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Mar Roxas’s puppet show?

By Francisco S. Tatad | Nov. 06, 2013 at 12:00am

Since 2010, the Aquino administration tried to keep it under lock and key. But the secret is finally out. It is Manuel Araneta (Mar) Roxas II, PNoy’s unsuccessful vice-presidential candidate and incumbent secretary of Interior and Local Government, who has been running the show all along, calling all the important shots. Don’t call it a puppet show, but Aquino is the face that speaks and moves on stage, while Roxas throws his voice and pulls the strings.

This revelation came after Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa was quoted in this paper as saying it was Roxas who had pushed Aquino to make that widely derided “I am no thief” speech on television, which has now become the latest national calamity under the Aquino administration.

This unmasks the Aquino presidency as a farce. But there is an explanation and an excuse. Aquino and Roxas ran together in 2010 under the Liberal Party and had some kind of a political “prenuptial agreement.” They agreed that should they win, Roxas would run the government, very much like a prime minister in a parliamentary government. This would compensate Roxas for his personal and political “sacrifices,”and allow the young bachelor president much-needed rest.

It will be recalled that before Aquino became the LP standard bearer in 2010, Roxas was the declared LP candidate. None of the LP big boys----Franklin Drilon, Florencio Abad, and Roxas himself----thought of Aquino figuring in that election. They scoffed at Batangas congessman Hermilando “Dodo” Mandanas in one meeting for suggesting that Roxas pick Aquino as his running mate.

But the stars (and “stripes,” some would add,) had other plans for the Aquino family and the old client-state. Cory Aquino, who became president three years after her husband Ninoy Aquino had been assassinated, was ailing then, and suddenly her condition took a turn for the worse. With ample support at home and abroad, celebrity-daughter Kris, her siblings Ballsy, Pinky and Viel, her showbiz associates and the entire conscript press hyped Cory’s illness, her eventual death and funeral to catapult the innocent Senator Noynoy to celebrity status. Thus, for the second time in 14 years, the family proved the truth of what a British statesman once said, that “in politics, so long as there is death, there is hope.”

Roxas had to slide down to the vice presidency, much to the disappointment of the Araneta Roxas family, which had already spent part of its old and new money on his Malacanang run, not to mention Mar’s new bride, the ABS-CBN news anchor Korina Sanchez, whom many had dreamed of seeing eclipse the First Ladyship of Imelda Marcos. In full appreciation, Aquino promised Mar---if elected---the virtual prime ministership in a presidential government.

It was not the first time an Aquino had entered into such a political “pre-nup”. In 1986, when Cory Aquino and Salvador “Doy” Laurel ran in the snap election called by Marcos, she also promised that, if elected, she would let “Doy” conduct the daily business of government. The “covenant” was forged in the presence and residence of my good friend, the late industrialist Vicente “Teng” Puyat, son of the highly respected former Senate President Gil Puyat, and a close friend to both.

But Cory and Doy lost the election, and when they eventually took power after the US-supported military-civilian revolt ousted Marcos, she proclaimed a revolutionary government, and forgot all about the agreement. She and Laurel eventually ended fighting in office.

In PNoy’s case, the story took a different turn. Aquino won, but Roxas lost. The latter had to wait for a year, as provided by law, before he could be named to a Cabinet post. But most of those hovering around Aquino were Roxas loyalists. Outside of Ochoa, Aquino’s friend for many years, PNoy could count only on his four sisters to act as his honest confidantes. He had given Vice President Jejomar Binay, a trusted family friend, a Cabinet post, but he could not draw him any closer without antagonizing Roxas, who had refused to concede defeat. So from Day One, Roxas, who had no official status, was allowed to meddle in the affairs of the new government.

After a year, Aquino named Roxas as Secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communication. A year later, following the death of DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo in an air crash, he took over the vacant post. Roxas found this a strategic position from which to project himself as the next LP presidential candidate.

At the Zamboanga standoff between the military and the Moro National Liberation Front last September, Roxas unilaterally assumed the post of “ground commander” while the military officers with legitimate command responsibilities for the operation involving 11,000 fighting men were left out. On the fifth day of the siege, there was a chance to negotiate a ceasefire to save lives on both sides and among the civilian population and eventually end the standoff. Roxas summarily rejected it.

The result was an extended siege that cost hundreds of lives lost, many more wounded, thousands of homes burnt, over a hundred thousand people displaced, billions of pesos in foregone business revenues, and which possibly gave a new impetus to Nur Misuari’s Mindanao independence movement. The death and degradation suffered by the Tausugs may have cemented the support of previously warring tribes behind the movement. A resurgent arms trade within the region has since been reported. But Malacanang paused this week to honor its Zamboanga “heroes,” and celebrate the debacle as a smashing success.

Roxas’s latest “achievements” seem far more impressive. Aside from making Aquino deliver that disastrous DAP speech, Malacanang insiders now say it was Roxas, more than Abad, who conceptualized the DAP. “He conceived it, and Abad implemented it.” But by making Aquino absorb all the flak on the DAP, he has successfully dodged any responsibility for it.

Insiders predict that Roxas will soon move to take Ochoa’s place as Executive Secretary, promote DILG Undersecretary Rafael Santos as DILG secretary, put DOTC Secretary Joseph Abaya in Voltaire Gazmin’s place as Secretary of National Defense, and bring in a new hireling to run the DOTC. Roxas would then be openly in full control of government, even if Aquino remains in office.

fstatad@gmail.com

 

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