None of the above

In his latest radio and TV advertisement, Mar Roxas portrays himself as “hindi abusado”, “hindi ma-drama”, and most importantly “hindi magnanakaw”. This is a clear swipe at his front-running rivals in the presidential race. “Abusado” is Digong Duterte. “Ma-drama” is Grace Poe. And “Magnanakaw” is VP Jojo Binay.

He also tries to appeal to the Ilonggo vote by talking in Hiligaynon.

Mar Roxas claims that all he has to offer is his willingness to work. “Trabaho lang”.

Again, Roxas wants to highlight the perceived issues affecting his rivals. He is not like them, he says. He promises to bring sincere and honest attributes to the presidency and continue the “matuwid na daan” of his sponsor, President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III.

Okay, let’s grant it to Mar Roxas: he’s none of the above.

He’s “none of the above” because he has never shown an ability to be a leader, to demonstrate a principle-based leadership, a man with a strong backbone.

He had five years to build that performance he wants to be known for. But he squandered it. In all those five years, first as secretary of DOTC and then as secretary of DILG, Roxas has nothing to show. He had everything at his disposal and yet he has no performance to boast about.

The incompetence of the man has reached legendary levels. He fumbled on every play and kept falling on his face. He simply isn’t cut to be a leader. Even his words cause him more trouble and embarrassment than anything else. He can’t be faulted for not trying hard enough. In fact, he is overdoing the things that he intended to show him as being close with the poor, to the point that he looks an idiot. How else do you describe a man who puts rice on a mug and drinks water from a plate? Even the poorest among the poor knows what a mug and a plate are for.

Roxas doesn’t also know that he is mouthing a disdained mantra — “matuwid na daan”.

The Aquino administration has presided over the biggest corruption machinery since martial law. If in the past the plunder was only by a few, this time it is robbery in band. Loyalty to the party is obtained by bribing the senators and congressmen and governors and mayors. Each is allowed a free rein to plunder in their own jurisdictions. It is not hard to understand why Franklin Drilon has become a fierce attack dog for the administration. With the billions and billions of pesos poured into Iloilo (all overpriced projects), he has every motivation to protect his masters.

By mouthing “matuwid na daan”, Mar Roxas has also embraced the label of the “ridiculous”. He is so overpowered by his belief in “matuwad” (that’s a deliberate one) that people could only laugh in private. There are now reports that Liberal Party candidates in the Visayas are beginning to abandon him. Before long, he will find himself alone.

Right, Mar Roxas is none of the above. That’s because he has never started to be anybody worth noticing.

NO “ZONA LIBRE” FOR VICE GOVERNOR?

The controversy over the “zona libre” issue for the position of Vice Governor of Iloilo will put Mar Roxas in a no-win situation. It will cause the “unity ticket” that he and Franklin Drilon put together in Iloilo province to crumble before the campaign period for the presidency could even start.
Here’s what happened:
Four years ago, Mar Roxas recruited into the Liberal Party the political clans that wielded power in each of the province’s 1st and 3rd districts. He welcomed into the LP fold Governor Arthur Defensor Sr. and former 1st district Congressman Oscar Garin Sr. In the process, Roxas dislodged the original LPs like the late Niel Tupas Sr., now vice governor Boboy Tupas, Gen. Gerry Flores and many more.
Rojas wanted the Iloilo vote to be solid for him in the 2016 presidential elections. It was a given that incumbent 2nd district Congressman Arcadio Gorriceta and 5th district Congressman Junjun Tupas would throw their support for him.
But that solid political front is about to disintegrate. Mar Roxas broke his word to the Garins that the race for vice governor would be “zona libre”, meaning the LP will consider the two candidates for the position, Junjun Tupas and Christine “Tintin” Garin, to be equals. The Garins didn’t expect Junjun to run, and thought Tintin had the position on a silver platter. To everybody’s surprise, Junjun filed his COC at the last minute.
The Garins brought the matter to Roxas as the LP standard bearer. According to the father and son Garins — Oca and Congressman Richard — Roxas assured them it was going to be “zona libre”. And that’s what the Garins told the people of Iloilo.
This claim was quickly disputed by Junjun. The Garins were lying, he said.
The controversy reached its peak when Roxas arrived in Iloilo City for the “Dinagyang” festival last Jan. 24. Pressed by media to comment on the issue, Roxas said there is no free zone: Junjun Tupas is the lone candidate recognized by the LP.
It is unlikely the Garins will accept this turn-around of Roxas just like that. It is a stab in the back for them. Oca Garin was heard over radio as saying that Roxas did not deserve to be President if he could break his word. That is short of saying Mar Roxas can kiss his ambition good-bye. The Garins will withdraw support from him at the last moment.
This situation will give Roxas a migraine. The last poll survey showed he could count on only 47% of the Iloilo vote. That’s bad by itself, because it means he could not build enough cushion to cover areas where he is expected to lose heavily. With the Garins junking him, Roxas can expect his voter base in Iloilo to precipitously drop as election day draws nearer.
Poor Mar. He is getting a dose of his own medicine.

FIGHTING ON TWO FRONTS

I was told the Liberal Party commissioned a poll survey firm to get a snapshot of how the congressional battle between two Tupases — Boboy TupasFive and Atty. Gel Tupas — in the 5th district of Iloilo.
According to my unimpeachable source, the survey outcome showed the incumbent Iloilo vice governor leading his sister in law by a mile. If elections were held during the survey period two weeks ago, Boboy would have trounced Gel by 4:1.
With barely 100 days left before the elections when that survey was done, it shows a hopeless fight for Gel. Her husband, incumbent Congressman Niel “Junjun” Tupas Jr., could not lift her enough to put up a good fighting chance.
Gel’s woes are aggravated by the fact that Junjun is also running for vice governor of the province. Her husband would not be able to campaign as hard for her. He has his own battle to fight.
Junjun is running against Guimbal municipal mayor Christine “Tintin” Garin, daughter of 1st district kingpin Oscar Garin Sr.
The latest surveys showed Junjun enjoying a slight edge over Garin, owing much to the immense political goodwill of the Tupas family name.
But Junjun is navigating through hazardous waters.
That’s because he is violating a cardinal rule in warfare (and politics is basically warfare): never fight on two fronts.
Gel is just proxy for Junjun in the 5th district. The outgoing congressman wants to keep his hold on the congressional district and occupy a position that could propel him to be governor of the province. It’s a classic illustration of “having his cake and eat it, too.”
The Garin clan is not about ready to give Junjun an easy slide into the second highest elected position in the province.
This early, Garin is bombarding the airwaves with TV and radio advertisements. She is determined to put up a stiff fight.
Junjun faces big problems because while Mar Roxas affirmed he is the official Liberal Party candidate and there is no “zone libre” for the vice gubernatorial race, local LP candidates have manifested their open zone policy for Garin.
Even Iloilo Governor Arthur Defensor Sr. has announced publicly he will not pressure his municipal mayors to obstruct the campaign of Garin. That in itself is “zona libre” in disguise.
In the 4th district, come backing Dr. Ferj Biron AccountTwo is certain to campaign against Junjun. Biron is the official candidate of the Liberal Party. His support for Garin will pull the rugs under his feet because the 4th district was always a Tupas bailiwick. For it to go to Garin will deprive Junjun of a traditional political base.
When the campaign period kicks off, Junjun will have to make a tough decision. Does he pursue his ambition to control the 5th district at the same time as his vice gubernatorial bid? Or will he pick one battle and try to win that, sacrificing the other?
He only needs to look back in history to know that fighting on two fronts simultaneously is dangerous. Even the most brilliant military strategists, notably Napoleon and Hitler, faltered and failed when they succumb to that temptation.
Another problem facing Junjun to his vice gubernatorial campaign is the possibility that his own siblings, and die-hard supporters of his late father, Niel Tupas Sr., might openly campaign for Garin.
It would be tragic to see Junjun lose on both fronts.
His overreaching ambition, and perhaps greed, will only lead him to damnation.

Definitely not world class

It’s been three months since the last meeting in the Iloilo leg of the APEC 2015 was held at the Iloilo Convention Center, but the grossly overpriced building — originally estimated to cost only P200 million — is far from finished.

I went to the ICC myself on January 4 to see what’s inside the concrete and glass cavern sitting between two hotels of the Megaworld Corp. I am thankful that the young administrator graciously allowed me to tour the building, accompanied by a private security guard as guide.

And what I found inside the building depressed me even more. After the DPWH and TIEZA spent nearly P750 million, the ICC is not 100% completed. The contractor, Hilmarcs Construction, is still awaiting a new P55 million contract to install the folding walls to allow the main hall to be divided into five smaller meeting venues. Both inside and outside the building, work items remain unfinished, including the parking lot and security guard post.

There’s nothing in the building that would justify the expenditure of P800 million when it is finally completed long after the APEC meetings which was the justification for its construction.

That’s right, the final price tag for the ICC once it is completed is P800 milliion, and that’s without the sound and lights system that was scrapped last September.

In fact, a number of people who have attended conferences at the ICC since it accepted space rental are one in saying that it is definitely not world class. There’s a consensus that it fell far short of expectations from the way it was described by its patron, Senate President Franklin Drilon.

As one recent visitor told me, even the restrooms are substandard for a facility that is branded as “world-class”. She described the quality of the restrooms as just about par with the restrooms of a two-decade old mall in Lapaz. She said she is embarrassed by what she saw. It was damning evidence that much of the money spent for the project was carted away in a long convoy of armored trucks.

I don’t know if Drilon still has an iota of conscience left in him and confess his sins to the Filipino people. This is public money we are talking about here through the Development Acceleration Program (DAP) that the Supreme Court had declared as illegal and unconstitutional.

It’s not just the ICC that has become a monument of Drilon’s corruption.

The still unfinished Benigno Aquino Jr. Avenue, or more commonly known as the Iloilo Diversion Road, has cost about P150 million per kilometer for a 6.25-meter widening with the ridiculous pave-tiled “bike lanes”.

From the foot of the Iloilo Bridge going to Ungka — a distance of about 5 kilometers — is already costing us about a billion pesos. And it’s not just outrageously overpriced. The quality of work on the road pavement is poor. Driving along the Diversion Road is like riding a boat in turbulent seas. That’s because the road surface is uneven.

Those LED street light are another scandal. Based on computations I made from the contracts awarded for their installation, each street light would cost P1 million. Drilon must have learned from his cousin, Jed Patrick E. Mabilog, who overpriced traffic lights by as much as 300%.

And to make sure all the evidence to these anomalies remain buried, Drilon has arranged for DPWH regional director Edilberto Tayao to get another six months extension after his one-year extension expires next month.

Drilon needs to keep Tayao in the DPWH regional office because it’s only the soon-to-turn 67 years old regional director who has the gall to execute the corruption-ridden projects. Tayao has only recently undergone a major heart surgery, and he should already be avoiding stressful work by going into retirement. It’s not as if DPWH lacks competent officials who can replace Tayao if qualification and capability are the sole basis. But it’s not. It’s about the willingness to carry out the corrupt deals of the Senate President.

I know it’s useless to be filing more cases against Drilon over these projects for as long as President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III remains in power. Perhaps under a different dispensation, Drilon and his accomplices can be held to account for their misdeeds.

Having said that, the likelihood that Drilon will follow the footsteps of his fellow senators to jail is increasing everyday as survey after survey shows that the Liberal Party standard bearer, Mar Roxas, is sinking deeper into oblivion.

At the moment, I derive consolation from the knowledge that Drilon is facing a jury composed of Ilonggos who witness the ugliness of corruption that he has brought upon Iloilo City. More and more Ilonggos are expressing their disgust over Drilon’s immense appetite for pork and the corruption it entails.

And in the end, it will be God who will judge Drilon. When that happens, there will be a lot of pork lard to drip when this king of pork is roasted in hell.

Varnished

(Coffeebreak, December 15, 2015)

Mar Roxas has a simple game plan in his bid to become the next President of the Republic of the Philippines: varnish his image with artificial gloss and eliminate his rivals through a host of legal maneuvers.

We’ve already seen Roxas lift a sack of rice. Also garlic. He tried his hand at being a firefighter and a traffic aide under the rain. He played the role of an ice carver, and even posed on a block of ice lying on his side for photographers. He pedaled a pedicab. And the list is growing longer and longer.

But these are cheap gimmicks that only boomeranged on Roxas the moment pictures came out on social media. Much as he tried to mimic the acts of ordinary Filipinos who have to endure backbreaking work to survive, there is simply no way Roxas could pass for one. That he was born rich, and never had to wonder where his next meal would come from, was glaring from the onset of such efforts.

These last few days, Roxas was again under fire in social media.

This time, he came under heavy criticism for labeling himself as a “Wharton graduate” in his curriculum vitae. It was another deceitful claim to add luster to his name, which had struggled to rise past the 15% mark in survey after survey.

While it was not entirely false, it was a misrepresentation. That’s because “Wharton graduates” in the layman’s understanding refer to those who have obtained their MBAs from this prestigious school in the University of Pennsylvannia.

Roxas earned his undergraduate degree from Wharton-UPenn without distinction. It was an education that his wealthy status made possible for him. Of course, he had to study hard to complete the baccalaureate degree. However, it didn’t give him a distinction that MBAs from this college are accorded with respect and admiration.

Wharton alumni always accompany its name with the extension, “UPenn.” But in the case of Roxas, he merely put Wharton as his alma mater, giving the impression that he finished his MBA there.

The Wharton MBA program is considered one of the premier training grounds for corporate executives, almost at par with the Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business. Yale and Northwestern University have similar programs that are regarded as topnotch.

That’s why a Wharton MBA is given a premium when it appears on a young corporate upstart’s curriculum vitae. It is regarded as a badge of distinction. It is a symbol of an individual’s capability to analyze complex problems and provide leadership in any organization.

It is not to denigrate the undergraduate program at Wharton. But in the scheme of things, a holder of a bachelor’s degree from Wharton can never be placed in the same platform. In experience, training and leadership capability, the Wharton MBA will be two or three notches above a B.S. degree holder.

I can’t blame Roxas though for trying to sneak this through.

He needs to shellac his image as he enters the home stretch of the presidential race. The official campaign period for national candidates won’t kick off until February 9, 2016, but the contenders for the presidency have been barnstorming around the country for months now. And yet, Roxas remains a poor third or fourth in the surveys. His ratings have hit the ceiling at 15%.

Nothing seems to work for Roxas.

His endorser, President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III, had hoped Roxas’s numbers would rise after he raised the Liberal Party’s standard bearer last September 30. Since then, Roxas has tapped celebrity endorsements, including a music video featuring the talents of ABS-CBN. Roxas has also the backing of congressmen, governors and mayors.

Despite all these efforts to catapult Roxas to the front of the race, he struggles to rise above his current survey rating of only 15%. In a manner of speaking, he has hit the ceiling. He continues to eat the dust of Davao City mayor Digong Duterte, Senator Grace Poe and even the battle-scarred Vice President Jojo Binay.

Clearly, Roxas has a serious problem. How can he expect to become President when he can’t even come close enough to winning against his opponents? With less than one-fourth of the projected votes, he can’t even be regarded as a serious contender.

Of course there’s the elimination game ala “trip to Jerusalem” that the Liberal Party is playing. There’s a good chance Senator Grace Poe might be disqualified. Duterte, too, will face the same troubles. And knowing the LP’s determination to ram through its effort to win the Presidency for Roxas by hook or by crook, Duterte’s being swept aside from the race is not remote.

The scenario that’s being set should leave Roxas standing alone in the ring.

But wait, there’s still Binay. After a whole year of bashing and harassing the brown-skinned man from Makati City hasn’t been knocked down. In fact, Binay remains ahead of Roxas in the surveys — way ahead.

This presents a tough problem for Roxas: if the LP succeeds in eliminating Poe and Duterte, it can’t just get rid of Binay. That’s because the scenario calls for Binay being thrown in jail. And Binay enjoys immunity from suit. He can’t be charged criminally until after June 30, 2016.

In short, Binay’s name will remain a contender for the Presidency on May 16, 2016. He has 31% of the projected vote if elections are held today. If Poe and Duterte and DQ’d, I can bet most of their votes will go for Binay. It’s not because people don’t believe Binay is corrupt; but Filipinos believe Roxas will make a worse President than Mr. Aquino.

From a rock-bottom of 31%, Binay has the potential to rise above the 51% mark on election day to win majority of the votes cast. Roxas will be left eating more dust than he did when Binay beat him for the Vice Presidency in 2010.

It becomes clear that no matter how coats of shellac or varnish Roxas puts on his name, he still won’t be able to remove the people’s dislike for him. He can spray himself with all the best known deodorizers, but the rotten smell of a bad President simply won’t disappear.

Doubts about a Mar Roxas presidency

A friend from Dumalag, Capiz called me a few days ago, and our phone conversation turned to a topic that is generating a lot of excitement in our home province —- the candidacy of Mar Roxas.
He confessed to me that he is inclined to vote for Mar Roxas. “My only reservation comes from the prospect that he will use his position to protect the real masterminds of the pork barrel scams,” he said.
I had to agree with him. As a person, Mar Roxas is a noble man. He is well educated, experienced, and ready to face higher responsibility. Mar’s only problem is that he can’t seem to disengage himself from the issues plaguing the Aquino administration. He is stuck with the yellow label, and that is dragging him down.
And it would leave me with a heavy heart to see Mar Roxas unable to severe his connections from the DAP masterminds and strengthen the perception that he will spend more time trying to keep them out of jail than pressing ahead with much-needed reforms for the country.
Time is running out. Mar Roxas should demonstrate he is his own man. He should not be hostage to the machinations of his party-mates who destroyed the core principles of the Liberal Party. He must convince the likes of me that his presidency will be anchored on the rule of law, and no one will be spared from facing the consequences of their criminal behavior while in public office.

Ward politics and the cacique mentality

I think it’s presumptuous for the likes of Peping Cojuangco to promise Tarlac votes for VP Jojo Binay.
It reflects the cacique mentality of many political leaders who look at their constituents as minions who will do as they order.
Most of our voters don’t decide on the basis of what their local leaders tell them how or who to vote.
In many elections, candidates won in places where the local “shieks” campaigned against them.
A classic case would be then presidential candidate Noynoy Aquino. In Iloilo province, most of the incumbent congressmen and municipal mayors in 2010 belonged to the Lakas of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Yet Mr. Aquino triumphed in Iloilo in a thunderous way.
Another good example was the victory of my former boss, then Iloilo Governor Niel Tupas Sr. in 2004 in his re-election bid. He was challenged by former 1st district Congressman Oscar Garin. In the town of Janiuay, Iloilo, the two candidates for mayor were pro-Garin. To everybody’s surprise, Gov. Tupas won in that town by a huge margin.
It will definitely help to have a strong machinery at the local level. But it is not a guarantee.
Hence, on the other side of the fence, Secretary Mar Roxas shouldn’t entrust his fate to the local leaders who have pledged all-out support for him.
He should work on gaining broad support from the electorate and exploit the advantage of being the administration candidate to the hilt.