Jojo A. Robles

‘Yolanda’ and Mar

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The tragedy that was “Yolanda” did not only kill thousands of innocent people in Tacloban City and other hard-hit areas. It also virtually washed away the chances of Mar Roxas of ever becoming the next president of the Philippines.

The buzzword of the Aquino administration immediately before the super typhoon hit could also have been Roxas’ battlecry in Tacloban. The word is “prepositioned,” as in, Roxas, the interior and local government secretary, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and other top officials of the government were prepositioned in the city as part of the government’s preparations ahead of the typhoon’s expected disastrous arrival.

President Noynoy Aquino, who once promised that 80 percent of his government would be run by his defeated former running mate, had given Roxas his biggest opportunity to shine nearly three years ago. Instead, as everyone from CNN’s Anderson Cooper to the Tacloban People Surge movement now knows, Mar dropped the ball and even aggravated a situation he had been asked to save.

By the time the Mamasapano massacre happened early in 2015, Mar was no longer even “in the loop,” as he described it, even he was still tagging along as some kind of Aquino administration eunuch. And yes, possibly because he was aware of his abject failure in Tacloban, Roxas was fine with being a high-ranking non-entity in Zamboanga, where Aquino decided to monitor the operation to get terrorist bomber Marwan.

Roxas, of course, has always held a different, reality-challenged version of what happened in Tacloban. This unfounded belief in the efficacy of his own efforts on the ground is the basis for that much-maligned comic book “Sa Gitna ng Unos” (In the Middle of the Tempest) starring Mar as the hero and savior of a city lashed by the powerful typhoon.

Mar really could have become the savior of Tacloban, just like his comic-book avatar. But he only succeeded in proving how ill-suited he was to the job of taking command in a real crisis situation and, yes, in sabotaging his own plans for higher office.

When it really mattered, Roxas displayed his lack of executive ability, his penchant for holding long, unnecessary meetings and his insistence on putting political considerations ahead of everything else. When Yolanda hit, Mar was as shell-shocked as any Taclobanon; in the end, he could only pose for that forgettable magazine cover, smiling wanly and waving ineffectually at the camera, possibly wondering why he allowed himself to be sent to do a job that he knew he could not possibly perform.

Cooper decried the lack of a real government presence in Tacloban post-Yolanda, as the unnamed bodies piled up on either side of the city’s roads. Among the dead was Roxas’ ambition - and no amount of historical revisionism, through official pronouncements or hurriedly made comic books, is going to change that.

As Roxas himself kept saying recently: “Oras ko po ito.” Well, Mar had his one big opportunity to prove his worth and he blew it away completely.

Roxas could have been a leading contender instead of just a tail-ender given an outside chance simply because of the gargantuan resources at his disposal. That’s not Yolanda’s fault but Mar’s own.

* * *

April is the cruelest month, T.S. Eliot wrote. And as the entire country braces for the May 9 elections, the month that is just about to start will surely prove the poet right.

This is the homestretch of what promises to be one of the wildest, most hard-fought campaigns for the presidency that this country has ever known. With no one candidate holding a really big advantage over the rest of the field, expect the final push to be really big, costly and increasingly desperate.

And now that the official campaign period for local positions has also started, expect the din to get even louder and more incessant than it already is. There has got to be a better way to choose leaders, if only we can find it.

Of course, they say that election years invariably cause an uptick in the national economy. The one that’s going to happen in May is probably going to set a new record in improving the overall economy, but you have to wonder how those underwriting the expense will get their money back.

It’s stupid to attribute the desire to hold elective public office to a hankering to serve the people, naturally. At the rate candidates and their fat-cat backers are throwing money around, you just know that they’re angling for equally big returns on their investment.

In the end, the real cruelty is inflicted on all of us who are now being cajoled, entertained and stampeded into electing these “public servants,” when the winners start looking for payback in the form of government contracts and suchlike. If elections didn’t promise such huge returns, after all, nobody would seek office.

The Filipino Express

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