The Leverage of Principles

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By Enrico Lluch

Vivos Voco

Thursday, December 9, 2010

"DO NOT fight City Hall. If you have anything against the administration, why not write the mayor about your ideas or solutions for a better Cagayan de Oro. Present something concrete, and specific. Think of advocacy."

While it is true that Cagayan de Oro is not exactly the peaceful and orderly city that we once knew, we cannot continue being judgmental and critical and not do anything about it.

Tita Inday La Viña, also known as Mrs. Lourdes Chaves Maestrado-La Viña, emphatically pronounces that challenge, with both her bejeweled nimble hands making synchronized taps on the table, to and for all of us who love Cagayan de Oro.


She is speaking her pro-active mind out. She believes that amid all criticisms, any leader, for that matter, should be responsive and civil.

"I know Dongkoy (Emano) even way before he joined the political arena. He is a civil man. He is responsive; and, also an open-minded person."

Many may not agree with that, but Mrs. La Viña was looking me straight in the eye, and I knew she meant what she just pronounced. Her faith in goodness prevails, for she is one who sees the silver-lining through the ominously dark clouds.

I could not agree with her any better when she said something to the effect that no one has the monopoly of solutions, and that, we should all contribute at making a solution.

For somebody who has served Cagayan de Oro City as an elected official, and repeatedly called in by different administrations to serve as consultant for one thing or another, particularly regarding cultural heritage and history, she must understand quite well the churnings at the corridors of power.

Mrs. La Viña was a city councilor for six years. She served beginning at the term of Aquilino Pimentel Jr. (now Senator). For the record, she co-authored and sponsored the ordinance creating and organizing the Barangay Health Workers, and had it institutionalized, as such.

I had no clue where she was leading me with that information, she pleaded, after a perplexed look assumed on her face, "Please quote me on this."

"I am shocked when I learned that the mayor and governor are intervening in the selection, and/or appointment, or installation of the Barangay Health Workers." She stresses that the BHW should essentially be apolitical, as they are there to serve the people and not the LGU leaders and their staff. "Political intervention is not the spirit of the health workers' program."

She is reminding all those who are practicing this!

"If they say that is the law, I strongly think it should be repealed! Repeal it with no delay! I am not being emotional about it; I am just being passionate over something that I have studied so carefully and intensively. Public health workers should not be politicized. It should never be!"

She remembers distinctly that she studied the matter with Sonja Pacana, a social activist during the Marcos era, and that she still believes that public health service is one area that should be fundamentally provided by government, and not as a political leverage. She is so aghast at reports that barangay captains, mayors and governors do intervene in the selection, installation and retention of public health workers. So aghast, that she must have said, "I am so shocked" for more than five times, I counted.

"Let the people choose - they know who is best to serve them in this regard. LGU leaders should sincerely listen to their constituents, not those who patronize you. Politics should stay away in the appointment and retention of the health workers."

She was so emphatic enough that it sounded like some politicians are intervening in her personal and domestic matters already. "When politics prevail in the barangay health program, things other than health of the constituents would prevail. That is very bad for the community!"

Not that she abhors politics, but that there are realms where politics should be constrained from getting involved in. Providing public health, she believes, is not a political option by anyone who aspires for public office. Providing health service is a fundamental obligation.

"I am a political animal. I love the city hall despite its being a snakes' pit." This is a very unlikely statement to come from a frail-looking socialite.

"I have never been sensitive to intrigues. It only makes me popular." She actually lives by a political statement that is mentioned often: "You can say anything about me, good or bad, it does not really matter; but, please, I beg you to mention my name."

A Kagay-anon by the theory of jus sanguine, she was actually born in Manila, along with her only sister Carmen Maestrado-Velez. Father was then Congressman of the 1st District of Misamis Province Selvino Dacapio Maestrado of Camiguin. Mother was Josefa Abejuela Chaves.

Married to the intellectual Gabriel La Viña, Tita Inday has six children: Pompee, Annie, Tony (Dean of the School of Good Governance, Ateneo de Manila), Susie, Kakoy, and Maya -- all intellectuals; three, musically gifted. She has eleven grandchildren, to cite a few who provide her effervescent reckoning, as she loves the arts, she has one grandchild, Lourdes Marie La Viña, who is a Carlos Palanca Memorial Awardee for Poetry, and Joey (Suzie La Viña - Atayde's daughter), an accomplished ballerina.

We all remember her serving the city again at the turn of the millennium as one of the commissioners of the renamed Cultural and Historical Commission of the city (now generically renamed as Heritage Council).

At the behest of national centennial fever, the Historical Commission then was naming new streets, and renaming a few old ones. Tita Inday is truly one remarkably principled woman when she negated the idea of having one of the streets named in her father's honour -- as a notable national politician.

"Some criteria we have set were not met. Much as I wanted to, we have to follow set rules and conditions... even if we set them ourselves...that only names of Kagay-anons who served well and made valuable contributions to the city may only be honoured with streets named after them. Papa worked for the entire province, not for city. Though he may have beeen a Kagay-anon by heart, it was the province that he worked for - and that is not included in our criteria."

Easily, a self-aggrandizement-crazed person would have elbowed, swish buckled with knife-in-teeth, for that opportunity of perpetuating honor for the family. Tita Inday truly knows about integrity and honor.

In a manner to merely provoke the feistiness in her, I managed to ask her to react to "There is no honor in politics." The retort was quick.

"Of course not! That is false! There is dignity and honor as long as one has principles grounded on service and not on self-gratification and self-aggrandizement."

Apparently, like many politicians, Mrs La Viña knows that. Unlike many, who fail to realize that the public can also discern, she sticks to her principled grounds and would rather speak her mind with definitive quips.

With graduate studies in English, a baccalaureate in the Arts and Philosophy, staunch love for romantic poetry, passion for classical music -"I listen to classical music only!"-- she has never been daft with her pronouncements.

Apathy might prevail, but there is also some saturation point which politician can only second guess and not predict. Those are Tita Inday's least of worries, for she does her earnest share of compassion beginning in her own neighborhood.

"Begin with the Book of Psalms when one starts with studying the Bible. God's soothing words will refresh your spirit."

For over 20 years, she has been hosting bible studies at her sprawling home - one for the less-fortunate in her immediate neighborhood, and one for the literati and socialite-friends. For the former, the session is accompanied with dinner. For the more privileged, snacks are not even assured.

Mrs. La Viña's favorite city is Paris. When she was getting her visa, she told the French consul, "I want to go to Paris for its Arts, and no other reason." The bemused consul replied, "You are the first Filipino I heard tell me that! You may keep going back!" Aside from the Louvre, she visited the graves of Frédéric François Chopin and a whole retinue of other great artists.

"Just going to Paris makes me feel good!" Of course, Paris never lets down the soul of the intellectuals, the artists, the free spirited, and the principled. Like many inspired spirits, Tita Inday must take to Paris, like a faithful on a pilgrimage, or perhaps, much like doing the spa for her soul!

What about the movies, any favorite? We wanted to thread on trivia?

"I am bored with movies, unless it has Audrey Hepburn in it. I just love a little "holly golitely" thing (a little craziness, as essayed by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's). Somehow, her silhouette resembles the graceful actress' figure.

Aside from regular Bible studies, she loves reading books. Fondly, she reminisces how she cried at moments reading Alexander Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. I love the multi-plot textures of Russioan novelists."

Her last read was Reuben Canoy's "History of Mindanao."

These days, she wishes to master the computer and the internet, for with it, one can "connect with the world". She grows her own flora for her Ikenobo practice, which is a very strict school of the Ikebana discipline.

If one merely looks at her being a socialite matron, one can hardly believe that she once chaired a public protest during the Marcos regime. Oil price at that time was on a frantic roller-coaster trend, with the up-trend more frequent. It was such a success that practically, no transportation ran that day. The action in the city went in good synchrony with the rest of the country, that Marcos rolled back the oil price, albeit temporarily.

As we were folding up post lunch, she reiterated, "I am challenging the good people of the city, to ventilate their grumblings objectively and concretely."

Making the LGU an advocate of citizens' initiative in a particular concern may even be just what our incumbent administration needs. The pro-active Mrs La Viña believes that we all should transcend the stage of merely being critical; and that, we should also provide the solution along with the criticisms."

"Come up with a solid proposal on what is best for the city. Make it in black and white."

Those, and having faith in people, and standing on well-founded principles might probably just be what we need as leverage to lift the state of our city.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on December 09, 2010.


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