ADVOCACY MINDANOW: Malacanang revisited

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/10 October) — Last Monday, I returned to Malacanang.

As Mindanao trustee of the Philippine Press Institute (a private media organization) our oath taking was administered by President Noynoy at the Rizal ceremonial hall.  Our PPI president Jake Macasaet of Malaya made arrangements that the president no less be the officiating officer.

The venue was on the 2nd floor of the main palace building where official functions usually take place. Upon entering the entrance floor on the ground level, you climb up the red-carpeted stairway, and then walk through a wide corridor whose walls showcase all the pictures of former presidents who had served the republic.

NOT MUCH CHANGES –My “return” last Monday was a year after I voluntarily left Malacanang after many years of government service in various capacities since President Ramos and President Arroyo. It was a pleasant re-visit. But nothing much changed since, as far as I could see. Physically that is.

I was pleasantly surprised to see many familiar faces of Palace workers like photographers, protocol officers and staffers still around. Of course they all gathered around when I did the long walk to the function hall. A lady protocol officer warmly met me and asked:

“Are you back here, sir?”  I replied “Of course I’m here. Mag take oath”? Upon hearing this, she called some of the palace staff announcing: ” Babalik si Sir Jess. mag take oath”. I then realized that I had to clarify my “return” as they were all thinking that I was assuming a palace post. I had then to explain that my PPI post was not a government position but still doing Mindanao but this time for the press in the private sector.

MY WORK PLACE —For many years, the Palace was my work place. Full of memories but not really all that enjoyable as many of you may think. Since 2001 as MEDCO chair and adviser for Mindanao, I would attend regular cabinet meetings there although I was based in Davao City then.  PGMA was “hands on” in national governance so every Tuesday was Cabinet Meeting day with clusters having their days devoted to their respective concerns. I recall PGMA scolding an absent cabinet member on the phone: “You can have all the days of the week but your Tuesday is mine!”  Another official who was earlier asked to attend a Cabinet Meeting got a mouthful when PGMA called him overseas and said with everyone listening: “Why are you there in New York? You’re supposed to be here! Come home!”

A Full Cabinet Meeting was also a regular activity, even if not all cabinet members were needed all at the same time to tackle certain issues. The idea was to ensure that every cabinet member was informed of all on-goings — even if not within his turf — so that everyone  was “on the same page” in national issues.

MOVING TO MALACANANG —When I assumed as Peace Adviser in 2006, my Davao office moved to Manila but I was at the OPAPP office in Ortigas not in Malacanang.  It was only in 2008 when I became Press Secretary that I physically moved to Malacanang. My office as Press Secretary was in the old “Borloloy” house, so called because during President Cory’s time, it was the most modern, spanking place and reputedly “ostentatious”.  The press hideout of the Malacanang press representing various media organizations who regularly covered Malacanang was located in the same building at the ground floor. I had a private connecting door and hallway to the adjoining executive building for immediate access to Executive Secretary Ed Ermita’s office and to the President’s across in the main palace. The Executive Building was where former President Erap took up residence during his time hence the plush toilets, facilities andfurnishings, not to mention the stainless metallic kitchen and pantries. It was at the Executive Building where guests and people who had to meet Cabinet members or hoping to call on the President or had some official business to take up with palace officials would meet or wait for their turn.

BACK TO DAVAO —When I resigned as Press Secretary early February, 2009 and became briefly chief presidential legal counsel and then happily returning to my old post as Mindanao adviser, I occupied a small corner at the ground floor of the Executive Building until I cleared my desk in June 2010 for turnover to the transition team of then incoming president Noynoy. I moved back to Davao City at the MinDA office and some two months later, I voluntarily relinquished the post in September of that year when Secretary Lu Antonino took over as MinDA chair.

PRESIDENTIAL RESIDENCE -From the executive building, to get to the main palace building, you cross the small manicured lawn to be in the main palace complex where cabinet meetings and other important functions were held. On the 2nd floor to your left as you ascend the stairs, President Arroyo had her official residence and this was where she lived for many years during her 9 years in office.

I recall during some “emergency situations” when a “war room” would be temporarily set up at the executive building across from the president’s residence, she would walk over in sleeping dress just to regularly monitor developments herself at night.

On the ground floor was the chapel where PGMA would regularly hearMass almost everyday when she was not otherwise out of town.

(President Noynoy now lives in the Pangarap Bldg beside the Malacanang golf course across the Pasig River.)

POWER TRIP? —    I am sure many observers believe being in the palace and in the center of power is big deal and a “power trip”. Well, it was not totally all that true. The rare honor and the privilege of serving the nation through the highest official of the land was of course, big deal!  It was never even in my wildest dreams before.  There were good moments and not- too-good ones
as well. But after a while in the job and in the thick of things (a total of about 10 years for my stint with both FVR and  GMA) the great responsibility and the daunting tasks provided a reality check of sorts. Truth to tell, not every day of the week did I wake up to happily and joyfully face the tasks of the day. While in the Palace, I had days wishing I was back quietly with my family in Davao. (Sorry for being candid, folks!)

LIBERATED — That Monday visit was refreshing indeed. It was an occasion for some flashbacks. You’ve bet, it was good to walk the corridors of Malacanang without the official burdens of an office! I felt liberated!([email protected])