DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/19 August)—I have a complaint to make.
When Sec. Mar Roxas made public his own intentions of extending P-Noy’s term, Malacanang appeared to be patting him on the back. But in my case, when I prayed in a cabinet meeting during GMA’s time playfully hinting on term extension, I got ” burned” in the process. Why oh why? Perhaps, someone can help me explain. (ha ha ha!)
IT’S A PLOY — Yes, presidents who are nearing the end of their terms always have this issue of term extension on their plates. It is a usual ploy resorted to by out-going presidents so that everyone will still have to reckon with them to avoid the inevitability of being viewed early as a “lameduck”. That way, they can still have everyone guessing and watching their every move, rather than be ignored up to the end. So what else is new?
PLAYING GAMES — My sense is that Malacanang is playing games with us and we the public are hyping it up like suckers. Sec. Mar’s claim that he had not previously cleared his tongue-in-cheek announcement with P-noy is taking the gullible public for a ride. And media lapped it up and never had it so good. Of course, we cannot blame some doomsayers for their paranoia about dictatorships. My advice to all: Let’s all just relax. And enjoy the ride while it lasts.
BRINKSMANSHIP — C’mon guys, let’s all get real! We all know that P-noy, even if he really and badly wants to, cannot hack it and get a term extension for himself. What Malacanang is doing today is nothing but a game of “brinksmanship” — going as far as possible to the brink. The problem comes when it gets too far and one falls off the cliff. So…be extra careful, Mr. President.
DURING FVR TIME — I remember towards the last years of FVR’s presidency I saw how some FVR boys, seemingly appearing to be on their own and second guessing their boss, were pushing for charter change. Only to abandon the idea towards the end. Some “got burned” in the process. But FVR managed to remain above the fray.
DURING GMA TIME — During my work with GMA, the scenario was a bit different. When I was press secretary, GMA was herself showing discomfort even at suggestions or speculations that she wanted to stay beyond her constitutional term. I could tell up close that she was anxiously counting her remaining days and wished to get it over with, although there were the usual sycophants who wished otherwise. And , I too got “burned” for just jokingly suggesting, in one fateful Cabinet meeting prayer that I led, that she could well serve until 2010 and “perhaps beyond”. Boy, that was unforgettable. I’ve told this story before but let me reminisce again for those who missed it.
CABINET PRAYER — Here goes. Every Tuesday meeting, cabinet secretaries took turns in leading the prayer. Malacanang press, especially the photogs were allowed to shoot only and take photo ops but would have to leave when the meeting got underway as discussions were “off the press “. It was my turn that Tuesday and my daughter and Head Executive Assistant , Ning had a well written prepared prayer text for me to read. At the strike of 10 a.m., all cabinet secretaries, including the President were already on their feet with bowed heads and eyes closed ready for my prayer. For one reason or another, I could not find the text from my folder. I was frantic coz I had not done, ever, impromptu prayers before, unlike many I know who had memorized by heart the usual incantations. So, I had to improvise on the spot. I went by instinct uttering light- hearted words as they spontanenously came. I started off by asking God to forgive my forgetfulness in losing my copy , ” perhaps this can be due to my age”; then I recall saying some words of welcome for the assumption of “ageing” Senate President Johnny Enrile, that he was already so old for that position and if God could help him out, or words to that effect. Then I asked for God’s blessings for birthday celebrant Sec. Art Yap but wished and prayed that he would serve “lechon baka” over lunch ( a relief from the usual meager sandwiches during cabinet meetings). I went on like this and I was already noticing some of my colleagues like Sec. Bebot Bello raising their bowed heads and trying to suppress laughter. Finally, I came to the end part. And this was where I got into trouble. I recall fervently saying: ” And finally Lord, we pray that our President be given the good health, wisdom and fortitude to serve this country until 2010″ (Ahem, I paused…) then I remember adding naughtily.. “and perhaps beyond” (and seeing GMA already negatively reacting) , I hurriedly added my planned final punch line: ” in her private and personal capacity”, although this was less audible due to the chatter of reactions. But hell hath broken loose by then. The cameras were whirling and clicking and recording for posterity something that was later called as a clear admission by no less the president’s own alter-ego and spokesman, that “aha” there were indeed plans of serving “beyond 2010”. Of course, that took national center stage because at that precise time, we in Malacanang were trying hard to deny or downplay speculations that GMA had sinister plans of staying in office for another term by amending the Constitution. The cabinet was abuzz and amused. But not GMA. Instinctively, she told me to go talk to the camera men and ask them to keep the whole episode “off the record” and not air their film clips. Of course, I knew this was a valuable scoop and no mediaman would agree.
NO INTENTIONS — Sure enough, within less than an hour, the airlanes were choking with the news. Some blared: THE CAT IS OUT OF THE BAG ; PALACE CAUGHT RED-HANDED; PRESIDENT’S MAN ADMITS CHA-CHA PLANS, etc.. Still trying to downplay and explain my seeming “paux pas” and somehow to assuage an angry “Boss” , I invited the President to listen to a re-play of the video where I could be heard saying in the end, although less audible due to the chatter of reactions, the phrase “in her private or personal capacity” which would preclude intentions of my imploring divine intervention for her staying beyond her official term. No matter the explanation however, that did me in. Worse, when I listened to the news that same evening in my house while licking my wounds, some TV channels either did not run the whole tape or had spliced my ending punch line that would have lightened my misery. Nonetheless. The president was so angry that she did not speak to me for sometime. I remember one well – meaning colleague in the cabinet asking me later about talks that I would resign. I felt though that dismounting at the height of the controversy would hurt the presidency more.
COUNTING MY DAYS — Truth to tell, from the time that prayer was said, I was myself starting to count my own days in Malacanang. I abandoned my natural self of being self- confident, loose, informal, at times irreverent. I was already cautious. The presidency had so much troubles to attend to at that time and here I was, whose job was to precisely help protect, explain and cushion things, unnecessarily starting another bush fire, at the expense of the presidency. That was in November 2008. Three months later, in February 2009, I voluntarily resigned, although primarily because of my wife Beth’s developing health issues at that time. Again, the rest is history! (Lawyer Jesus G. Dureza was government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF under the Arroyo administration from 2001 to 2003 and was later named Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (2005 to 2008). He heads Advocacy MindaNOW Foundation, Inc. and was recently named publisher of the Davao City-based Mindanao Times. This piece is from his syndicated column, Advocacy MindaNOW. Readers may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org)