Friends called me up yesterday to give me the heads up. Our common friend, Prospero "Butch" Pichay Jr., the former Surigao del Sur congressman, apparently was in the news again after almost a year in hibernation for balking at a presidential appointment to head the board of the Local Water Utilities Administration. The LWUA is the government lending institution created to promote and oversee the development of waterworks systems in the provinces all over the country.
The appointment is actually part of the country's political spoils system where supporters of the current political party in power are given cushy and lucrative government positions as rewards for service and loyalty to the party and the President. In the case of Pichay, it was also, in one sense, a consolation prize for being one of the more than a few administration stalwarts who ran for the Senate in the 2007 national elections and dismally lost despite being reputedly one of the biggest spenders for political advertisements in that election's senate race.
Pichay was supposedly set to join fellow losing senatorial candidates Vicente Sotto who was recently tapped to head the Dangerous Drugs Board, Michael Defensor who got appointed chairman of the Presidential Task Force on the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3 and Ralph Recto who is now director-general of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA). All had to wait for the lapse of the one year prohibition on the appointment of losing candidates to government positions before they could reenter public service.
Wow! Talk about guaranteed employment in these hard, uncertain times.
Butch Pichay's reported refusal to join the LWUA board is understandable. He has been, beyond any doubt, one of Gloria Macaoagal-Arryo's staunchest partisans. During the height of the so called "Hello Garci" scandal, this guy was all over the television and newspapers speaking for and defending the President from her critics while many of her other party mates were taking cover from the storm of controversy. He had also been an effective Malacañang point man in the House of Representatives during his three terms as a national legislator and is said to belong to the President's inner circle of advisers and confidants.
Yet here he is being offered what appears to be merely a token position in one of the more obscure government agencies. What a preposterous idea! No wonder certain news outlets have quoted sources close to the former congressman as saying that Pichay was "shocked" to be told of his appointment as the "official water boy of the Philippines" and "hurt" by the failure of Malacañang and the President to appoint him administrator of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, the post he was said to be eying.
To add insult to injury, there are news reports saying that the President had actually already signed Pichay's appointment papers to the OWWA but had to withdraw them after migrant workers' groups vehemently objected to the appointment. The reasons for their protest was not cited in the reports but would probably provide a fertile subject for speculation and discussion.
In the meantime, the former congressman has said to reporters that he would "prefer to be in the private sector" and find ways to help or advise the President in a private capacity. But this remarks must be considered rather facetious in the context of the man that he is.
Butch Pichay may have not gotten what he wanted this time but he is a political survivor in a corrupt political culture that breeds and rewards politicians of his breed and kind. He still has his power base in the first district of Surigao del Sur where his brother Philip has replaced him as congressman and he remains an influential political figure in the nation's capital.
He may have gotten his comeuppance this time but his political future remains mostly secure. In fact, if my sources are right, he is said to be planning another attempt to wrest a seat in the Senate in 2010 and get it right the next time. Hope, as Alexander Pope said, springs eternal in the human breast.
This would-be water boy is certainly not down or, in any way, out of the game.