DAVAO CITY (MindaNews 11 August) — Last Friday was a reunion of sorts for me with former colleague in Malacanang Gabby Claudio (who served both FVR and GMA) and Journalist Julie Yap Daza, the irrepressible columnist whose luscious book on real-life (but unidentified) mistresses in Manila’s high-end social circle got many a tongue wagging. Adding spice to the evening was the presence of ageless, famous movie actress Celia Rodriguez of yesteryears, still exuding that flawless mien, dignity and demeanor of the tinseltown of yore.
HOST RICKY. It was “throwback Friday” in Greenhills, Metro Manila when old friends chatted together during an impromptu small party thrown by Ricky Reyes, a nationally known trendsetter in hair fashion and a silent philanthropic worker for the underprivileged and the sick, especially children. He too walked the corridors of power being personal friends with several previous Malacanang occupants, notably the ladies to include President Gloria and First Lady Ming Ramos.
Ricky assembled very close friends to welcome Thai businessman Bobby Kittichaiwong, the man behind Villa Medica Germany, now well known for its regenerative fresh cell therapy (FCT). Bobby who blew into town, was checking on the Philippine VM team skippered by Ms. Suzette Hahn Lopez and on the progress of the soon-to-be opened VM clinic in Global City.
POLITICS. The random topics across the table were provocative and juicy and of course, how could we all dare chat without talking politics! Julie, framed by how incumbent President Aquino does his thing today, asked both Gabby and I how it was, working close-in with former President Ramos and former President Arroyo.
Of course we were reminiscing and candid, although a bit restrained on details for obvious reasons. We obliged the curious group a few snippets but not that much. I mentioned several and Gabby dished out a few, although we were both conscious that things that we learned in confidence during official functions in the past were, to some extent appropriate, ours to keep and cherish.
MAR ROXAS. Then, talk riveted, inevitably (what else?) on Sec. Mar Roxas. Opening the salvo, Julie naughtily asked what in heaven’s name moved Sec. Mar to propose another 6-year term for P-Noy. Julie had that charming, inquisitive way of wiggling information that one couldn’t usually resist.
Gabby, who was presidential political adviser in previous capacities, initially hesitated and was more interested to know more about Villa Medica’s FCT due to his congenital and still recurring back pains after several surgeries, the latest done no less by his surgeon identical twin brother, Dr. Rafael, chief orthopedic of Medical City. But Julie wouldn’t give up. Gabby eventually relented and said that Mar’s latest mouthful on giving President Aquino an additional 6-year term may be hazardous to his political health as it could be construed as an indication — or his own admission — that amending the Constitution and getting P-Noy win another term is easier to achieve than a Mar Roxas victory in 2016. And Gabby was not saying it with tongue in cheek. Knowing his good instincts in these matters, I conceded to his analysis.
NEGATIVES. I’m sad to see Sec. Mar being viewed in this negative light in many ways nowadays. I worked with him in the Arroyo cabinet, although we met only during Cabinet meetings and some common events.
As we all know, he had been lately the object of bashing in almost all fronts, from the newspapers, TV, social media and even my chat with the taxi drivers in Manila. His controversial handling of “Yolanda” and the Zamboanga City siege still reverberate and we need not rub more salt on them.
I just viewed a video posted on Facebook showing Sec Mar, in dishevelled appearance, apparently enjoying himself while directing and unwinding traffic in some Manila street during a traffic tie up, but the comments of netizens were disparaging. It was posted obviously to jeer and put him in bad light. This is not to mention negative comments on other cases like how he wrongly handled the hammer when a photo showed he was helping repair a chair or how “EPAL” he was carrying a sack of rice on his shoulders. Oh so many of those.
Then recently, I thought I saw a good break for him for a change. For a while I thought the recent release of PNP elements by the NPAs in Surigao was something positive to his credit that could break the jinx of bad press for him. I thought it could even be a signal of the thawing of the long frozen peace talks with the CPP/NPA/NDF. But, alas, only for me to later read the public complaint of Surigao Gov. Sol Matugas openly and strongly criticizing Sec. Mar for allegedly “short circuiting” the local provincial crisis committee. My heart sunk for him. Although the Matugases are LP’s , the governor was saying things about not supporting him if he goes for the presidency.
THE MAR I KNEW. I have a few personal unforgettables with Sec. Mar when we worked up close while we were in the Arroyo cabinet. I could tell, with his experience as a banker/trader in the US before he joined government, that he had a natural, keen, no-nonsense economic eye for things.
Well bred and well-endowed in leadership genes and resources, his competence was immediately evident. He was a warm, back-patting type but at times showed signs of not being able to personally connect. And yes, some sincerity issues to boot.
I saw how he worked hard to re-start the moribund Iligan steel mill in Iligan City that gave a sudden spurt to the local economy (although the mill is again back in the doldrums now). He was at home being DTI secretary where his competence and interests were best suited. From all accounts, he is a decent man. When he started showing signs that he was lusting for the presidency, things radically changed.
MY REMOVAL. The last time I talked with him in person was in 2010. Let me recall that “unforgettable” with him. He came to General Santos City to open the annual Tuna Festival in September of that year where I was also scheduled to attend and address in my capacity as chairman of the Mindanao Development Authority.
It was three months into the Aquino administration and although I had a fixed tenure to serve for five more years and was still willing to continue serving until 2015, I had expressed earlier my intentions to Malacanang to voluntarily relinguish to give the new president the option to choose who would be his own point person for Mindanao.
I recall I was already in the venue of the event when I got a call from Sec. Mar that he wanted to talk to me in private before he would deliver his keynote speech. In that meeting, he told me he had to quickly see me because it was already when he was in the plane en route to Gen. Santos City and while reviewing his prepared speech that he saw for the first time that in one of the paragraphs, he would be announcing that I would be replaced as chairman.
I remember him telling me that he took the special efforts to see me because “Kumpare kasi kita” (he stood as wedding sponsor to my son Jay). He seemed to send the message that he had no hand in my being terminated from service. However, I doubted very much his story because I had previously learned that he took charge of Mindanao for the new president during the early transition phase.
Moreover, since I had the good sense of voluntarily offering to relinquish earlier in a formal letter addressed to the President, I thought I deserved a simple civil letter of officially informing me of the palace decision. And not being peremptorily removed by a public announcement with me as part of the audience.
I thought wrong! (After that Gensan City event, a Malacanang letter was sent to me so kindly thanking me for my long service to Mindanao and telling me I was being replaced);
But, yes I was greatly relieved that Mar took the effort of sparing me the public embarrassment of being publicly removed. So I skipped going back to the venue and promptly motored back to Davao City quietly disturbed by the impropriety of it all. And so my ” kumpadre” Mar Roxas merrily went on with his speech that day.
And as I always merrily say, the rest is history! (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Advocacy MindaNOW is a syndicated column of Jesus Dureza who worked in Malacanang in various capacities and is now president/chairman of the Philippine Press Institute, a national association of newspapers and publications. You may reach him at email@example.com)