Monday, February 2, 2009

What’s the matter with Mar?

He is a conscientious and hard-working legislator. He takes his work seriously, whether as senator of the realm or in his previous role of trade secretary, first to Erap, then to Gloria. He is articulate. He looks good. He has political and social pedigree. He has behind him one of the country’s two grand old parties. At 51, he is one of elite society’s most eligible bachelors, although he is openly romantic to one of the country’s most familiar faces on television, Ms. Korina Sanchez, leading professional in broadcast journalism.

So what’s the matter with Mar? This question is often asked in coffee shops and in focused group discussions. How come he ranks low, even behind his fellow senator Ping Lacson, who has not bothered to move around the country nor advertise his wares yet?

Manuel Araneta Roxas II is grandson and namesake of the first post-war president of the Republic. It was Manuel Acuna Roxas who, along with Jose Avelino of Samar, Eugenio Perez of Pangasinan (Joey de Venecia’s lolo), and Hermenegildo Atienza of Manila, broke off from the monolithic Nacionalista Party, and ran against its candidate, Sergio Osmena Sr. of Cebu, the man who succeeded Quezon. Soon after however, the LP got embroiled in massive graft and corruption, and upon the untimely death of President Roxas, broke into two factions, because party president Jose Avelino who was also the Senate President, berated their own President Elpidio Quirino of Ilocos Sur, for not protecting the party’s loyal leaders. “Para que estamos en poder? (What are we in power for?), Avelino asked Quirino in front of other party loyalists, after the latter ordered the investigation of the surplus goods racket involving a prominent party member appointed to the Surplus Property Commission by Roxas.

Quirino went on to prosecute the supposed malefactors in his own party, but the extremely candid remarks of Avelino irreparably injured the image of the new party. Later, neophyte LP Sen. Lorenzo Tanada, along with Melecio Arranz and Vicente Madrigal (Jamby’s grandfather), exposed the backroom deals of Avelino, complete with photostats of cancelled checks. The scandal resulted in the fall of Avelino from the senate presidency, and even a one-year suspension as recommended by a special investigating committee of peers, forerunner of today’s Ethics Committee. Salavging what little was left of his honour, Peping Avelino ran for president against Quirino and the Nacionalista’s Jose P. Laurel in 1949, and fared a poor third.

The Nacionalistas later trounced the LP in 1953, after getting Ramon Magsaysay, Quirino’s defense secretary, to defect from the LP and challenge his political benefactor. But the popular Magsaysay died three years into his presidency. Not till Vice-President Diosdado Macapagal won the presidency over Carlos P. Garcia in 1961 did the LP’s sing “happy days are here again”. But happy days were short-lived, when a re-electionist Macapagal was defeated by a fellow Liberal turned Nacionalista (again), Ferdinand Marcos of Ilocos Norte, who ruled for an entire generation spanning 20 years and 56 days.

The Liberals resurrected with Cory Aquino’s capture of the presidency following Edsa Uno, and a third of the first Senate under the 1987 Constitution was LP, with Jovito Salonga assuming presidency of the “august” chamber. His defining moment came when even against the wishes of President Cory, the Senate rejected the continuation of the US military bases. Because of that singular act, the Liberals projected an image of being “principled”, and Salonga proceeded to author a progressive platform to anchor his presidential bid, even coalescing with the other “principled” party, the original PDP-Laban of Nene Pimentel. But the elections did not go the Liberal way, neither the Nacionalista way, as both Salonga and the late Doy Laurel of the NP fared badly in the 1992 elections. (As our series on presidentiables draw to an end, and analyses follow, our readers will understand why I digress into historical footnotes).

The next defining moment for the party came when Hello Garci shocked the nation and the world. Never had any president been as shameless as to conspire with an election commissioner she herself appointed, and utilize military and police generals, in an enterprise of deceit and cheating so naked. Its newly-enlisted president, Frank Drilon, who also headed the Senate, cobbled the party together to denounce the president they supported just a year back, and called for her resignation. But the party prince, the pretender to the throne within grasp by 2010, played coy. He was neither here nor there. And while he supported the LP decision engineered by his party president, he was not as strident as he should have been. Senator Mar Roxas did not follow what his Jesuit tutors at the Ateneo kept telling them --- “Carpe diem” (Seize the day. Seize the moment.) From that point on, media and the thinking public started to doubt his decisiveness, his resolve, his steadfastness to principle. And also because of that, the Liberal Party once again broke into two factions --- the pro-Gloria bloc led by Lito Atienza, as well as the oppositionist bloc led by Mar and Frank.

Unfairly (because I personally know Mar up close), he was relegated to the image of another “trapo”, just a bit better than the rest. And when he started to criticize the Gloria government on most every issue (forgivable because hardly anything good has been done by her especially after she had become hostage to the trapos who saved her neck in the impeachment cases), Mar’s plaints sounded the usual, run-of-the-mill, nothing exciting.

Again this is puzzling, because Manny Villar, the guy who hardly opens his mouth, who took no stand on Hello Garci or any issue for that matter, who just smiles on TV and crosses the length and breadth of the archipelago proclaiming his allegedly humble beginnings, has overtaken Mar in the all-knowing survey tales, and by a mile at that. There is only one explanation --- it pays to advertise and advertise big. So now, Mar is all over the airwaves, rekindling cognizance of his social legislation, the Affordable Medicines Act --- on prime time, from news to tele-novela. Will this advertising blitz turn the tide? Vamos a ver.

Political and social pedigree is written all over Manuel A. Roxas II’s persona. Aside from his grandfather, his own father, Gerardo Roxas, was a brilliant and highly respected senator, who died when the long night of martial rule was not yet over. His mother is Judy Araneta-Roxas, heiress to the Araneta real estate empire built around the family-owned Araneta Center in Cubao. Her father, Don Amado Araneta of Negros’ sugar barony and treasurer of the pre-martial law Liberal Party, built what was once billed as the world’s largest coliseum, a proud sports and entertainment landmark since 1960.

But pedigree has ceased to be a factor in Philippine politics. A generation raised during the martial law years do not remember the NP-LP rivalry, but for students of political science. The following generation has known only the multi-party confusion that has led to the irrelevance of party politics and the election only of the popular, something that was to reach its zenith when Erap became president without a real party.

Mar knew this, so when he first ran for senator, he was made-over into Mr. Palengke by a highly creative television commercial. He zoomed into the national consciousness as a regular guy (maka-masa) and became Numero Uno as senator-elect in 2004. But six years is a long, long time in Philippine politics, and a prince who would be king needs to reinforce his attachment to the same voters who listed him their first choice as senator. If we go by the surveys, Mar has failed so far. There are new nino bonitos in the near horizon of Filipino myopia, principal among them the ambitious Chiz Escudero.

In most discussions, comments about Mar’s presidential chances range from the simple “masyadong aristocrat ang dating”, to “he talks about everything under the sun --- walang focus”. Or, mostly coming from the young, “parang trapo din”. “Bakit tumatanggap siya ng pork barrel, e ang yaman-yaman na nga nila?”, says a young participant in a recent FGD analysis I saw.

When he uttered the p…i words in seeming exasperation, the same guys who chide his aristocratic manners were the ones who recoiled in horror. Well, you can’t please them all, Mar. The trouble is, you try too hard to be what you are not. Even when you espouse populist causes, such as retreating on the expanded VAT when gas prices were hitting the roof, there seemed little empathy from the masa.

And yet, Mar has kept his nose clean. In all the government positions he has held, there was nary a trace of scandal. Still, the critics call him bland, and the blandness is perceived as weakness. At the end of the year, speculations rose about a forthcoming wedding. Remember, Mar and Korina are not exactly young, and they’ve been a couple since 2004, when first he ran for senator. Will wedding make his prospects more enticing to a telenovela and chismis-crazy country? Again, vamos a ver.

The idealist in me finds hope in guys like Mar. He has the required competence, especially in finance and economics, which is central to the country’s concerns. But while he has kept articulating his positions on the economy, the masa prefer to listen to the one-liners of Erap about “walang tutulong sa Pilipino kundi kapwa Pilipino”, or to Manny Villar’s pandering to dole-out mentality. Ah, the ways of the traditional politicians are always interpreted as Robin Hood’s, and shallow minds with empty stomachs will always appreciate these (exception is GMA, for even with her dole-outs, the masa still dislike her). Kawawang bansa. Anyway, as the wags keep saying --- “pera ng bayan, ibalik sa bayan”. Kanya lang, barya ang ibinabalik.

But the same idealist in me finds his politics just better than the transactional kind at which excel GMA and Manny Villar and even Jose de Venecia --- but not quite enough. How will he deal with crooks among his political backers? How will he deny privileges to the monopolists with whom his relation is on first-name basis? Will a President Mar Roxas be more of the same, like his lolo or Quirino who, while perceived to be personally clean, were unable to rein in the greedy political barons who swarmed on the spoils --- of surplus, of immigration quotas, of cheap public lands?

This country needs a clean break from the entrenched culture of corruption that has sapped its energies, sucked its lifeblood, and hobbled its attempts at meaningful progress. It needs a leader who will exercise strong political will, secure in the knowledge that the greater mass of our people deserve a break after generations of unmitigated abuse by the traditional politicians, their cronies and favourites.

Or has he accepted with resignation, like the enfeebled Quirino of his Liberal Party who, succeeding into the presidency of his lolo Manuel, and finding the political landscape filled with filth, uttered; “To know with despair that the political act is inevitably evil, and to act nevertheless, is moral courage. To choose among several expedient actions the least evil one is moral judgment”. The question is, will a President Mar have the “moral courage” that in the end deserted Quirino and his lolo, because political expediency so demanded?

Mar Roxas of the Liberal Party has the competence. But does he have what Napoleon called “l’audace”, and Charles de Gaulle emphasized as “toujours --- l’audace”. (Audacity, audacity…always, audacity). For what this country needs after years and years of suffering mediocre and corrupt governance is nothing less than what an Alexander of Macedonia did with the Gordian knot. Just cut it…with a sword. And then, move onwards.

Does Mar have the strength of purpose and the resolve of character to battle the demons from whence his own political origins sprang? Or cut them off with one determined chop of his sword? Fire in the belly is not about anger or even rage, expressed before a crowd. Fire in the belly is all about dogged determination and will of steel.

As “lesser evil”, he does not resonate well enough among a people so jaded by the continued and continuing failure of the system. Would Manuel Araneta Roxas, Mar to many of us, Mr. Palengke once upon a not so distant time, be credible if he were to metamorphose into a crusading champion of good governance?

Once again, vamos a ver.


Philippine Vendors Association said...

Before pursuing further under a new cloak (Mr. Botika), Mar Roxas should press for accessible healthcare for the poor by putting his talk to work at the Makati Medical Center. Will you and can you, Mr. Senator?

Nonoy Oplas said...

My humble opinion is that Mar and the LP need to assert the classical liberal agenda.
The primacy of individual liberty, the limits and some dangers of (forcible) collective liberty like nationalism, protectionism and property rights confiscation.

This is because almost ALL political parties in this country, big and small, are warped in the semi-socialist slogan, "country/collective over the individual". Isn't the progress and growth of society ultimately measured by the freedom and progress of the individual?

There are many negative implications of forcing collective liberty over the individual: the individual should not become very rich, he cannot be allowed to become super-rich, his income, his cars, his house/s and properties, his company, his savings, his travels, his consumption, his estate to his children and grandchildren, etc. need to be over-taxed and over-regulated. And the "guardians" of the collective -- the government and its thick army of politicians and bureaucrats -- will get the confiscated incomes and savings to force equality in society, even to the point of rewarding and subsidizing the lazy and irresponsible -- after putting huge share of such resources for the salaries and perks of the "guardians".

This is not to say that LP and Mar should strictly embrace that classical liberal philosophical tradition, but anything closer to that tradition, and away from the populist, collectivist, if not confiscatory mindset, will make Mar and the LP unique. Too many businessmen and entrepreneurs want a break from the choking bureaucracies, taxes and fees that all administrations in the past, regardless of their political parties, have instituted and/or maintained. This group of entrepreneurs will be a huge army of supporters and allies for the party.