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Datu Shampoo Bam

Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino, senatorial candidate and shameless Ninoy lookalike-wannabe, has been proclaimed honorary “datu” or tribal chief by a group that calls itself the 10 Tribes of Davao. The President’s cousin looked elated in his ceremonial Malay headman’s regalia, as if he already had a lock on the Moro vote in Mindanao and a sure seat in the Senate. This younger Aquino has reason to smile these days, when his cousin complains of losing his hair and growing eye bags because of the stresses of his job. The latest results of surveys of voter preferences put Bam in the rarefied upper half of the race—not bad for a virtual national nobody whose only claim to fame once was a pair of eyeglasses that he believes makes him look like his slain uncle and serving for years as head of the National Youth Commission of the Arroyo administration. Yes, the Arroyo administration, which his cousin loathes even more than his receding hairline and eye bags. The same administration that Bam’s father, Paul Aquino, served so loyally as top political adviser for the elections of 2004 and 2007. But blood is always thicker than water, especially for a political dynasty like the ones that the Aquino-Cojuangcos belong to. No one in the Yellow administration mentions that the Aquinos, pere et fils, served Gloria Arroyo long and well; just like no one in Tarlac talks a lot about how Noynoy is only a decade younger than his grandfather, come-backing ex-Rep. Hermie Aquino, who was born to revolutionary general Servillano Aquino (Noynoy’s great-grandfather and Ninoy’s grand-dad) when Servillano was already 75 years old. Bam’s wife, who worked for a multinational consumer conglomerate, is apparently also a fan of keeping things simple. As the main strategist of her husband, Timi Gomez-Aquino compares her husband’s campaign to selling shampoo. “The simpler the message, the better,” Timi said, scoring no points for her husband among the more enlightened, who are now convinced that Bam is going his cousin’s route of appealing to the most gullible, benighted and easily swayed masses who swept Noynoy to power. Prior to becoming shampoo, of course, Bam was packaged as the sidekick of Jollibee, the eponymous mascot of the mass-market hamburger chain. Ninoy glasses, Jollibee, shampoo and now Datu. Hey, whatever works for the simple-minded, right? * * * This week, the Department of Transportation and Communications is reportedly all set to make an announcement about the bidding for the big-ticket P8-billion information technology systems upgrading contract of the Land Transportation Office. And it looks like, “daang matuwid” notwithstanding, the contract could end up in the lap of a group believed to be the “true owners” of LTO. Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya and his bids and awards chairman Undersecretary Perpetuo Lotilla have already eliminated the last viable bidder for the contract, currently on an extended run with hard-luck provider Stradcom—Germany-based Fritz und Mackiol Asia, which submitted a lower bid of P5.3 billion. That price, taken together with the extensive track record of FuM, should have swayed the DOTC bids and awards committee of Lotilla to give the contract to the German outfit. Instead, FuM was disqualified on technical grounds that the company said amounted to trivial and non-substantive grounds. Besides, the only remaining bidder, an outfit called Eurolink, offered a higher price at P5.8 billion. But Eurolink, which is supposed to own the most extensive chain of emission-testing shops authorized by LTO to operate (a measure of its “insider” clout at the agency), was never disqualified by the IT consultant hired by DOTC to look into the bids. The consultant reportedly has close fraternal—as in school fraternity—ties to Lotilla, apart from being under the direct influence of LTO’s longtime “owners.” This influential group has run LTO for so long that it needs to capture the IT upgrading contract that Stradcom will leave behind, if only to complete its domination of the agency’s operations. Of course, if the upcoming DOTC announcement concerns a failure of the bidding process, that can only mean that the Stradcom contract (which expired last month) will have to continue for at least two more years until a new bidder is found who will meet the requirements of Abaya, Lotilla and the committee. And that will surely delay—if not totally derail —the department’s plans to upgrade the current IT system. Ultimately, if the IT project bidding is declared a failure after repeated tries, the contract can be expected to go the “negotiated” route. And if that happens, given the dismissal of all other bidders except Eurolink by Lotilla and his panel, no one is going to bet that anyone else will end up with the lucrative deal. Which is sad, really, because this sort of bureaucratic hanky-panky was supposed to have gone out of style with the previous administration. Apparently, Abaya and Lotilla are making sure that, if the crooked system ain’t broke—or if it’s been running as good as ever before under their watch—then who are they to attempt to fix it?
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