Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Crunch Time

If there are two people in the rough and tumble world of Lianga politics who, because of recent and unforeseen developments, have much to think about, it is Roy Sarmen and Jun Lala. When both were swept to power under the ticket of then Mayor Vicente Pedrozo in the aftermath of the May, 2007 local polls, it was as vice-mayor and first councilor respectively and both were prepared to bide their time, learn the ropes, and essentially sit by the sidelines as Pedrozo assumed the leadership and control of the town government.

But just over a year after they assumed office, illness has tragically struck down Lianga's chief executive and just a month ago, by virtue of succession under the law, both were suddenly thrust into the local political limelight and now occupy the two top positions in the municipal government. The question, of course, in every one's mind here is if both of these young politicians are up to the heavy responsibilities that fate has fortunately or unfortunately (depending on one's perspective) dropped prematurely on their unsuspecting laps.

Roy Sarmen, fortunately, is no political neophyte. Although only in his forties, he not only comes from a family with a lineage steeped in politics (his father served Lianga as municpal mayor for several terms) but he himself has been in public service for some time already. A former barangay captain, municipal councilor and provincial board member, he certainly is not new to government service and does not suffer from any lack of political experience or savvy.

If there is one thing that counts against him, it is not the lack of experience but the perception, perhaps unfairly, that he does not possess the strong leadership skills, strategic vision and firm decisiveness needed to survive and do well in the challenging position of mayor of Lianga. This is an image problem that he needs to overcome as he struggles to find his place in a political administration seeking direction while caught in the midst of a critical transition in leadership.

Jun Lala, on the other hand, is the complete newcomer. Only in his thirties, he has no political experience although he too comes from a political family with relatives who are active in both municipal and provincial politics. He is expected to bring a new enthusiasm and fresh, new perspectives and solutions to the host of problems facing Lianga. But he is handicapped by the perception by some critics that he is unfocused, politically unsure and lacking in the practical knowledge and experience needed to control an often rowdy and divided municipal council which he, as vice-mayor, is mandated by law to lead.

As it stands now, they have just over a year until the next local elections in 2010 to prove their critics wrong and that is, by any standards a daunting task. The Pedrozo administration under which they had ran for public office had assumed power amidst great expectations and a strong mandate to reverse the municipality's faltering economy, fight graft and corruption and move Lianga back on the road to progress and development. Both men will have to bear the burden of fulfilling, even in part, these high expectations and convincing their constituents that they are equal to the tasks they had set out for themselves when they took office last year.

All eyes will be on these two men as they try to make their mark in Lianga politics. For, in many ways, despite the fact that both come from known political families, they represent a new generation of leaders slowly emerging and making their presence felt in this town and who are taking advantage of and riding on a tide of growing disenchantment with traditional politics.

But as to whether they, individually or collectively, are offering a new brand of principled and progressive leadership or merely rehashing the patently populist yet morally bankrupt politics of the past, well, that, unfortunately, still remains to be seen. It is just that the folks here in Lianga are so used to being disappointed by their political leadership in the past for so long that they are pinning their hopes on these new, up and coming politicians.

Mayor Sarmen and Vice-Mayor Lala have their work cut out for them and it would not be a wise move on their part to just coast along and merely go through the motions while waiting for the next elections. The people of Lianga are notoriously fickle with those they select and give a mandate to in order to lead them.

These two guys may be on top of the political heap right now because of, what may be for them, fortuitous events. But it also means that they have to prove that they deserve to belong where they are right now. If they can't hack it then the alternative is clear. To do no harm, get out and stop wasting their people's time and money.

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