Dear Secretary Mar Roxas

#DearCandidateSeriesNo3

The official campaign season is at hand so, I am not going to beat around the artificial trees of Araneta Center and just ask my questions right ahead. But first, a disclaimer: This is not a “patutsada”, as I often hear you mention the word, nor a “black propaganda” thing that your supporters might label right off the bat. Rather, this is a free, albeit long, treatise on what you represent as a candidate for President by a voter asking questions that are relevant in choosing whom to elect, with the hope that other voters might be similarly enlightened.

First off:

  1. Does the statement “Bahala na kayo sa buhay ninyo” define you as a person and as a leader?

I would sure hope not, but please do not deny that you said it because it is on video all over the Internet. And please do not justify it with a context, either, on the circumstances that it was uttered. You were conferring with a group of local leaders in Tacloban City – in your capacity as Secretary of Interior and Local Government. Your tone was antagonistic towards people who were still reeling from the effects of the most severe typhoon to ever hit the country, many of whom just lost their homes and loved ones. Yet, there you were, with your characteristic hand gestures basically telling the victims, in behalf of the President, that you won’t help them if “legal” procedures are not followed. (The assertion “he is a Romualdez and the President is an Aquino” still resonates ever so loudly, especially among the 2.6 million voters in Region 8.)

Perhaps, you were just being true to yourself (I am reluctant to say you were just showing your true colors) in front of people perceived to be on the opposite side of the political fence. However, a disaster of apocalyptic proportions had just happened, everyone was dealing with the shock, but instead of putting in a word of sympathy or showing a little empathy, you told them in no uncertain terms that they were on their own. What kind of a leader does that?

Then again, your behavior was quite understandable. ‘Yolanda’, while it was happening, did not distinguish between ‘haciendero’ and ‘sacada’, as it were. Just like the rest of those who were fortunate enough to have survived the super typhoon, you had “the scare of your life”. Such that, according to the straight-talking mayor of Davao City who got there a day or two after, you had a “breakdown” and “did not look like somebody who was supposed to be in charge of a disaster.” He said when he asked you what you plan to do, your answer was “Pagiisipan pa ng Malacanang”. Duh?

It has been more than two years since ‘Yolanda’ happened but this image of you talking down at victims still haunt many Warays. Countless Waray families lost relatives and friends – real people, not just statistics. Statistics which were even suppressed. The locals knew how many perished, and the figure is nowhere near the “official” 6,100 dead and 1,700 missing. (Apparently, those missing are still considered missing until now.) True, you were in Tacloban before, during and after the typhoon. But what did you do that could have mitigated the effects and eased the pain of loss during the two weeks that you said you stayed in the devastated city? One reason for your prolonged visit could have been the presence of foreign media. They were all over the place and you were even seen arguing with a CNN correspondent over corpses lined up in the streets that remained uncollected for many days. It was not a very gratifying interview, to say the least. This is aside from the (in)famous “spat” that your broadcaster-wife had with another CNN personality.

Don’t say that those things are now water under the bridge. True, people have short memories, but those memories have a way of coming back to mind on occasions such as an election campaign season. Not to mention that whatever is posted in the Internet cannot be erased for infinity.

  1. What is it about “Daang Matuwid” that you say you want to continue (“pupunuan kung may kulang, itatama kung may mali”)? Are you not limiting yourself to adherents of a mantra that, sadly, has mostly failed to live up to its promise? Should you not instead be ‘inclusive’ as to aim for the votes of those who have expressed their disappointment over what they perceive as the failures of the Aquino Administration? What is your vision for the country beyond “Daang Matuwid”, if any?

Not everyone will agree with you that “Daang Matuwid” is the right course to take at this time when corruption is supposed to have gone up instead of down, bearing in mind that it was meant to lessen, if not eliminate, the menace. (See Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2015)

To this voter, “Daang Matuwid” signifies the following:

*DAP and its evil twin PDAF rechristened BUB where never before in the history of Philippine politics have so much billions in public funds changed hands among so few ‘privileged’ persons

*MRT and its equally sick sister LRT where commuters take the trains – the few of them still running anyway – on a limb and a prayer, mostly a prayer that one’s limbs won’t break from the surge of people getting in and going out (Try it sometime, Secretary Abaya, without an alalay carrying an umbrella over your head. Tingnan mo kung hindi ka makipagpalitan ng mukha.)

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*SAF 44 aka Mamasapano “mis-encounter” (“Namatayan din ako ng ama, patas na tayo ngayon”) – enough said

*Zamboanga siege or how a secessionist faction held the city hostage for almost three weeks, wreaking unimaginable destruction right under the nose of the President who was reportedly there all the time to direct military operations

*Luneta hostage taking which showed the world in real time how authorities dealt with a single gunman who killed eight Hong Kong nationals inside a tourist bus at the country’s center of tourism

*‘Tanim-bala’, ‘tanim-droga’, ‘liquid eraser’, taxi scam and other rip-offs at the world’s worst airport with ceilings that fall off at the drop of a nail (You have to hand it to those airport personnel for not running out of ‘imaginative’ ways to mulct unsuspecting foreigners and hapless OFWs)

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*Traffic congestion – one of the worst in the world – or how to manage your bladder for three to five hours while stuck bumper-to-bumper along Edsa

*‘Yolanda’ aftermath – cheap bunkhouses built haphazardly and tents donated by international NGOs for survivors rendered homeless, food donations rotting in warehouses, millions of dollars in international aid mostly unaccounted for – and the lack of empathy (“Buhay ka pa naman, di ba?”)

*DOTC incompetence, or cars without license plates and drivers without license cards, not to mention the long queues that commuters have to endure every day in order to ride trains that malfunction in the middle of the railways it has become the norm rather than an aberration

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*Rigged biddings in almost every department, bureau, commission or LGU – show me a ‘clean’ and straight BAC and I’ll do a somersault

*The SSS pension veto or how “Daang Matuwid” pointedly ignores the needs of senior citizens in the guise of the state fund collapsing in 11 years (Why not compel the GFI’s highly-paid executives, especially the non-career suits, to earn their millions by ‘saving’ the institution built on the brow of the same pensioners being deprived of comfort in their twilight years instead of threatening current contributors they will get nothing when their time comes?)

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*The unilateral cancellation in 2010 of the Laguna Lake Rehabilitation Project supposed to be undertaken by a prestigious Belgian dredging company to reduce flooding in Metro Manila with the latter suing the government P4B in damages (How many floods have since hit the metro and nearby provinces since ‘Ondoy’ in 2009 because the dredging was scrapped for being a “corrupt midnight deal” without drawing up an alternative flood control project? Bahala na kayo sa buhay ninyo? Or is it, buhay pa naman kayo, di ba?)

*The scrapping in 2011 of the Greater Maritime Access (GMA) Ro-Ro project or Nautical Highway signed in 2009 with the French government for being allegedly overpriced and the $800M North Rail system inked with a Chinese firm which was then dubbed as the most expensive railway in the world that would link Caloocan City with Clark, Pampanga (In September 2011, the DOTC issued a press release saying it had begun talks with China on the “reconfiguration” of the North Rail contract following President Aquino’s state visit to that country the previous month. DOTC further said China also expressed interest in pursuing two Ro-Ro projects, one of which would be called the China-Philippine Nautical Highway between Guangdong and the ports in Subic and Batangas. With the strained relations now prevailing over the South China Sea, this particular Nautical Highway would have become an oxymoron. Comes now the recent announcement of a $2B loan from Japan to build a railway from Tutuban Central Station in Manila to Malolos, Bulacan, presumably different from North Rail. So, which proposed railway system is actually more expensive?)

*Blaming former President Arroyo for everything

By saying that you want to propagate “Daang Matuwid”, are you also saying that you will give us more of the above under your watch?

As a whole, whether “Daang Matuwid” believers accept it or not, the country has been mismanaged by an administration perceived to be lazy and uninspired. In spite of the economic figures being crowed about as their achievement, progress or the semblance of it has not trickled down to the poorest of the poor. Graphs and tables don’t mean a thing to people who are LUCKY to eat one square meal a day, send their children to school barefoot, much less buy medicine for their sick.

The high credit ratings that the country has been getting from high-fallutin’ entities like Moody’s, Fitch and Standard & Poor’s mean nothing more than saying that our dearly beloved Philippines is ‘investment-worthy’ and has the capacity to meet financial commitments. For those of us who do not have undergraduate degrees in economics from prestigious American institutions, our simplistic view is – why aren’t foreign investments coming in droves if Government is painting such a rosy picture?

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Nothing much has really changed, as promised in glowing terms at the outset, except that the poor have become poorer and the homeless have multiplied in number. That is the sad reality, not just a perception.

Kayo ang boss ko!” “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap!” “Tuwid na Daan” – Those catchphrases have regrettably run their course without serving their purpose other than entice the gullible. The words have become nothing more than meaningless rhetoric. Gasgas na, to put it mildly, but still being reworked to entice the more gullible.

Of course, one can argue that “wang wang” disappeared from the streets. Was that the biggest achievement of “Daang Matuwid”? Then again, not exactly. Motorcycle police escorts of so-called VIPs make their presence known by an abbreviated siren sound, loud enough for motorists on headphones to hear, still managing to get ahead in traffic because VIP time is more precious than Ordinary Juan’s.

  1. Your ratings in poll surveys have you stuck somewhere at the middle or the bottom of the pack in a “statistical tie” with one or two others, in spite of the fact that you started campaigning very early in the ball game. You sound very confident that come Election Day in May, you will emerge as the winner. Why?

We would like to see a list of your campaign contributors, which the law specifically requires. It would be interesting to know which familiar names are bankrolling your candidacy which seems to be obscenely awash with cash. (In contrast, your siga opponent said he is not accepting contributions from companies who have dealings with the government, such as one telco giant.)

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As early as September 2015, you were already running an ad campaign in all the major TV networks and radio stations. It was reported that you spent PhP257 million in one month alone. That is an indecent amount of money any which way one looks at it, and where has it taken you as a candidate so far?

And speaking of your campaign ads which you keep changing as often as you wear yellow (another obvious sign that your campaign kitty is ‘unli’), your PR spinners and advertising handlers appear to be not getting it right in so far as projecting you as a candidate vis-à-vis your opponents is concerned. The latest version has you saying you are not about drama and ‘hugot’ and the election is not about you. But that is precisely what comes off to the audience. It is all about you with the “paawa” effect (“Bakit palaging ako?”).

 

The TVCs are very showbiz, considering too your platoon of endorsers from the entertainment industry (who do not come in cheap for having their names and mugs used for electioneering) they either look like a docu-drama or TV station ID. Not far removed, if I may say so, from a talk show host speaking to himself in front of his invisible mirror. In contrast, the ads of your bitter rival the Vice President are self-deprecating and relatable to Ordinary Juan. Guess which creative people are winning the war of attrition and keeping their candidate on the electorate’s subliminal side?

Worse, instead of just promoting you by showcasing your qualities – which could be manifold starting with your Ivy League education and your experience as a technocrat – and convincing the audience why they should vote for you, the VP’s camp is accusing you (or your campaign strategists) of producing those “negative” ads that focus on the latter’s corruption issues. Sun Tzu must be stirring in his grave. (Mr. Palengke earned you a seat in the Senate because you were rightly perceived as a technocrat sharing your expertise with small-time entrepreneurs in your earlier incarnation as Trade and Industry Secretary.) As you yourself riposted, who would believe you as a kargador sa palengke, a karpintero making pukpok with a hammer, or an enforcer directing traffic at an intersection? Then why do those things in the first place?

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So, if you are not “siga-siga” and you will not steal, how do you intend to curb rampant criminality and unmitigated corruption? How will you instill fear in the heart of criminals who seem to have no compunction at all in the present scheme of things? And, perhaps much like your fellow haciendero, you won’t steal because money is not a problem. But how sure are we that you won’t use the national treasury to bribe your way into getting what you want (such as removing a sitting Chief Justice because you don’t like him/her)? Bribing public servants using public funds is also stealing, is it not?

  1. One of your opponents says if he is not able to eradicate the drug menace in six months as President, he will quit – believing that the people’s sense of security is key to economic progress and stability. What is number one in your agenda as President, and would you be similarly willing to set a self-imposed deadline then quit if you fail to attain that objective?

Peace and order was under your jurisdiction as SILG, with full control over the Philippine National Police, taking over from your well-loved predecessor whose widow is now your running mate. Criminality has since risen to alarming proportions with heinous crimes being committed even in broad daylight and in full view of CCTVs. Drugs (and the huge amount of money that goes with it) are being attributed as the root of all the evils that this country is seeing, such that the citizenry have become increasingly fatalistic about it.

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As a voter and citizen of this Republic, someone who promises to bring peace and order within a specific time frame would most likely get my vote. But promising one thing is different from getting it done, so I will withhold my choice until I’ve heard from the other candidates such as you. Since the subject matter is within your realm as former Secretary of the Interior, it would be interesting to know what you have in mind that would allow citizens to walk the streets safely at night. Tall order?

If peace and order is not your flagship platform, could it be transportation and communication then? Would we be able to get our car license plates and driver’s license cards a few days after we paid for them? Would we, as MRT commuters, be able to ride the rickety trains without fear of getting off the coaches in the middle of the railways and walking at the curbs because the machines have conked out?

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Or perhaps trade and industry, which is really where your expertise lies. Would applying for a new business be done in three days at most? The World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2015 shows that it takes an average of 16 steps in 34 days to start a new business in the Philippines compared to three steps in five days in Malaysia and one step in half-a-day in New Zealand. The goal set by the newly formed National Competitiveness Council is to process a new business through three steps within three days. Is that attainable? Of course, if Government has the political will to cut the crap and the red tape.

  1. There are talks that Senator Grace Llamanzares is President Aquino’s “Manchurian Candidate” or Plan B (probably in much the same way that Mrs. Arroyo ostensibly dumped her party’s candidate and supported another, both of whom ended up as losers)? Does that mean Mr. Aquino will ditch you if your ratings do not improve? Do you have a Plan B yourself, just in case onsehan happens?

Politics is such a messy game, right? And being branded an oligarch is not exactly flattering. You are a guy with an enviable pedigree, and you don’t have to be President to do right by you.  But why insist on being Head Honcho when, as they say, you already have everything? Is the thought of being the most powerful man in the country such a heady, irresistible potion for the soul that it should come to pass, no matter what? Because that is how you come on to us, everyday kibitzers in the interchangeable worlds of politics and show business. (They are our opium, and religion is our antidote.) Make Mar Roxas president at all costs seems to be the order of battle.

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But politics being politics, it would not be a far-fetched notion that the President indeed has a Plan B. Already it is becoming apparent that the DQ cases against Senator Llamanzares are headed towards the direction that is favorable to her. Surely, though, your campaign is anchored more on you and less on who or how many your opponents are. Then again, if there is a Plan B, whose candidacy will the ruling party support (i.e. pour money on) till the end? Or, just like in 2010, both of you could end up as losers, too.

With that, I go back to my first question: What is Mar Roxas as a person and as a leader? Are we seeing the real Mar Roxas in your political ads and PR stunts, or just the unfortunate heavily propped spin-off version?

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Unsolicited opinion, if you will: You might come off as the truly “lesser evil” choice if you manage to (re)package yourself as Mar Roxas, instead of Trying To Be Mar Roxas.  “Being Mar Roxas” could be a much more compelling story. You cannot be just the rich guy frequently ‘faulted’ for being born with a silver spoon, or the mere inheritor of a slogan (it is not even an ideology) that was merely that – a slogan. You cannot be just the elusive bachelor who married the “No.1” broadcaster to earn more media exposure, or the obedient son who can’t say no to Mom. Tell us what we don’t already know about Mar Roxas. Lead us to the portal that would allow us to see the mind and heart of Mar Roxas. No frills and props, please. No “non-hugot” lines that are actually so full of hugot. And no invisible mirrors, either. Matagal na pong kumita ‘yan.

But the yellow shirt and the yellow ribbon have to go, those are NOT YOU. You have to let us know that you are your own man, not the clone of someone else. Unless you want it to be your life’s biggest undoing.

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