Philippine politics

[Vantage Point] Pro-environment Noel Rosal traverses rocky path

Val A. Villanueva
[Vantage Point] Pro-environment Noel Rosal traverses rocky path
Whether he would be able to mount his horse again is a matter that is now at the hands of the Supreme Court

Philippine elections of recent times no longer reflect the will of the people. The undying refrain that nobody loses an election but has been cheated out of it holds true because, often, the Supreme Court  (SC) is left to decide who wins. “Vox Populi, Vox Dei” seems to have become a hollow statement. 

Remember the 2016 elections? Then-vice presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. couldn’t accept that he lost to his rival Leni Robredo. Adamant that he was the rightful winner, Marcos Jr. instigated a recount in different voting areas in the country. He lost in  all these recounts. It took the SC’s election tribunal to finally declare Robredo as the duly elected vice president.

It now seems that the popular Albay Governor Noel Rosal is now traversing the same rocky path. He has taken his cause to the High Court after the Commission on Elections (Comelec) en banc rejected his motion to have a disqualification case against him junked. The poll body’s decision can only spark speculations that the people of Albay who have mostly backed Rosal in this case have been dealt a hard lesson. 

Political newcomers like Rosal who may be over-enthusiastic in “instituting reforms” in their localities should learn from this saga as well. 

Here’s what we know: The poll body had affirmed an earlier resolution by its First Division disqualifying newly elected Rosal from the May 2022 elections based on allegations by a certain Joseph Armogila.

The Comelec has disqualified Rosal, along with his wife, Legazpi City Mayor Carmen Geraldine Rosal, for violating a provision of the Omnibus Election Code (OEC) against the release of public funds during the election period. The two allegedly participated in a two-day cash assistance payout for tricycle drivers and senior citizens during the 45-day campaign spending ban.

“Under the orders of the Commission en Banc, the Secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government is directed to immediately implement the en Banc resolution, which affirms the first division resolution, disqualifying Noel Rosal for running for the position of the governor of Albay,” said Laudiangco during a press conference.

“… for Governor Rosal to cease and desist from his powers and functions of the governor of Albay and relinquish that post and vacate that post,” he added.

The Comelec en banc also ordered the “peaceful” turnover of the position to Albay Vice Governor Edcel Lagman Jr.

Stand vs quarrying

The move to disqualify Rosal fueled massive protests not only in Legazpi City, but in many parts of Albay province. The mass actions were led by civic leaders and outspoken Bishop Joel Baylon of the Diocese of Legazpi. They alleged that the move to unseat Rosal may have been triggered by the governor’s decisive action against the prosperous quarrying industry in the province. They called on the Comelec to “respect the will of the people” and unrelentingly drew the link between the ouster move and Rosal’s stance against excessive quarrying.

Rosal had campaigned on a pro-environment platform which may have helped him defeat by an unexpected wide margin the well-entrenched Bichara family. Now it looks like the advocacy that helped him ascend to the highest elective post in the province has also proven to be his waterloo.

Rosal’s first action was to order a halt to all quarrying operations in the province, a move that Church leaders and civic groups applauded, but which apparently angered powerful interests adversely affected by it.

While Rosal may have endeared himself further to his constituents by stopping quarrying activities, the adversely affected interests seem to have made sure he would pay dearly for that action.

Should Albayanons be faulted for seeing Rosal as a knight in shining armor?

Apparently not.

It seems they had long needed one. Many of them believe excessive quarrying had made their towns vulnerable to landslides. Bishop Baylon had begged and cajoled national government agencies to act on their plea, following the massive destruction of property and loss of lives wrought by super typhoon “Rolly” in 2020.

Initially, the prelate’s plea seemed to have fallen on deaf ears, until then-president Rodrigo Duterte, seeing the extent of Typhoon Rolly’s devastating landslides, ordered a thorough probe into the quarrying industry in Albay in November 2020.

The initial results of the Duterte-ordered probe showed how powerful the interests behind that industry are. According to the report of the Mines and Geosciences Board (MGB), there were about 106 business entities engaged in the bustling quarrying activities in the province. Among these entities were two companies identified with party list Representative Elizalde Co, namely, Sunwest Construction (Legazpi) and Sunwest Construction (Daraga).

While Co, who chairs the powerful appropriations committee of the House of Representatives, has distanced himself from companies linked to the Pharmally scandal and the anomalous purchase of pricey laptops by and for the Department of Education, the solon has yet to publicly disown his ties with the quarrying companies.

The Sunwest companies were initially listed by the MGB among the 15 entities out of the 106 quarry operators which have allegedly violated the terms of their permits, including excessive quarrying. The MGB was, however, quick to clear the companies placed on its list and spearheaded the call for a resumption of quarrying activities in the province.

It was, perhaps, the impression that they cannot count on national government agencies that drove the Albayanons to wish for a knight in shining armor. They may have thought Rosal was the one.

Unfortunately, the knight seems to have been toppled off his white horse. Whether he would be able to mount his horse again is a matter that is now at the hands of the Supreme Court. Whatever the judicial decision, it will prove how everything in this country was, is, and will most probably be just politics. – Rappler.com

Val A. Villanueva is a veteran business journalist. He was a former business editor of the Philippine Star and the Gokongwei-owned Manila Times. For comments, suggestions email him at mvala.v@gmail.com.

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