DAVAO CITY: When I saw him last week in his Roxas Boulevard office in Metro Manila, Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was looking well. But I immediately found out why he sent his son Zandro, a 21-year-old Oxford London student who was on school break, to read his speech at a Manila university the day before. Zandro was a “hit” by the way to the young university students. His father‘’Bonggets”- a his friends usually call him – had stomach problem and had been subsisting on water and hot tea. But he was otherwise in his usual high spirits. We had a good chat for over an hour.
FIRST SIGHT – Flashback. I was a young Davao journalist then during martial law but also practicing law. I joined a delegation from the Davao media to Malacañang to meet then President Ferdinand Marcos who was already reclusive because of his ailment. That was the first time I spotted young Bongbong who was unobtrusibly standing in a corner by the window curtains just watching closely what was going on. My take then was that he was closely looking after his father who was just seated on a chair talking to us. Everytime FM would take a glance toward his back, as if wanting something, the young son would oblige. Then he would promptly return back to his corner.
FRIENDS – Fast forward. When I was Davao congressman from 1992 to 1995, “Bonggets” was Ilocos Norte congressman. Although we were colleagues, we did not bond much as close friends while working at the Batasan. He was seated up front and I was in the back row. Having humble beginnings and being a probinsyano, the Marcos universe was a distant star from my own ordinary world down south. It was when a congressional committee of which we were both members (together with then Congressmen Ralph Recto, Oscar Orbos, etc.) came to Davao City and stayed at our modest family-owned Seagull Beach Resort in Punta Dumalag that I got to know more about him.
Before last week’s chat, the last time we met was in November 2013 when we disembarked at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport together from an international flight from Frankfurt, Germany (after my wife Beth got her second fresh stem cell infusion from Villa Medica for her kidney problem). He was with wife, lawyer Liza (nee Araneta) and yes, we had kodakan even at the tube area.
“LOW-KEY AND SHY” – More recently, when the Mamasapano incident broke out and the issue about the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) broke the headlines, “BBM” (that’s the cryptic initials that his staffers and co-workers use in referring to him) was enthused about how he could be of help, but as low key as possible. I have put him in my mailing list so he gets in his mailbox my regular column articles especially about Mindanao. Unknown perhaps to many, he is known to those close to him as being “publicity–shy” and would prefer to just quietly do his work. But the BBL issue was something he could not duck and must grapple with as he was chairman of the committee tasked to handle it for the Senate. Suddenly, he was thrust to the center of the public storm, a scenario he did not relish much – a task that if mishandled would be very divisive, sensitive and explosive. But which he must do.
HIS DREAMS – During our chat last week, he intimated that because of the intense polarization of the pro- and anti-BBL factions, he would be in a no-win situation. Nonetheless. But his formula, from how it looks, does not, however, kowtow to what is preponderantly popular or what the gallery wants. It’s definitely NOT about “playing to the gallery.” Instead, he wants to do justice to the task and to the Bangsamoro as well. In no time, he buckled down to work and personally led Mindanao-wide consultative meetings on the ground and met with and heard the views of all stakeholders, especially those who were excluded from earlier engagements. From his public and eloquent statements, he dreams of an inclusive and sustainable legal framework for the Bangsamoro.
DOING RIGHT – He tersely said: “I want to do what is right to be able to help the Bangsamoro. I could just let things pass as they are and not at all lift a finger. But from where I sit, there is still a lot of work and refinement to be done to make the BBL compliant to our basic law. There are sacrosanct parameters that must be observed; there are the lines we all ought not to cross. Otherwise, we are not doing our Bangsamoro justice; otherwise, we are again misleading them and denying them the aspirations they have all dreamed of for so long.”
VINDICATION – Yes, he is agonizing over accusations by some sectors that he is resorting to alleged “dilatory tactics” in the Senate, missing timelines, undermining and wateringdown the BBL. He said if there is anyone who should be blamed for some delay, it is Malacañang, for the length of time it worked on a revised BBL after the Bangsamoro transition commission submitted its finished work. Malacañang “embargoed” it ostensibly to review, took many months to work on it, but what came out was still a non-compliant version. He also asked why the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, the presidential peace agency, gave in to demands of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that our very own Constitution does not at all allow. He said he is not surprised that some quarters are tagging him as “anti-Moro” but added that the final output of his work will vindicate him and “prove them wrong.” So far, he has done great efforts, listening and consulting. And he eloquently speaks his mind out. There’s still a long road ahead. Let’s see how this ends.
LOVES MUSIC – Bongbong, although reared and nurtured by a “princely” world and affluent environment, has his two feet on the ground, so to speak. His is a well-rounded personality, warm and does not strike one as aloof and distant. He loves music and as a musician, he plays the saxophone and the flute. He dotes on his three boys, all studying in London whom he and his wife Liza assiduously protect from the public eye. As I said earlier, the debut of vacationing Zandro in public by reading his father’s speech with some faltering Tagalog because of his Londoner accent must be a desperate option, the ailing senator not wanting to be a “no show” to the expectant university students. (Zandro’s video appearance posted by some netizens has gone viral, by the way.!)
“SMALL WORLD” – Liza is a practicing lawyer at the “MOST” law firm in Manila. For those curious, the “M” there obviously is because of her and yes, the “O” is for Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa who is “on leave”; the “S” is for law partner Serapio and the “T” is for my friend lawyer Joseph Tan who is married to Patricia, a Dabawenya daughter of the pioneering Garcia-Montemayor family in Davao. (A quick digression. I recall being a close buddy of Patricia ‘s blind dad, lawyer-broadcaster Bobby Montemayor. He was totally blind but would be able to recognize and distinguish Patrice from the rest of her siblings by the sound of their approaching footsteps.!!)
Liza comes from the prominent Araneta clan and hence a close relative of another Araneta scion, Local Government Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas 2nd. As they say: ‘It’s a small world, indeed!”
COMING OF AGE – We will hear a lot more of Bongbong, I am sure. As some say, he is “coming of age” and is making his own niche in the hallowed ground of public service through sheer industry and competence. He is his own man. The public is taking notice. Clearly, he is no longer basking in the shadows of his illustrious father, Ferdinand, Sr., whom I know he idolizes and looks up to with unending admiration.