Monday, March 22, 2010

Analysis: Malacañang, the BOR, PGH Executive Director and the Student Regent: This particular tale could be one of the convergence of interlocking interests

By Chanda Shahani

Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once famously said in a radio broadcast in October 1939 about Russia that: "I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

He could have been describing the seemingly baffling moves of the University of the Philippines (U.P.) Administration to deliberately remove representation for 50,000 U.P. students by ousting Student Regent Charisse Bañez on an easily correctible technicality, remove a highly qualified PGH Executive Director Dr. Jose Gonzales and install a less experienced and more junior Dr. Enrique Domingo as the new PGH Executive Director. These have been met with loud and vigorous opposition from many quarters, but the U.P. Administration has kept a stiff upper lip and soldiered on. But why?

In the case of Soviet Russia, Churchill provided a clue. He said, “There is a key. That key is Russian national interest." And that's where 1939 Russia and the U.P. Administration in 2010 part ways. For the U.P. Administration and its allies, national interest is clearly not a priority in its recent controversial decisions involving the tax-payer funded premier state university. Instead, the key here is a series of converging parochial and ideological interests as well as relationships among the U.P. Administration and its allies in Malacanang Here's why:

To begin with the recent U.P. Administration saga involving PGH and the Student Regent begins when Student Regent Bañez voted for Dr. Jose Gonzales as part of a swing vote (6 votes) in a BOR meeting last December 18, 2009 besting outgoing PGH Executive Director Carlos Alfiler (5 votes). This was a major inconvenience, to say the very least, for the Administration of U.P. President Emerlinda Roman. Roman, who did not vote for Gonzales, worked closely with Dr. Alfiler to privatize portions of U.P. PGH in a deal that is now being questioned by the Department of Justice (DOJ) (although the DOJ opinion is not binding). Dr. Gonzales is against the overall deal as he says it detracts from the essential mission of PGH which is to service indigent patients.

The U.P. Administration has however adopted a revisionist approach to the swing vote of the Student Regent. It has focused on singling out the Student Regent and invoking technicalities thus making it impossible for her to enroll in continuing residency beyond the alloted deadline despite the fact that there are numerous instances of other students who were not Student Regents being allowed to enroll in residency. In so doing, it has succeeded in disqualifying her as a student, and thus as a Student Regent and also in disqualifying the validity of her swing vote such that Dr. Gonzales no longer enjoyed a majority of six (6) votes, and has been removed and replaced with a dark horse candidate, Dr. Enrique Domingo, who was more junior than either Dr. Alfiler and Dr. Gonzales.

Significantly, Dr. Domingo was a former assistant of Dr. Alfiler, and is a card-carrying member of Mu Sigma Phi, a U.P. College of Medicine medical fraternity which counts among its members, Dr. Alfiler himself and Dr. Edwin Mercado, President of the Daniel Mercado Medical Center (DMMC), which is the private company that signed the deal with President Roman to construct the U.P. PGH Faculty Medical Arts Building (FMAB) wherein portions of PGH will be privatized. Dr. Domingo is also in favour of the FMAB project, and is expected to carry out the policies of Dr. Alfiler in privatizing portions of the premier state hospital, which Dr. Gonzales is not in favour of.

The current U.P. Administration, headed by President Roman, a professor of business administration at U.P. Diliman, is in favour of an overall approach of essentially bringing a more corporate character to the premier state university due to chronic budget shortfalls from the national government.

But as far as interlocking relationships go, it doesn't stop there. Diliman Diary writer Sigrid Salucop reported last March 22, 2010 that a sectoral forum organized by the Office of the Student, Staff and Faculty regents in U.P. Diliman revealed that Dr. Domingo had planned to run for congress against the incumbent Congressman in the 3rd congressional district of Pampanga, Rep. Aurelio Gonzales, Jr. (Lakas-KAMPI-CMD), a close political ally of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who herself is running for Congress in the 2nd congressional district (

Dr. Domingo does not represent just any idle threat to Rep. Gonzales. His mother, former Bureau of Immigration Commissioner Andrea Domingo is also a former Congresswoman from Pampanga's 3rd district (1992 to 1995) and his brother, Board member Karl Domingo (also representing the 3rd district) is running for reelection ( and By taking Dr. Domingo out of the running by offering him a reasonably attractive alternative (such as Executive Director of the PGH) by instructing BOR members under her control to vote for Dr. Domingo, President Arroyo guarantees that a tactical alliance is forged with the Domingo family so that they do not upset the balance of power in Pampanga and thus eliminate a threat to Rep. Gonzales.

Even though President Arroyo is running in the 2nd district in Pampanga and Rep. Gonzales in the 3rd, she would need to have allies as a Pampanga congresswoman to consolidate her political leverage over vote-rich Pampanga province when she steps down in order to seek any political accomodations against possible investigation for wrongdoing while in office, since the current two top front-runners in the Presidential derby, Senator Benigno Aquino III (LP) and Senator Manny Villar (NP) belong to two different parties.

Additionally, it is the incumbent President's partymates in both houses of congress who are usually given top priority by in the release of “pork barrel” funds, otherwise known as Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) which Congressmen rely on to woo the loyalty of voters in their districts by implementing local projects. Arroyo could find herself out in the cold by becoming a congresswoman from a minority party since the majority of congressmen are expected to shift alliances to the party of the new President. She can minimize this problem by having a good relationship with the incumbent governor who can guarantee local funding for projects in her district.

And that's where the PGH power play combines with a Pampanga power play and even a national power play. The Macapagal-Arroyo political clan is now headed by incumbent President Gloria M. Arroyo. With two sons of President Arroyo in the House seats Diosdado “Dato” Arroyo (1st District, Camarines Sur) and incumbent Rep. Mikey Arroyo (2nd District, Pampanga) – who may run for congressman under a still unspecified party-list group as well as reelectionist Rep. Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo, a brother-in-law, regaining his seat (5th District, Negros Occidental), she is guaranteeing a minimum number of core group loyalists supporting her within congress. And that's not even counting other allies in congress.

In the Pampanga front, however, Arroyo and her allies also need to make sure that Governor Lilia Pineda wins in the new square-off against former Governor Ed Panlilio, the first Catholic priest elected in government ( That's where it's important to make sure that potential political threats such as Dr. Domingo toe the line by rewarding them with government positions

President Arroyo has direct control over four out of the six regents who voted for Dr. Domingo. The BOR Chairman, CHED Chairman Emmanuel Angeles sits in Arroyo's cabinet while Arroyo appointed Regents Abraham Sarmiento, Nelia Gonzales and Francis Chua in 2008 and reappointed them again, in March 2010.

On another level, President Roman and the other swing vote in the BOR in favour of Dr. Domingo, Rep. Cynthia Villar (NP), would also want to have Dr. Domingo as PGH Executive Director independent of Pampanga and Mu Sigma Phi politics for the reason that he is in favour of the deal inked between President Roman and DMMC President Mercado last July 2009 which fits well with the current U.P. Administration's mindset of giving the University system a more corporate character. But even if the U.P. Administration actually possesses a free-market ideology, it does not mean that it is any less political since it has recommended the three Malacanag regents for “midnight” appointments by President Arroyo before the March 10, 2010 constitutional ban on presidential appoinments kicked in.

The three (3) regents recommendations by the BOR for reappointment by President Arroyo are being protested by the Student Regent Charisse Bañez, Faculty Regent Judy Taguiwalo Staff Regent Clodualdo “Buboy” Cabrera and Alumni Regent Alfredo Reyes who say that the sectors should have first been consulted to diversify the gene pool of nominations to the Palace for regent appointments.

The sentiments of the sectoral regents have been brushed aside by the U.P. Administration in favour of the the holdover regents since they constitute part of a power bloc within the U.P. System that is loosely known as the “Wednesday Club,” (See Diliman Diary, March 17, 2010) and comprise another key set of interrelationships that runs the U.P. System and is gearing up to continue running the University into the next U.P. Presidency.

The Diliman Diary will continue writing about the “Wednesday Club” in greater detail in the future, in view of the impact of its policies on the tax-payer funded premeier state university. That's a promise.

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