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Meeting with Mar Roxas

The LP presidential candidate, Mar Roxas, held a roundtable discussion with the staffers of the Philippine STAR last Monday, Nov. 9. I arrived late because of the traffic. As I did previously to Vice President Binay, I asked two questions.

I began with, “The movement and organizations I represent – BayanKo, Katipunan, and NACTODAP with their millions of members – have joined together to clamor for constitutional reform to shift to a parliamentary federal form of government. Former presidents Fidel V. Ramos and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo have expressed their support for us. A growing number of the citizenry in the social media support our efforts. Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, the chairman emeritus of BayanKo, referred to the present political system as ‘insane’ because it favors the rich and family dynasties and shuts out the marginalized sectors from the political mainstream due to the high cost of campaigning for public office. You yourself are reported to have the biggest campaign chest in Philippine history, judging from the number of your TV ads. You come from one of the richest families in this country tied to the established order.

My first question is this: Do you favor constitutional reform to a different form of government? If not, why not? When I asked the same question to Vice President Binay, he gave an evasive reply. I hope you will be more precise.”

Mar Roxas dismissed my question with a mere, “There is no clamor for constitutional change.”

His curt answer showed three things.

Firstly, his ignorance which is surprising for a Wharton graduate. BayanKo, Katipunan, NACTODAP – with millions of members – are clamoring for change. So are many in the social media. Two former presidents, FVR and GMA, support it. Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno has been making speeches around the country calling for constitutional change,

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Secondly, his answer confirms he is a clone of his master President Aquino who does not favor changing his mother’s Constitution. He is really saying, “Walang clamor, susunod lang ako.” This has been the governing philosophy of Aquino. Since the people are his bosses, it is they who must take the lead and not the president who just follows. A convenient excuse for a do-nothing presidency, forgetting the people elect a president to lead and take the initiative.

Thirdly, his answer demonstrates a candidate with no mind of his own. That may be why President Aquino kept him out of the Mamasapano operation. He knew his DILG secretary would follow blindly whatever the consequences. No need to keep him in the loop. This may be fine for a cabinet secretary but not enough for a presidential candidate. Any candidate for the highest office has to show vision, has to point to new directions in solving the nation’s problems, not a repeat of solutions that have proven to be a failure. Does Mar Roxas have this vision? His program of government promises more of the same, that of President Aquino whose presidency has been far from brilliant.

In a sense, Mar is a prisoner of his own environment. He is not capable of breaking out of that mold, of taking bold actions needed to respond to changing times, because he is part of the old established order that reacts negatively towards change that it sees as a threat to its power and influence.

Earlier on before I arrived, he told the Philippine STAR staffers that “the country’s problems has less to do with the form of government than it has to do with unglamorous problems like corruption.” He said he did not believe a parliamentary form of government was more inclusive than a presidential one. Countries like Japan, Taiwan and Korea that have a parliamentary system, he said, have wealth, power and influence concentrated in those bodies. What he omitted to say was those countries are more advanced today than the Philippines and that a study shows that countries with a parliamentary system are more progressive than those with a presidential one.

As for his claim the presidential system is more inclusive of marginalized sectors, he obviously did not read the studies of La Salle which show to what extent oligarchs and family dynasties dominate the political system.

Inclusiveness has never been a major concern of rich families like Mar’s. His grandfather President Manuel Acuna Roxas had the six Democratic Alliance members, including Luis Taruc and Jesus Lava, disqualified from taking their seats in Congress, forcing the Huks who were fighting for land reform to go back to the hills. By opposing constitutional reform that would allow the marginalized sectors to have a wider participation in the political process, Mar appears to be following the family tradition.

He said he never met a businessman or woman who told him he or she would not invest in the Philippines because of its Constitution. Then pray tell why the Philippines has the lowest foreign direct investments among its neighbors?

I then moved to my next question. “My second question,” I said to him, “has to do with your popularity and ‘Matuwid na Daan.’ You have been trailing in opinion polls. You have been criticized for your unimpressive performance in government. You are seen by many as a clone of President Aquino with no mind of your own. There are many government scams that have been reported from the purchase of defective air force helicopters to irregularities in the bidding of PCOS machines and the MRT contracts. COA mentioned you as one of those having big unliquidated cash advances. There are reports of overpriced fire trucks in DILG. President Aquino kept you out of the Mamasapano operation that has been interpreted as a lack of trust in your ability. You are seen as a ‘softie’ when the country is looking for a Heneral Luna to put order in the mess.

My question is this: If President Aquino has been unable to prevent corruption, what makes you think you can do any better? And how do you plan to go about it?”

Mar did not answer my question. I suspect he hasn’t a clue on what to do. Nor did he refute the public perceptions about him. While he had admitted earlier corruption had an impact on poverty and other social problems, he skipped mentioning pork barrel as a source of corruption despite a study by Global Security Organization that showed one-fourth of the Philippine national budget was lost to graft and corruption. Former Sen. Ping Lacson and current Liberal Party Sen. Serge Osmeña confirmed the existence of large budget insertions that are pork barrel of legislators. So has former National Treasurer Leonor Briones.

If he hasn’t got a clue, how can Mar succeed where President Aquino failed? I am afraid Matuwid na Daan was and will remain an empty slogan.

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