CDO mayor faces brewing protest storm
CAGAYAN DE ORO—A storm is brewing that threatens the hold on power of Mayor Vicente “Dongkoy” Y. Emano, who is accused of not taking action despite storm warnings and of mishandling relief operations in the aftermath of the devastation caused by Tropical Storm “Sendong.”
Concerned residents here took to the pulpit over the weekend to discuss the state of the city after a concelebrated Mass at St. Augustine Metropolitan Cathedral officiated by Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, SJ.
They then led churchgoers on a peaceful march on the Misamis Oriental Capitol Park to protest the way the city government was handling the calamity.
Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III sent word to organizers to announce to residents that he would lead a Senate investigation of the culpability of officials in the unprecedented scale of devastation and death that befell the city on December 16 and 17.
Account for donations
One of the city’s young lawyers, James K. Judith, is set to file an administrative complaint for the mayor’s dereliction of duty. Another lawyer is preparing a similar legal action against the mayor, this time for him to account for the cash donations from various donors.
Officials of a bank are wondering why it took the city government some time before it used the P1.5-million check it donated to help the city address the emergency situation. The amount is just a drop in the bucket as financial aid has been pouring into the city.
Earlier, Representative Isidro Lico of party-list group Ating Koop, whose house in Barangay (village) Macasandig was swept away by the flood, pledged in a coop forum at Bishop Patrick Cronin’s Palace on December 22 that he would file a resolution calling for a probe when Congress resumes session on January 16. Lico and his family survived the flooding by staying on the roof for a long time.
This may be the start of what appears to be a snowballing movement that seeks to make the mayor accountable to his constituents for the way he has handled, or not handled, as critics claim, the relief operations for the city, among other things.
“Mayor gambles while his citizens are drowning!” a local resident tweeted in response to an ABS-CBN story that carried Emano’s denial on the gambling rumor.
However, the story that Emano was allegedly playing poker in an online gaming station owned by another politician on the night of the flood refuses to go away.
He was apprised of the worsening situation in different parts of the city, but he left the gaming station only when his bodyguard asked permission to leave him because the latter’s house was already flooded and he had to rescue his family.
Warnings not heeded
Nonetheless, as early as December 15, a day before the tragedy, the weather bureau and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council had been issuing a series of weather advisories, specifically warning Misamis Oriental, where the city is located, as one of the provinces that would be on the path of the storm.
The advisories even indicated what local government units should prepare for, especially issuing warnings to the public of the possible hazards and damage.
Apparently, the warnings were not heeded, as shown by the business-as-usual attitude of the city government in allowing the Night Café, a beer garden-cum-used goods bazaar in the city center, to operate on the night the storm was expected to hit the city.
At the heart of the Night Café in Divisoria district is the Kiosko Kagawasan, traditionally the center of disaster relief and management operations, which was not cleared despite the storm warnings.
Iligan task force
Neighboring Iligan City, which also suffered an incomprehensible loss of lives and property, was able to immediately face the crisis head-on. Iligan Mayor Lawrence Cruz issued an executive order creating the Task Force on Rehabilitation, Relocation and Resettlement, which he himself heads.
“The creation of this task force has made it easy for us relief agencies and organizations to coordinate our efforts for a more efficient delivery of relief and basic services,” said the country representative of an international donor agency. “This is in stark contrast to Cagayan de Oro City, where we are at a loss about whom to deal with.”
This sentiment was echoed by many other donors and line agencies, which for the first two days after the disaster were already in the area ready to lend a hand. But they were at a loss when the city government did not appear to take the lead in relief operations.
Because of this lack of central direction from the city leadership, a multisectoral initiative was convened by Archbishop Ledesma, along with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and other government agencies, civil society and social action centers.
The initiative, named the DSWD-Multisectoral Relief Response Operations Center, is based at Xavier University in the downtown district, making it easy for privately led relief efforts to have a clearer direction in the context of the consolidated effort. The center has launched its website, www.sendong-aid.com.ph.
“I have never seen this ground swell of support from ordinary citizens, as evidenced by the busy traffic we monitor in various social media,” said Robert de la Serna, of the center’s secretariat.
Facebook groups dedicated to the Sendong tragedy appeared hours after the flood. Although administrators encouraged users to focus on helping victims, the majority of the posts were furiously directed at Emano’s supposed coldness at the time the storm struck. Among these groups are Mata na, CDO; Kagay-an Karon; and Save CDO.
“It is unfortunate that the city government was unable to seize the moment to become the central command to synergize the various efforts from the private and the public sectors, from the local and international organizations, from volunteers to aid workers,” said an international observer.
The city government’s seeming easygoing attitude and lackadaisical approach to the disaster, such as dumping cadavers on the garbage landfill, is nothing new among Kagay-anons, who are used to hearing the baritone mayor’s condescending guffaws as his way of dismissing damaging allegations. Emano’s allies, though, view this relaxed attitude as a sign of composure needed in a leader.
For example, former aides and political allies have many stories about Emano delaying visits to disaster areas simply because he could not be of help there.
“Whenever there’s a fire, he’d say ‘The fire won’t stop when I go there anyway.’ He would wait until it’s over and he’ll show up; there are times he won’t, depending on his temperament,” a former aide said.
Such nonchalance, which others say borders on the insensitive—even ineptitude—was one of Emano’s recognizable traits as he ruled the city for more than a decade with little opposition, if any.
In his first nine years, Emano presided over City Hall like a monarch: none of his controversial policies was ever questioned by the city council, where his allies dominate, while corruption cases filed against him by opposition figures have not resulted in even a single indictment.
When he reached the constitutional limit of nine years as mayor in 2007, Emano ran for vice mayor and won.
After almost a decade of Emano’s leadership, many had hoped for drastic changes under Mayor Constantino Jaraula—and many got disappointed because things remained the same. The city council was packed with Emano loyalists, sometimes preventing the new mayor to implement his own agenda because every measure was referred back to Emano, who after all was the vice mayor, founder and chairman of the dominant Padayon Pilipino local party.
Emano didn’t have to preside city council sessions—he had only attended the maiden session—throughout his entire stint as vice mayor from 2007 to 2010. He didn’t even have to give up the mayor’s office, literally; Jaraula had to hastily construct his own on the second floor of the Executive House—the traditional seat of power in the city since the Hispanic era.
Manuel Valdehueza Jr., a city resident who gained national prominence as an advocate of transparent governance in barangays, branded Emano as the “laziest” public official in the country. Valdehueza organized a group of citizens who for months appeared at city council sessions to check Emano’s attendance.
An administrative case for Emano’s nonattendance at city council sessions was filed in 2009 but this was not acted upon by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who had counted Emano as one of her closest allies.
All other cases—mostly corruption charges—against Emano suffered the same fate.
Fresh from winning back the top city post in June 2010, Emano and other city officials were cleared by the Ombudsman of 18 corruption charges—one of which was the controversial resettlement program that sold lots, purchased with hundreds of millions of pesos in taxpayers’ money, for P1.
State auditors had disallowed the program, saying it was a total waste of taxpayers’ money, but the Ombudsman said the complainant had failed to show that local officials had materially benefited from the project. Danni Adorador III and Mozart Pastrano