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Before anything else, let me share with you an excerpt from a column I penned for The Manila Times on January 25, 2005. I was commenting on the MMDA's wet-flag campaign, in which the traffic-management authority intended to curb jaywalking by hitting unruly pedestrians with a drenched white cloth hanging by the flank of a cruising truck. In particular, I was defending MMDA chairman Bayani Fernando against his critics, the loudest of which was then Manila Mayor Lito Atienza. I wrote:

For all of Bayani Fernando's gimmickry, you have to give credit to the fellow. I'm imagining him spending countless sleepless nights trying to concoct new ways to make our motorists and pedestrians respect traffic rules. I don't know how much better Atienza would fare if he gave it a shot himself. The bottom line is that we're a hopelessly disobedient bunch, and we should be thankful we're only getting a wet flag to discipline us. The way many of us are misbehaving, no less than the wet floor of a stinking detention cell should do it.

And then I concluded the piece with this:

Know-it-all politicians have turned Bayani Fernando into their favorite whipping boy. While I'm no big fan of the wet flag either, I'd like to see them give it a try. At the very least, BF makes you laugh. Which is about the only good thing you can do while living in this country.

Okay, I've conjured up the above just to show you that, nearly five years ago, I was actually a supporter of Bayani and his maverick ways. But half a decade does a lot to a man. Especially if he has been overexposed to the color pink.

If you have been following my column here, you know I no longer root for BF. You may read my recent thoughts on the man in "Everything That's Wrong About The Government, I Learned From Bayani Fernando" or "U-nanimo-U-sly U-npop-U-lar." What happened?

Well, let's just say that in the last five years, I saw a politician who was more form than substance, and iron-fisted for the sake of being iron-fisted.

First, he was more form than substance. It seemed to me that this man always had to announce to the world whatever he was up to. Think about it: the billboards; the attention-grabbing pink paint; the propagandist shirts worn by MMDA workers; the infomercials; the in-your-face traffic officers. Everything Bayani did seemed to have been carried out to impress and call attention to himself. Precisely why he thrived in controversies. It was as though every MMDA project was designed to contribute to his ultimate goal, which is the presidency in 2010.

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This explains why most of the MMDA's campaigns were not necessarily effective in managing Metro Manila, but they were always effective in promoting Bayani's own person to the public. I've always been of the belief that public officials have no business displaying their names on billboards. If they order a road-repair project, for instance, we don't owe them anything in return. That's their job. They asked for the position. No, let me correct that: They begged and campaigned for the position. I'd most likely get fired if my boss suddenly found this sign hanging by my cube: "Over a hundred pages of car magazine finished through the efforts of Vernon B. Sarne."

You know how to tell if a public official is good? If he doesn't announce his deeds and yet people feel his leadership. If a public servant has truly served, people will know it and will want him to continue--perhaps even to assume a higher office. The reason so many politicians depend on hollow billboards to prop up their image is because their track record will not be able to.

Second, Bayani was iron-fisted for the sake of being iron-fisted. Having "political will" was always his personal sales pitch. There's a nameless billboard on EDSA now with that very phrase, and I have not an iota of doubt it was Fernando who put it up.

While it's true that having political teeth is essential to being a good leader, having it just for the heck of it is just as bad as not having it at all. Projecting to be resolute without rhyme or reason isn't leading--it's power-tripping. And Bayani Fernando, by all indications, was nothing more than a bully who liked flexing his political muscle, even if it defied logic. If most everyone in the city is already complaining about your bright idea (U-turn slots, anyone?) and you still insist it's, well, bright, I can tell you right now your future in politics doesn't look very bright.

Bayani Fernando has resigned his post as MMDA chairman, and still I can't summon the energy to rejoice. That's because he now fancies himself to be the next Philippine president. That's about the equivalent of knowing the biggest bully has left your school, only to find out his family plans to move to your neighborhood.

Vernon B. Sarne
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