DSWD chief’s challenge to Mayor Treñas

By Alex P. Vidal

“I don’t think there’s ever a winner in a feud. It’s about emotional pain and an inability to conquer the pain.”—Ryan Murphy

WHEN cabinet secretaries who work under and for the Office of the President intend to showboat and tell all and sundry they are made of sterner stuff, they pick up—or try to pick up—a fight mostly with the local chief executives even on mundane matters.

When they clash with governors and mayors, hot-tempered cabinet officials are aware they become the talk of the town.

The recent threat of Iloilo City Mayor Geronimo “Jerry” Treñas to declare the regional director in Western Visayas of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) as persona non grata for the DSWD’s failure to coordinate with the City Hall in the distribution of educational fund that resulted in overcrowding, could be a result of so much exasperation on the part of the city mayor who didn’t want a stampede or any untoward incident during the disorderly activity in the Iloilo Sports Complex.

It may not be good to the ears DSWD Secretary Erwin Tulfo thus he challenged Treñas to train the guns on him instead of the regional director.

“Eh kung plano niya pong i-persona non grata ‘yung tao ko po, ‘wag naman po dahil sumusunod lang ang tao sa instruction ko. Please tell Mayor Treñas na si Secretary Tulfo po ang i-persona non grata niya,” Tulfo told CNN Philippines’ The Source. “I will take the bullet because instruction ko po ‘yun.”

(Please tell Mayor Treñas to instead declare me as persona non grata and spare my staff because he was ony following my instruction. I will take the bullet because it was my instruction.)


Tulfo had a point. All regional directors only followed orders from him like good soldiers.

If there is someone to be blamed or “punished” for the messy distribution of the financial assistance, it should be the DSWD boss alone, if necessary.

The buck stops with Tulfo, the secretary was probably trying to point out.

There was no immediate reply from the city mayor, but he certainly didn’t want anymore to add fire into conflagration as the issue here wasn’t Tulfo or about any personality, but the poor distribution of the funds as a result of the DSWD’s non-coordination with the local government.

In criticizing the distribution system, Treñas didn’t want to a wage war with anyone or with the DSWD.

His concern was the safety of those who “attacked” the distribution center even if there was no assurance all of them could be accommodated.

At one moment, the crowd was reportedly getting bigger and out of control; security and crowd control weren’t sufficient to stop any possible stampede, and there was danger some people would get hurt if not pinned to their death if restless individuals continued to act unruly.

It’s good the word ward between the DSWD chief and the city mayor didn’t escalate.

I were Tulfo, I would have replied to Treñas this way: “We apologize for what happened. I assume full responsibility for the mess. Next time, we will see to it that we coordinate with the local government. Rest assured that we will try our best to do it smoothly without endangering the lives of the people.”

No need for a show of bravado. No need to play with words and show enmity if we can deliver the message direct to the point.

After all they are all public servants and what they do is pure and simple public service, not political rivalry or turf war.


While we were covering the City Hall beat in 1989, a feud between a local chief executive and a cabinet secretary also erupted.

“Santos bastos,” the late mercurial former Iloilo City mayor Rodolfo “Roding” Ganzon fired back after being slapped with a preventive suspension order by the late Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) secretary Luis T. Santos in 1989.

Santos received orders like a professional soldier from the late former President Corazon “Cory” Aquino to throw the books on Ganzon, a former ally of Mrs. Aquino’s late husband, former Senator Ninoy Aquino, after the fire-spewing Iloilo mayor criticized her government.

Ganzon also accused the Cory administration of tolerating gambling activities nationwide and scored the national government for promoting the STL (small town lottery).

Ganzon rued he didn’t deserve to be treated shabbily by a “mere former policeman” (referring to Santos) and a former housewife “who only prepared a cup of coffee for me each time Ninoy and I talked (before the Martial Law when they were both senators in the 60s).

Word wars among public servants happened in the past and is still happening from time to time; and some of these episodes were tension-filed if not hilarious.

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo.—Ed)