Is Abad really bad?
SINGKIT - Notes from the editor (The Philippine Star) - August 10, 2014 - 12:00am

Frustrated in our effort to have lunch at Amy Besa’s new restaurant Purple Yam, set in a renovated old house in Malate (the restaurant is not yet open on weekdays), we looked for another similarly ambiance’d eating place and head- ed to Casa Roces at the corner of JP Laurel and Aguado streets, across from the Malacañang compound.

As we were wiping out our paella negra, crispy lengua salad, baked fish with salsa verde and lechon paksiw cochinillo, in rushed Budget Secretary Butch Abad from a meeting, to grab a bite before yet another meeting. At our urging, he took the empty chair in our table for four; unfortunately – or maybe fortunately for him – we did not have leftovers to share with him, so he settled for tomato soup and lengua, with rice.

For someone caught in the middle of a maelstrom, the budget chief was in high spirits (maybe he was just so happy to see us!). Vilified as the architect of the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program and even considered by some as the devil personified, Abad ate heartily, and chatted, joked and laughed even more heartily. One of us commented that his detractors might turn apoplectic if they saw him in such a good mood. He had just submitted the national budget for 2015 to Congress a couple of days before, which is a big load off his back. He said they had been working long hours – usually till after 10 p.m., and even way past midnight in the days just before budget presentation to the President and submission to Congress. He seemed to have been so buried under all those numbers that a rumor had started that he had gone underground, dropped off the radar, became incommunicado in the face of mounting calls for his resignation. That drew a loud guffaw from Abad, who admitted that he had not been talking to media for the past few weeks.

His resignation, submitted to the President the night before the budget presen- tation to the Cabinet, was sincere, not because he had done anything wrong, but because of all the controversy and uproar the DAP had generated. He said he had actually begun planning his retirement; to spend six months in his native Batanes and six months teaching, as well as picking up his furniture making hobby again, executing perhaps the four tables he has designed.

He has also taken up painting – he reveals he has finished five watercolors! – and a joint exhibit with his son Pio, an artist based in the UK, could be in the works. “But no pre-selling ha!” he laughs. We suggested a joint exhibit with one of our lunch companions, an accomplished watercolorist; “Naku, di ko yan kaya!” he nearly chokes on his lengua.

We talk about art, about trees, about mooncakes and lechon. At one point he shares that he has been in public service since he got out of college, but the last four years have been the most fulfilling. “Honestly, every morning I get up eager to go to work,” he says and adds, with just a hint of a smile, “even now.”

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