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Oct 01st
Home Columns Tremendous Trifles How Do You Define Trapos?
How Do You Define Trapos? PDF Print E-mail
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Columns - Tremendous Trifles
Written by Gov. Ben Sanchez   
Monday, 29 June 2009 12:16

H ow does one define a politician or much more, a traditional politician (or “trapo” in colloquial Filipino)?


Perhaps a good way to define a trapo is by comparing a politician to a statesman. According to James Freeman Clarke, “a politician thinks about the next elections — the statesman thinks about the next generations.”


Here are some comparisons that unknown authors have written about politicians and statesmen:


Politicians talk while Statesmen walk it.

Politicians run to win at all costs while Statesmen run to serve while minimizing costs and maximizing results.

Politicians are ideologues while Statesmen are open-minded.

Politicians say, “It’s all about me” while Statesmen say, “It’s all about them.”

Politicians focus on the next election while Statesmen focus on the future.


In its issue of Friday, 26 June, the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) printed an AP dispatch on the subject of errant American politicians.


In this article, Fred Greenstein, a Princeton University professor emeritus of politics, suggested that several factors make aggressive politicians prone to mischief:


1.    They are disposed to thinking about themselves first.

2.   These are men who have to exercise power and sometimes can become drunk from it. 

3.    These are men who love being admired and who often are surrounded by swarms of psychopants (sic).   

4.   These are also the type of men who are likely to break promises, manipulate and cut corners.

5.    Worst of all, these are men who think the rules do not apply to them and who think they are untouchable.


Do you doubt these?  Professor Greenstein retorts, “Just ask their wives, their mistresses or their security details that are often privy to indiscretions.”


Without doubt, Professor Greenstein has aptly and concisely given us Filipinos a working definition of our own trapos (traditional politicians).


In fact, when I discussed this topic with the editor, he added that “Filipino trapos not only have become drunk with power but literally tipsy also with alcoholic drinks. The media documented the so-called ‘Midnight Cabinet’ of then President Joseph Estrada, as they consumed bottles after bottles of expensive wine and liquor while discussing vacancies in government offices and appointments were signed as they were already inebriated. Soon, it was revealed that several individuals were appointed to the same position, as they were too drunk to note the duplication of nominations to the same office.”


Bobby Reyes added that “there is more to what Professor Greenstein also said: ‘These are men who love being admired and who often are surrounded by swarms of sychopants.’ Mr. Greenstein should have added women to the swarm. There are women who like to be the girlfriends of powerful men, as what happened to a married flight attendant of Philippine Airlines. The stewardess abandoned her husband just to become the mistress of a Philippine President. In fact, reports said that she gladly bore President Estrada a child. She became supposedly the ninth woman to bear a child for that traditional politician.”


What say you, Dear Readers? Can you add more comments to this discussion? # # #


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Last Updated on Thursday, 02 July 2009 23:13
Comments (4)
1 Monday, 29 June 2009 19:39
Politicians never die; their wealth just multiply.
2 Thursday, 02 July 2009 22:53
Dear Augie and Fellow Sorsoganons:

CC: Tony Abaya
Former BOI Gov. Ben Sanchez

For the information of Mr. Abaya and Governor Sanchez, the term "trapo" was used by Sorsoganons as early as the 1971 local elections. That was 18 years ahead of Mr. Abaya's claim.

As a background material, the Sorsoganon term for the Tagalog's "basahan" is "trapo." Trapo is the Sorsoganon equivalent of the colloquial English term, "rag."

There was a three-cornered fight in the 1971 election for governor of Sorsogon. The Nacionalista Party fielded the son of then Cong. Salvador Encinas of Gubat town, Melchor Encinas, former Gov. Juan G. Frivaldo (of Sta. Magdalena town) and my first cousin, Atty. Teodulo R. Diño, the son of former Gov. Teodosio Diño of Prieto Diaz town. Messrs. Frivaldo and Diño both belonged to the Liberal Party, which declared actually a "free zone" to accommodate both of them. It was the first (and only) time for Atty. Diño to run for public office, although he worked at the Solicitor General's office for several years prior to his resignation on his filing of the certificate of candidacy.

Atty. Dulo Diño labeled both Mr. Encinas and former Governor Frivaldo as "trapo" candidates, as they represented "traditional politics" and there was a need for a new face, not a "trapo" (basahan) to lead the province. I remember my other first cousin, Patricio Reyes (a son of former Sorsogon Governor Juan S. Reyes) saying that some students at the University of the Philippines were also using at that time "trapo" as their term for a traditional politician. Pat had just graduated at the UP School of Medicine and he went back to Sorsogon to campaign for Dulo Diño. (Pat is now a neurosurgeon in Philadelphia, PA.) Pat and I used also the term "trapo" in our speeches at political rallies in Bulan town.

My father, Dominador, tried to talk to his cumpadre, Johnny Frivaldo, to coalesce against the NP. He was the opponent of Mr. Frivaldo in the 1955 and 1959 gubernatorial elections. Mr. Frivaldo suggested that Atty. Diño run instead as his running mate, or if he would not want to accept it, then have me as the other half of the ticket. My father failed to persuade his brother-in-law, former Governor Diño, and his nephew to accept Mr. Frivaldo's offer. At the end, Mr. Frivaldo won the election and our "trapo" battle cry did not resonate well enough with the voters insofar as Governor Frivaldo was concerned but it did affect Melchor Encinas, whose father was then the chairman of the Appropriations Committee of the House of Representatives.

BTW you can read about Dominador S. Reyes in this article, My Father Was the Birdman and Butcher of Bulusan during the War and a Don Quixote Later in Life

I remember during that 1971 elections a high-school friend, Freddie Gacosta, use our "anti-trapo" battle cry with gusto, as he was becoming a radical student leader. Freddie eventually joined the New People's Army after President Marcos declared martial law in September 1972. He was later killed in Sorsogon in a pitch battle between the NPA and the Philippine Army in 1973.

So, can we just charge to experience Mr. Abaya's claim that he coined the term "trapo" in 1989? We in Sorsogon and probably some student leaders in the UP were already using the term in 1971.

For the record,

Lolo Bobby M. Reyes

PS: I will post this commentary and the appropriate portions of Mr. Abaya's column in Governor Sanchez' column in the

In a message dated 7/2/2009 7:19:04 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it writes:

--- On Thu, 7/2/09, Antonio Abaya wrote:

From: Antonio Abaya
Subject: Trapos versus Non-Trapos
Date: Thursday, July 2, 2009, 11:53 PM

Trapos versus Non-Trapos

By Antonio C. Abaya

Written on July 01, 2009

For the Standard Today,

July 02 issue

Last Tuesday, June 30, my friend Ben Sanchez sent out to his e-list the question: How do you define Trapos?

My reply, expanded for the purpose of this column:


Ben, I invented the term trapo in one of my columns sometime in September 1989, from the phrase ‘traditional politician.’ The revealing signs of a trapo are: <>
3 Thursday, 02 July 2009 22:56
Antonio Abaya wrote:
From: Antonio Abaya
Subject: Trapos versus Non-Trapos
Date: Thursday, July 2, 2009, 11:53 PM

Trapos versus Non-Trapos

By Antonio C. Abaya

Written on July 01, 2009

For the Standard Today,

July 02 issue

Last Tuesday, June 30, my friend Ben Sanchez sent out to his e-list the question: How do you define Trapos?

My reply, expanded for the purpose of this column:


Ben, I invented the term trapo in one of my columns sometime in September 1989, from the phrase ‘traditional politician.’ The revealing signs of a trapo are:

Ill-gotten Wealth. He/she enriches himself/herself while holding public office. On this score alone, most of the incumbent elected public officials and many of the appointed ones are trapos. Many corrupt appointive officials invariably seek elective public office – mayor, governor, congressman, senator, vice-president, president – in order to expand and protect their ill-gotten wealth and hence further strengthen the stranglehold of the trapos on our political and our economic life.

Political Dynasties. He/she establishes a dynasty to capture exclusive political power for his/her family/clan, to the exclusion of other putative entrants into the power structure. Thus we have many actual situations, or variations thereof, where Papa is senator, Mama is congresswoman, Ate is governor, Kuya is mayor, and the family idiot is municipal councilor. We even have a case in Muslim Mindanao where the governor had his four wives run for mayor in four towns in his province. Three of the four actually won.

The 1987 Constitution specifically called for the dismantling of political dynasties. But it has never been put into practice because all efforts to pass implementing laws have been blocked by, who else, the incumbent political dynasts in Congress. Only a revolutionary government can eradicate political dynasties.

Campaign Over-Spending. A trapo invariably spends more in his/her campaign to be elected/re-elected than the actual salary that the public office he/she seeks will pay. This indicates that he/she intends to use that office for rent-seeking, i..e. making money from licenses, permits, kickbacks and over-pricing in government contracts, etc. that the office has jurisdiction over. It is a process made more seamless if his/her dynasty controls the operational bureaus, departments and other involved offices.

Campaign over-spending is really the biggest single source/cause of corruption in the Philippines. Running for public office has become a business investment – sourced from the trapo’s personal or family wealth, and/or from his/her financial backers – to be recouped many times over once that office is won.

The high and increasing cost of running for public office means this built-in corruption generator is already imbedded in our political culture The proliferation of infomercials on TV and radio, the ubiquitous presence of candidates’ tarpaulin billboards all over the country, long before the actual campaign period begins, shows how expensive running for public office has become, thereby limiting the entrants to those with deep pockets and corrupt intentions, perpetuating the culture of corruption.

One way to neutralize this would be for the Comelec to require pre-mature campaigners to sign a binding pledge that they will not run for any public office in the next (2010) elections, and which would automatically disqualify them if they do. But the chances of such a law being passed by a trapo-dominated Congress are nil. Only a revolutionary government can promulgate and enforce such a law.

Another way to reduce campaign expenses, and thus corruption in government, would be to totally ban all radio and TV political advertising, as I have proposed many times in this space. Instead the three government-owned TV networks – Ch 4, 9 and 13 - and their satellite radio and TV stations in the provinces, should be deputized by the Comelec as the sole venues for political campaigning, where all competing candidates and parties get equal air time FOR FREE, as scheduled by an independent citizens watchdog committee..

But the commercial TV and radio stations, print media, advertising studios, printing presses, PR outfits, media manipulators and other parties who have vested financial interests in campaign over-spending would lobby against such a rule. This would be a case of private interests being stacked against the national interest, and I would surmise that the private interests would prevail, except under a revolutionary government.

Finally, the flood of campaign billboards and posters that invariably disfigure our cities and towns and highways every election season, and which the Comelec is totally helpless to control, can be reduced drastically if citizens groups, aided by the police, were deputized by the Comelec to tear down and remove posters and billboards that are a) larger than the authorized sizes; b) placed or affixed in places not allowed by the Comelec (on lamp posts, trees, bridges, public walls and buildings, etc).

This would be a self-policing measure. Competing candidates and parties will not allow their rivals to gain advantage over them with illegal or illegally placed campaign material and should be among those deputized to remove such illegal campaign material. A revolutionary government is not necessary for this measure, only vigilant citizens groups.

No Political Ideology. Trapos do not care for political ideologies or programs of government. Which explains why Filipino politicians change their party affiliation with promiscuous frequency. They are interested only in political advantage for themselves, They are really political prostitutes, enticed by the come-ons, usually from the party or coalition in power. Once that party loses power, the trapos invariably scamper towards the next apparent Santa Cluas. This was what happened to Marcos’ Kilusang Bagong Lipunan; Cory Aquino’s Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino; Fidel Ramos’ Lakas-NUCD, which has effectively lost its followers to Gloria Arroyo’s paper-bag-dispensing Kampi.

Political turn-coatism can be discouraged by penalizing it. If a trapo changes party affiliation., he /she should not be allowed to run for any office in the next elections. Can the Comelec enforce such a rule? I doubt it. Only a revolutionary government can.


By coincidence, after I sent my reply to Ben Sanchez, the July 01 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer carried news that a new citizens group, the Movement for Good Governance (MGG) seeks to create what it calls “People’s Primaries” through which non-trapos who want to run in the 2010 elections will have a chance to air their platforms and programs of government.

The People’s Primaries, patterned after the primaries in US elections, seeks to identify non-trapos and give them the public exposure that they otherwise would not have in the political arena dominated by the heavily financed trapos. (Snipped)
4 Tuesday, 07 July 2009 12:22
Dear Bobby,

I agree with you that the word "trapo," Spanish for "rag" and in
Filipino context means "dirty rag," was not coined by Tony Abaya
or anybody else in the Philippines, but I also believe that Tony
may have originally used the word "trapo" before anybody else
as a contraction for "traditional politicians." Of course the context
in both uses remains the same, i.e., "dirty politicians." When I
left the Philippines in 1976, the word "trapos" was not in use yet
to mean "traditional politicians." Perhaps, in the case of Sorsogon
it was already in prior use in the literal context.

Frank Jimenez

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