IT was a relief when the President finally declared that Interior Secretary Mar Roxas was his anointed one. The one who would be star of Matuwid na Daan version 2.0.
It was a relief because at least now we are able to speak of Roxas and all that he does to be about campaigning for President. Finally we are talking 2016 when we watch him turning over firetrucks to some province, or appearing at a huge gay gathering. Finally we see his wife Korina as nothing but first-lady-to-be, not a pretend-objective journalist delivering the nightly news.
Finally we can demand that Roxas answer questions and come clean, about what he had done in his different Cabinet posts, the ones he got after he lost the 2010 vice-presidential race.
Because one hopes that unlike the President, he can handle criticism better and can answer questions even when it might reveal his limitations. One hopes that unlike the President he can be humble enough to admit his mistakes, and apologize when he needs to.
One also hopes that Roxas proves to be bigger and better than the other Presidential candidate Vice President Jejomar Binay, because he will actually answer questions that hang like dark clouds over his candidacy, if only so we can move on and start talking of the future instead of the past.
Mar and the airport
The first time Roxas lost credibility to me was when news broke that he had dismissed the work of Kenneth Cobonpue, Budji Layug and Royal Pineda for the NAIA 1 rehabilitation project in 2011. This was after the public celebrated the planned redesign by the three consultants to the National Competitiveness Council (NCC).
The Economic Cluster of the President’s Cabinet had tasked the NCC to undertake the NAIA 1 rehabilitation. It was under the NCC that Cobonpue-Layug-Pineda worked for free to redesign and rehabilitate the NAIA 1. From March to October 2011, the three headed the team that worked on the architecture and design of the new NAIA 1. The promise was that at P1 billion pesos, the airport would be ready in a year.
But in November 2011, without explanation, the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) headed by Roxas declared that the three were out of the project. They didn’t have a contract with government anyway, it was said. Besides, what the three designed was mostly for the “aesthetic look and feel” of the airport. Their “suggestions” Roxas said, would be considered “after the more basic fundamental structural and electromechanical works” were done. (Inquirer.net, 26 Nov 2011)
This of course put into question the credibility of the Cobonpue-Layug-Pineda team, implying that they weren’t qualified to undertake such a project because what they focused on was mere aesthetics. It didn’t matter to Roxas that as early as May 2011, the Economic Cluster of the Cabinet and the MIAA Management itself had adopted the design concept of Cobonpue-Layug-Pineda. That in fact the NAIA Project Management Office itself, with its team of architects and engineers, had worked on the architecture and design with the three consultants. (Guillermo Luz Statement, 2 Dec 2011)
Roxas got his way of course. And we never found out what his reasons were for taking the NAIA 1 rehabilitation project from the NCC and its three consultants.
What we do know is that four years since, we’re still stuck with the worst airport in the world.
Mar and the storm
The worst storm to ever make landfall in the world happened in Eastern Samar in November 2013. Typhooon Haiyan (Yolanda) was a storm that government had prepared for: the President told people to evacuate because of storm surges, the Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD) was in Tacloban with relief goods, and then Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Roxas was also in Tacloban beforehand.
Which begs the question: Why were they as unprepared as the rest of the province they were supposed to help?
The excuse has been that no government would’ve been ready for Typhoon Haiyan and the death and destruction it left behind. That’s well and good. But why did it take days before help was extended to those who had survived? Why did it take days before the dead were removed from the streets?
Why was there no plan for the dead? Why did survivors need to see their dead where the flood waters had left them, and why did they have to see their dead dropped in mass graves a week after the storm? Why did so many have to suffer the injustice of not knowing where the bodies of their loved ones were?
The stories are countless about Roxas’s (and DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman’s) display of insensitivity and lack of compassion the days following the storm. This much we know for sure: there was a system for distributing relief goods. The Interior and Social Work Secretaries insisted this needed to be followed.
This was why people who had walked into Tacloban in the hope of getting help were told to go back to their barangays, so that they could be checked off a list of people who were to receive relief packs. This system, we were told, would keep the relief operations from becoming chaotic. It would ensure that no one got more than what they needed, or deserved.
Yet if there’s anything this system proved, it was that the Interior Secretary could look at such unbelievable hunger and need, and think: no, no, there’s a system these people need to follow before they are fed.
We never found out why Roxas did not rise to the occasion of this province in dire need. He never answered the question of why he couldn’t decide right there to change the system of relief and rescue given the urgency of the victims’ needs. After all, if the breadth and scope of the Haiyan aftermath was so unexpected, we would have all understood some radical action from the Interior Secretary.
But alas, what we got was just the firm stance that no one deserved more than their fair share of relief goods. What we got was Roxas making a fool of himself on global television, coming out arrogant and insensitive as he tried to explain why the members of international media were still seeing people begging for food and water on the streets. What we got was Roxas revealing that just like the current star of Matuwid na Daan, he isn’t one to operate on kindness and compassion because the rules are more important.
Not quite the President I’d want to vote for. But heck, let me hope that he can rise to the occasion of being candidate and finally try to explain. It’s never too late to change one’s mind.