First Gentleman Mike Arroyo and her children in tow, to watch Murder by Numbers, starring Sandra Bullock as a homicide detective (Cassie Mayweather), a crime scene specialist known to "crack" cases with her gut instincts and her take-no-prisoners style.

Was GMA’s intent, perhaps, to learn from detective Mayweather’s (Bullock’s) style in unearthing crimes in her government? Ma’am there are many, indeed.

In any event, La Gloria’s blitzkrieg style has become a given. One day she’s in Camarines Sur, arranging for a road project to be given priority. On Father’s Day, she’s in the Glorietta in Makati on an unscheduled foray to the theater. All of a sudden, one of the persons who were there said, the moviehouse was swarming with PSG security, then came in La Presidenta herself. One thing can be said. She does such things with élan and not much fuss and bother.

Murder by Numbers?
If she invokes that formula on erring officials in her administration, then there’s hope. She’s coddled too many Non-Performing Asses (NPA’s) for too long.
* * *
One very welcome appointment she’s just made is that of former Marikina Mayor Bayani Fernando as the new Chairman of the Metro Manila Developoment Authority (MMDA).

When Bayani’s father, a Marikina mayor himself, had his son christened "Bayani," which means "hero," he saddled the boy with an impossible tag to live up to. But it can be said that Bayani did his best to earn it.

I can only remark, if you’ll forgive the vulgarity, he’s got the balls for the difficult job of dealing with the testy mayors of Metro Manila who’re always prickly and resentful over invasions of what they consider their turf. If anybody can knock heads together, it’s Bayani Fernando.

It’s known that Bayani fears nobody – except probably his beautiful wife, Marides Carlos Fernando, who’s now Marikina mayor herself. When Bayani ran for his first term as mayor, he faced much opposition. It was even harder for him in office, since his blunt and uncompromising ways rubbed a lot of old political pro’s the wrong way, and made sparks fly. But he took on all challenges and all comers, and, by golly, he cleaned up Marikina. He also cleaned up Marikina’s tattered reputation as a crime-ridden town, and now, when there’s an emergency, residents can dial "161" on the phone.

This connects them with the "Security Center" which is right across the street from City Hall. Within five minutes or so, depending on the emergency, a police patrol car, a firetruck, or an ambulance can be on the scene. Anyway, that’s what is promised.

Friends of ours who live in Marikina assert that it works!

And yes, the Court House is on the same street – and so are the "holding cells" of the jail. "Full service," as somebody quipped, "all the same block."

When he ran for his second term, it was easier for Bayani to get reelected, since he had shown even the skeptics results. When he posted for his third term, he was swept back into office by a landslide. When term limits prevented him from seeking a fourth, Marides ran for the position. She, in turn, was elected by a landslide. Is there such a thing as a "good dynasty" instead of a "bad dynasty"? Well, the work goes on.

I don’t know if it’s flattering to us in the rest of the benighted Philippines, but visitors have told me that when they visited Marikina for the first time, it was "like being in another country". The sidewalks are clean – and clear of sidewalk vendors, garbage, and other debris. Bayani, an engineer with his own successful construction firm (among his "achievements" in this field was his erection of the EDSA Plaza Shangri-La Hotel), has a building complex. His dream is to convert Marikina into a modern and streamlined city, and he’s well on the way to that. Marides, for her part, has a master’s in hotel and restaurant management from Cornell University in New York. (Her father is businessman Meneleo Carlos, Jr.)

Together, the "Power Couple" converted a former textile mill building into an Opera House, with four restaurants around it. The two-story City Hall itself has only glass partitions separating offices, so everybody can see everybody else. "Full transparency", would you say? Employees are neatly dressed in a navy-type uniform. There’s even a city museum.

It took three terms to accomplish it, but Bayani even cleared 10,000 squatters away from the Marikina river bank. During his first term, he sent trucks to relocate them. Ditto for the second term. He warned the squatters that, aside from it being illegal to build shanties on river banks (not to mention the pollution), they were in constant danger from rain and flood. By his third term, most of the remaining squatters were leaving voluntarily. The lesson to be gained from this is that you’ll succeed if you try, try again.

As the US Seabees motto goes: The difficult we do at once. The impossible just takes a little longer. Perhaps that slogan best sums up the Bayani Fernando method.

Good luck in the MMDA, Bayani. There are a number of sharks in there. Bite them before they bite you!
* * *
This is the latest kuro-kuro. The "welcome dinner" hosted last Saturday by Commissioner (and former Congressman) Rufino Javier for the new chairman, Ben Abalos, of the Commission on Elections, was well-attended.

The affair was held in Javier’s residence on San Agustin street in Barangay Capitolyo subdivision in Pasig City. All the seven Comelec commissioners were there, as were Court of Appeals Justices Danilo Pine and Martin Villarama, and Sandiganbayan Justice Raoul Victorino. Also conspicuous by his presence was Bulacan Rep. Willy Villarama, who is reputed to be controversial Comelec Commissioner Luzviminda Tancangco’s "point-man" in the House of Representatives. Willy leads the bunch of Lower House members who’re supporting the poll body’s Dragon Lady and trying to squelch an "impeachment" resolution already signed by other Representatives against her.

Among those, too, who attended Javier’s dinner for Abalos were the senior staff officers of the Comelec, several of whom are now apprehensive that the perceived closeness to Javier and the Gang of Four of Abalos (a former Mandaluyong mayor, whose son Ben Hur Abalos is now mayor) may be "inimical" to their own continued tenure. In the fight between former Comelec Chairman Alfredo Benipayo and the Tancangco group, practically all the career senior staff officers had supported Benipayo and the two other Comelec commissioners, Rex Borra and Florentino Tuason, Jr.

The unfortunate development is that Abalos, not even having warmed his seat as the new Comelec chairman, opened his big mouth to declare that he would oppose Tancangco’s "impeachment" all the way. Whaat? Abalos should let the law take its course. If Tancangco is innocent, simon-pure, and beyond guilt, then she’ll be upheld by any impeachment proceedings. If it turns out to be otherwise – then, dura lex sed lex.

And what about the shoddy decisions made by certain Comelec commissioners who forced through the "proclamation" of losing candidates in the last elections? There is persistent talk in the poll body and among the irate general public that certain candidates in the May 2001 elections who have cases pending before the Comelec are "getting" their cases resolved for reasons other than legal. Abalos – unless GMA gave him different marching orders – was supposed to have been sent to the Comelec to get things going again and "clean house" at the same time. The way he’s acting, the vibration the public gets is that he’s in the mood to compromise, not reform.

If that’s what happens, then there’s no hope that the coming, crucial Year 2004 Presidential and general elections will be clean and honest. Chairman Abalos, you’re on the spot. What you say and do today will make – or break you.
* * *
Let me correct myself, mea culpa, on my erroneous assertion yesterday that the saintly Padre Pio had died alone in his humble cell. (That’s what I get for dashing off the piece hastily, from the top of my head.) Padre Pio, who was canonized a saint yesterday, with half a million devotees thronging St. Peter’s Square, had, indeed, foretold the hour of his death, had "confessed," and his Capuchin brother monks and his Superior were present when he expired in his chair.

It was Pope John Paul II who approved the decree (on November 29, 1982) for the opening of the canonical informative process on the life and virtues of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina. March 20, 1983 marked the official opening of the canonical informative process. Now, Padro Pio – who had formerly been shunned by the Vatican during most of his lifetime (confined by order of the Church to his cell for many years) – has become the 758th saint of the Holy Roman Catholic Church.

When we were in Rome three weeks ago, there was already a huge portrait of Padre Pio hung from the front of St. Peter’s Basilica. There was also the portrait of another "forthcoming" saint – that of the "Blessed" Josemaria Escriva, the Spanish cleric who had founded Opus Dei.

During a retreat on October 2, 1928, Escriva "saw" – his favorite term – what God expected of him. He recounted later that God had asked him to devote all his life to accomplishing what was to be called Opus Dei, or God’s Work. His mission was to urge men in all walks of life to respond "to a specific vocation to be saints and apostles in the thick of the world." What I found interesting in the book of one of the Blessed Escriva’s disciples, Dominique Le Tourneau, All About Opus Dei (translated from the original French, Que Sais-Je?, Paris, 1984) was the following paragraph: "On February 14, 1930, a new inspiration from God made it clear that he was to spread the prospect of holiness in the world to women as well. Just a few weeks before, he had written, ‘There will never be women in Opus Dei – not even in jest.’ From then on, Opus Dei would consist of two branches, united by the same spirit.’ It’s a good thing God corrected the Blessed Escriva’s attitude in the nick of time."

At first, it seems, Escriva’s "apostolic work" didn’t even have a name, Le Tourneau observes. One day a friend asked him: "How is that work of God coming along?" Something clicked, there was finally the name – Opus Dei, operatio Dei – "God’s work; ordinary work made prayer along all the paths of the world."
* * *
All roads will lead to Rome again next October 6, the date of founder Escriva’s canonization. According to my friends there, all hotels are by now fully booked, with Opus Dei members and their families thronging there from all over the world – with a huge delegation from the Philippines. (In 1991, sixteen years after Escriva’s death, there were already 76,500 members belonging to 87 nationalities – frankly, I don’t know the count now.)

My old friend, Dr. Bernie Villegas ("The Prophet of Boom"), who was one of the two who founded Opus Dei here, tried very hard to convert this sinner to Opus Dei when we were together in Harvard. He took me to Opus Dei gatherings in Boston, Cambridge, Newton, and the environs. But, alas, I decided I wasn’t holy enough. I hope, at least, he’s still praying for my salvation.

As for Padre Pio, to whom our family is devoted, the 50th anniversary of his stigmata – his constant bleeding from Jesus’ five wounds – occurred on September 20th, 1968, or three days before his death. He still had time for one "snap" miracle. Father Pio had already collapsed on September 22, in the early morning, when one of his devotees whispered into his ear that Maria Pia – the little daughter of one of his longtime friends and Prayer Group activists in Biella, Northern Italy, Gino Pin – was terribly ill in a nearby hospital in San Giovanni Rotondo. The doctors had told Pin that an operation was necessary – but Mr. Pin was too poor to afford the operation and the expenses of a long stay in San Giovanni Rotondo. "Why don’t you snatch the little girl’s recovery, without an operation, from Our Lady’s hands?" the woman had suggested.

Padre Pio looked up, then answered: "I will pray."

The lady related that she had then kissed the weary-looking Padre Pio’s hand, and gone downstairs to where Pin was waiting, with the good news.

"At eleven in the morning, the Director of the hospital, with some of the doctors, went to see the girl," it was afterwards reported. "To their amazement, they found she had nothing wrong with her, and discharged her immediately. Before flying off to heaven, Padre Pio had perhaps snatched his last grace from Our Lady’s heart." He died at 2:30 a.m. the next morning.

For his lifetime of suffering and prayer, the reward from God and Our Lady was that they could never (his devotees say) refuse any favor "asked" by Padre Pio.

"The devil," he once asserted, "is like a rabid dog tied to a chain; beyond the length of the chain he cannot seize anyone. And you: keep at a distance. If you approach too near, you let yourself be caught. Remember that the devil has only one door by which to enter the soul: the will. There are no secret or hidden doors."

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