Saturday, March 19, 2016


THERE were three of us, having a chat after lunch. The three of us discovered we were voting for Mar Roxas, the Liberal Party presidential contender.

Two of us are not yet ready to let others know that Mar is their man.

Even while I argued that going public about our choice may help swing the undecided in his favor, I realized that this is the burr roughing up a campaign that otherwise marshals impressive munitions: the resources of the administration, the political machinery of the ruling Liberal Party, and the old wealth and extensive influence of the Roxas and Araneta clans.

Everything perfect except for the man.

When I was in a hospital lobby on my way to visiting my mother a couple of weeks ago, I saw a “Sale” sign on an Esquire Philippines copy displayed in the newspaper and magazine stand.
The November 2014 issue featured the Interior and Local Government Secretary, sitting on a pile of lumber, smiling and waving a hand at the person snapping his photo. “Hello from Tacloban… one year later,” read the magazine liner beside Mar, a loopy grin plastered on his bared teeth but not quite reaching the eyes behind the spectacles.

Commemorating the first year after Super Typhoon Yolanda, this Esquire PH magazine cover stirred a furor on social media. Many netizens were insulted and furious that the magazine chose Mar for its cover. What did the man do after all? Just bungled the relief and rehabilitation efforts, bringing on more suffering for Yolanda survivors.

I read the magazine from cover to cover. I read thrice the cover story by Boo Chanco, each time more slowly. It wasn’t just because I’m a fan of the writing found inside this magazine’s pages. I kept looking for an article about the man on the cover.

The man didn’t exist in the inside text, the soul and heart and sinew of storytelling. It was as if by using only Mar’s image—the incongruity of that smile in a place where at least 6,000 died and 4 million were displaced—the editors chose photojournalism to express all that had to be said.

Like my two colleagues, I’m made uneasy by my choice for president on May 9. Aside from Yolanda, there is the Mamasapano debacle, which exposed that Mar didn’t enjoy the confidence of his commander-in-chief and was bypassed for other men.

Yet, after he refused to abandon a beleaguered President Aquino, facing calls for impeachment and public shaming, Mar showed that his inability to make waves applied even when he could have otherwise acted for self-preservation and political survival.

Unlike supporters of Rodrigo Duterte, who hold on to his promises of action and radical change, I vote for Mar because I think what the country needs most is the status quo.
Voting for Mar means risking a leadership that is vulnerable to reprising another Yolanda or Mamasapano scale of mishandling.

Balancing this risk is the near certainty that the gains earned during the Aquino administration are consolidated and sustained: accountability, the fight against corruption.

The political future of running mate Leni Robredo is hinged on Mar’s victory on May 9. Leni, with her track record of working with the poor, women and other marginalized sectors, will infuse inclusiveness in an economic agenda that benefits the middle class and the elite.
For his better half, I vote for Mar.

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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s March 20, 2016 issue of “Matamata,” the Sunday editorial-page column

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