Recently, Mar Roxas seems to be receiving more criticism than a welcome by most Filipinos which he especially needs now that he is running for president. And it also seems that he can’t turn things around to his favor. That’s too bad for him since the final days before the election are nearing fast.
I think to be fair to Mr. Roxas, I should at least make him understand what I, and the people I live with, think about him.
I remember when Mr. Roxas started as a senator of the Philippines. Back then, his approval rating was not bad. Somehow, the people had a positive view of him. Then president Joseph Estrada appointed him as Secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) while he was still an incumbent legislator. Not so much can be said about him then because Erap was ousted after just two years in office and Roxas resigned. When president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) took over as president, she appointed Roxas back to the DTI and temporarily acted as chief of the Department of Energy (DoE). It is during his stint in the DTI where he earned the monicker “Mr. Palengke‘. Sometime later when GMA’s popularity started dipping, in one protest rally against the president Roxas had joined, he became popular (with mixed reactions) when he shouted “Putang-ina! Ano ba ‘to?!” referring to GMA’s plan to extend her term of office. While it is apparent that by cursing GMA he wanted to make the crowd feel that he was united with them, there was also a portion of the citizenry who witnessed the incident that thinks he exhibited conduct unbecoming of a statesman. Personally, it gave me an impression that Mar is the type of guy who desperately wants to sell himself by trying to speak the language of his target market without really fully understanding it. He seemed to forget that not everyone likes that attitude. That was his first negative point for me. He exposed a part of him that took a chunk of respect for him off me. And I don’t remember him apologizing to GMA or to anyone for that which added to my dismay.
Then came the 2010 elections. Along with other personalities, Mar Roxas was one of those that was not shy to show his intention to run for president. In fact, months before the elections, his political advertisements were aired throughout the country. Remember the pedicab scene and the line “anong gusto mo paglaki mo?”? I am not a good analyst of shows so speaking as an ordinary TV viewer, it doesn’t have any appeal to me. In fact, I am surprised that Mar Roxas, knowing his pool of advisers, would still resort to such moves to augment his popularity. Hasn’t he realized yet that many Filipinos take political ads as “pambobola” tools? “Well, everybody’s doing it”, one might reply. Yeah, and they all look stupid! Anyway, I think he and his advisers still assume that the Filipino masses haven’t evolved much which is why they still resorted to such campaign approaches. All of Roxas’s efforts were wasted when the Liberal Party (LP) convinced him to give way to a reluctant but then very much ‘loved’ Benigno ‘Noy-Noy’ Aquino III. After that Roxas announced that he would instead run as Vice-President and running mate of Aquino. Too bad for him, he lost to Jejomar Binay.
By the way, I would like to note also here that I remember one political analyst reminded those who were supporting Aquino that Noy-noy is not Ninoy. Because Cory died a few months before and the Aquino magic was resurrected, people seemed to be searching for a Ninoy Aquino figure again and the closest they could find was Ninoy’s only son – Noy-noy. However, his reluctance to run to me was a warning that he could always play the “I never really wanted this. It was you who want me to run so don’t blame me if I stumble” card anytime while in office. But I was hopeful because given the accolades his parents received and are still receiving, I thought he had a lot to lose compared to the other candidates and, thus, presumably he’d behave and strive to be good. Unfortunately, while there weren’t much “don’t blame me” caveats during his administration, there were a lot of stumbles. Never mind the stumbles as everybody makes mistakes every now and then but what is disappointing is that it seems there were hardly any moves mounted by this administration to make up for those mistakes.
Anyway, Roxas was appointed by Aquino to the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC). He had a lot of chances to prove his worth as a leader especially when the DOTC was facing the worst time in the transportation sector. Unfortunately, instead of improving the transportation system, recent reviews of his performance tell that the present woes of the transportation started when he was still the DOTC secretary.
Shortly after the death of Jesse Robredo, the president appointed Roxas secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG). A lot of people were skeptical about Mar as a replacement because they didn’t think he would be able to perform the same way Jesse did. There were at least two significant events that happened while he was DILG secretary that should have been his defining moments as a leader. I especially looked to him on what he’d do after the Yolanda typhoon and the Mamasapano incident.
To me, his understanding of the Yolanda situation and how he would attack the problem came out when he was interviewed by CNN’s Andrew Stevens. In that interview, it seemed that then Secretary Roxas was as disorganized as the typhoon victims themselves. Why do I say this? From the said video, let me extract a transcript of their exchanges:
Stevens: Is there an effective chain of command here? Is there a coordination? Do you think you have the right structure in place to deal with this because, again, from where I’m sitting, it seems to be uncoordinated and doesn’t to be nearly working efficiently enough?
Roxas: Well, again, as I’ve said. Every effort, there’s nothing as big or as fast in a situation like this. It’s chaotic. There’s no… there are no baggage tags. Uh… all the supplies just come in unmarked boxes… very easy for seven… I don’t even know about that but it’s very easy for the seven to get lost. Nonetheless, as of yesterday, I know that the army has already 500 body bags that they are deploying. So those body bags are gonna be found. And we’re gonna need more. And there’s more that is coming in from the central office.(Note: The 7 was referring to the 700 body bags the local government requested to the central government that apparently they did not receive).
Perhaps Roxas was too occupied mentally when he faced Stevens and, thus, wasn’t able to answer the questions properly. If that were the case, well, that is not a good sign for someone who wants to be president. And I think if he really intended to seek help, then he should have taken that interview as a chance to appeal for help instead of defending his way of managing it. Actually, that interview would have looked good for me if he just admitted that the government could not handle the situation effectively despite its best efforts. That would have sent out the impression that he is humble for a leader, truly cares for who he is serving, and is doing his job using the limited resources at his disposal. Plus, when he said “I don’t even know about that”, I’m sure to most bosses that would have come across as a sign that he was not in control of the situation.
About the Mamasapano incident, well, we all know what happened to that. As far as I know, there was no evidence that linked Roxas to the planning and execution of the attack. He was kept out of the loop but it seemed that he opted to stay out of that loop to avoid flak. But he could not have really avoided it anyway considering that he was the interior secretary. He will definitely be looked to for answers. He may not have had anything to do with it but it looked like he did nothing to make up for it either.
I think Mar Roxas’s political career is similar to that of Juan Ponce Enrile. Like Roxas, Enrile too was a cabinet member (Minister of Defense) and heavily linked to the highly-criticized Marcos administration. In fact, he lost a senatorial bid after the Plaza Miranda bombing in which the Marcos government was the prime suspect. Also, like JPE, Mar was close to the president. But I noticed that, unlike Mar, then President Marocs went to Enrile whenever the situation was bad. Is Roxas also the go-to guy of Aquino? Hmm…
I’m not really a fan of JPE but I can remember Enrile redeeming himself twice in Philippine history: (1) Co-leading EDSA 1; and (2) Taking charge of the Corona impeachment. In (1) Enrile redeemed his image by abandoning his president while on (2) he earned respect when he displayed his competence in his profession. Can Roxas do the same? Enrile every now and then finds himself on the wrong side of history. But unlike Roxas, Enrile is silent every time he is the villain in the nation’s history. Indeed, JPE was granted a right to bail and is now ‘temporarily’ free. Roxas, in contrast remains a victim of his inability to own up, as in the way he labelled the Mamapsapano incident a mere “misencounter” at the height of public outrage over it?
Well, he had all the chances he needed to prove himself as a leader of this country. Mar Roxas is only 58 years old and will be 64 in the elections after the coming one. Given his credentials, background and experience, I guess he is halfway qualified. Unfortunately, he looks like he needs to learn more, especially in management. Therefore, if I were to give Mar some unsolicited advise, I’d tell him to give up his ambition now to be a president, renounce his membership and alliance with the LP and retire for the next six years. He can spend the time to reflect on all that he experienced from being a senator and a cabinet member (of various departments of three presidents!), reassess his performance, and learn from it all. He just needs to keep himself known and relevant while in retirement. Mar should take the six-year absence as a chance to redeem himself, so by the time 2022 comes around (provided there will be no charter change before that), he may be in better shape to win the next election.
Mar Roxas needs to cool down for a few years if he really wants to serve as president. Because right now, for us here where I live, he just doesn’t seem to do anything right and he doesn’t seem fit to be the leader of the country. We can’t remember a significant enough contribution from him that can convince us that he is worth our votes. All we can remember him for is the way he mis-handled the Yolanda and Mamasapano incidents and how the way he dealt with those tragedies was ample basis to gauge his capacity to govern. He may take this as guidance for developing a better strategy to win. If he doesn’t want to give up his candidacy, well, all I can say is he has until May 2016 to do something to improve his campaign. So far, all the media mileage he’s racked up along with that now-infamous ‘Fast Forward’ political advertisement, doesn’t really help him.
Personally, I picture him as a staff member who is rushing his way up the ladder to the highest position in the company despite everyone’s doubts about him and despite knowing that he hasn’t really learned the trade well enough yet.
[Photo courtesy Straits Times.]