Mar Roxas’ dual challenges and the true goal of “daang matuwid”

(A Boholano’s View by Jose “Pepe” Abueva, The Bohol Chronicle September 2, 2012)

The sudden and tragic death of DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo in an airplane crash in Masbate, on August 18, 2012, would highlight the nation’s immense and irretrievable loss. For it made the people know and realize as never before Jesse’s extraordinary character, training, accomplishments, and recognition as an unusually gifted public servant and political leader.

He had served as Mayor of Naga City for 19 years, during which he empowered the citizens, modernized the local government, and transformed Naga City from third to first class. For his various achievements he garnered 14 major national and international awards, including the Magsaysay Award for Government Service in 2000. He was simple, humble, innovative, sensitive, scrupulously honest, accessible, and ever patient.

Overnight Jesse became a national hero as he became better known far and wide for who he was and what he had done for our country. For over two weeks he was mourned nationwide and was given all the honors he so well deserved. His lovely widow, Atty. Lenny, and their three daughters personified the grief that a grateful people shared. Our nation’s sense of loss underscored our lack of Jesse’s kind of “servant” and “transforming” leadership.

And yet, after his more than two years in the service, the Commission on Appointments of Congress had not confirmed Jesse’s appointment as Secretary of DILG. He was first appointed as “acting secretary.” And the Department’s supervision of the Philippine National Police was not given to him but to Under-Secretary Puno. Jesse did not mind these slights for he humbly served his country without counting the cost.

The tragedy of Robredo’s death made older Filipinos recall the nation’s loss of the young and beloved President Ramon Magsaysay (from age 46 to 49) in a plane crash in Cebu on March 17, 1957, the year before Jesse was born.

Mar Roxas, a good man (55) with impressive credentials himself, has succeeded Robredo (54) as Secretary of Interior and Local Government in the Cabinet of President Aquino III. Mar has a great pedigree. He is the son of Senator Gerry Roxas and the grandson of President Manuel Roxas (1946-48) who founded the Liberal Party in 1946. Educated as well as Robredo, Mar has been a representative of his province, Capiz, was elected nationally as a senator, and served in the cabinet of President Macapagal-Arroyo then that of President Aquino III since 2011.

Like his father and grandfather, Mar became president of the Liberal Party. He easily became the LP presidential candidate for the 2010 election, with Senator Noynoy Aquino as his running mate. After the sudden death of former President Cory Aquino in 2009, amid the nation’s grief that also recalled the martyrdom of Ninoy Aquino in 1983, Gerry sensed the people’s mood. He wisely and gallantly changed places with Senator Noynoy Aquino as the Liberal candidate for president, and ran instead as LP candidate for vice-president.

But as Noynoy Aquino was buoyed by the “Aquino Yellow Fever” with the help of many volunteer campaign organizations and the mass media, Mar Roxas suffered from Makati Mayor Jojo Binay’s grass-roots campaign and his alliance with the still popular ex-president Erap Estrada as presidential candidate of his Partido ng Masang Pilipino. Besides, Binay could credibly relate to pro-Aquino voters, because the Makati Mayor was a true-blooded protégée and a loyal supporter of Ninoy and Cory Aquino. And Binay had cleverly formed several Makati “sister cities” around the country in his long stint as city mayor.

To Mar Roxas’ chagrin he lost to Binay by a relatively narrow margin. This made him lodge an electoral protest against Vice-President Binay which is still pending resolution.

Secretary Mar Roxas faces two major political callenges. The first is that he has taken over the post left by Jesse Robredo. Mar Roxas humbly admits that Jesse’s patented “tsinelas leadership” is a very difficult act to follow. But the pattern and example of Jesse’s leadership and innovations are well known and documented, and Mar should be able to learn from them with the help of those who had worked closely with his predecessor.

Mar is humble and savvy. He can reinvent himself to be a simpler and much more readily accessible and trusted leader. He can modify his upper class, elitist image.

Mar’s second great challenge is to become the Liberal Party’s popular and potent successor to President Noynoy and to compete and win against Vice-President Jojo Binay and other rivals for president or for prime minister in 2016.

A short, dark man, the likeable, youngish Veep wears the image of “masa, at madaling lapitan.” He has demonstrated his formidable political knowhow and maintained a higher public approval than the President himself. Of course, the President, whoever he might be at any particular time, is usually the nation’s favorite scapegoat for all of the nation’s ills. One has to be exceptional, like Magsaysay, to transcend the disadvantages of an incumbent pangulo.

Mar Roxas can and should learn from his close friend and party ally. The President has learned to build and wield power effectively. And to communicate very effectively in Filipino. Mar can, with the President’s support and that of the majority Liberal Party and the Administration coalition, build and sustain a cohesive national organization that can help him to be effective in leading the DILG and the leagues of cities, provinces, and municipalities. If he can show himself to be credibly humble and eager to learn from his peers, they are more likely to become warm-hearted allies.

The crucial challenge to the political continuity and sustainability of the ruling Liberal Party and Administration coalition. Above all, in order to ensure the continuity and sustainability in power of the Liberal Party coalition through 2016, the President of the Philippines and the president of the majority party coalition must begin to bring about the fundamental changes in the structure of Philippine political power and our major political institutions. They have to reinvent themselves from being traditional political leaders and guardians of the status quo to become modern and transforming leaders.

The right leader at the right time. There are many concerned and reformist citizens, and some modernizing and transforming political leaders and young partisans who are eagerly waiting for President P-Noy to change his stance regarding Charter change. Despite his faults—and who among us all is blameless—the President enjoys high approval and trust ratings. Therefore, he can credibly lead a movement to replace our presidential system with a parliamentary government, and to change our highly centralized unitary system into a devolved unitary system of autonomous regions and local governments. This is his historic challenge and his opportunity to leave an enduring legacy as a transforming leader and the worthy son of his revered father and mother. He is the right leader at the right time to amend our constitution!

Ask Budget Secretary and senior Liberal Party leader, Florencio “Butch” Abad. He was an early proponent of parliamentary government and he knows what the country will gain from it. Ask him and he will tell you what very specific and meaningful benefits can be gained by decentralization and devolution of our unitary system into a system of autonomous regions and local governments.

The MILF knows what is to be gained by having a genuinely autonomous Bangsamoro region or substate. What is good for Bangsamoro should also be good for Bangsa-Iloco, Bangsa-Bicol, Bangsa-Bisaya, and for our other ethno-cultural-geographic regions.

Are the citizens the real bosses in whom sovereignty resides in our supposedly democratic and republican state? No, this is a constitutional myth! They have yet to be empowered by amending our 1987 Constitution and liberated from “Imperial Manila” represented by our highly centralized unitary system and our political oligarchy.

The ultimate goal of “daang matuwid.” We have serious studies to support our many proposed amendments to our 25-year old 1987 Constitution—in order to fulfill its lofty and laudable vision, our very own vision of building “a just and humane society” and “a democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace….”

Otherwise, our struggling democracy will remain unconsolidated and so may yet revert to authoritarianism as it did in 1972-1986. And we shall continue to suffer from such signs of a “failing state” as rebellions, endemic poverty, massive corruption, injustice, joblessness, homelessness, and lack of legitimacy in the view of our suffering and excluded citizens. Our exclusive economic growth will prevent an inclusive democracy.


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