Special Double Edition: Issue October 1 To 7 + Issue September 24 To 30

Special Essay 1: In The Name of The Grandfather: Mar Roxas and The Quest For The Presidency
Special Essay 2: Into the Woods With Tim Cahill

In The Name of The Grandfather: Mar Roxas and The Quest For The Presidency

This story originally appeared  September 25, 2011 at the Sunday Times Magazine of the Manila Times

The passengers of M/V Island Ferry Fastcraft I were enjoying their trip, some taking  a leisurely nap while others are strolling on deck, breathing in fresh air, appreciating the ocean view. All of them are looking forward in reaching Cebu safe and sound, in the loving arms of family and friends, when they embarked in Bohol.
            That fateful August 21 journey will be memorable to them – in a way they did not expect. Suddenly, the engines caught fire. In a flash, icy terror gripped their hearts. Panic spread, screams were heard, prayers bombarded heaven. The ship threatened to sink.
            Rescue came quickly. The Philippine Coast Guard cutter, the commercial ship M/V Seajet and fishermen braved the turbulent waters to save the passengers – almost all of whom survived.
            “We recognize that more lives would have been lost if not for the search and rescue team’s valiant efforts, the invaluable assistance extended by passing passenger vessels, and the heroism of our fisherfolk, who were among those first at the scene,” declared Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda.
            He added: “We, too, cite the leadership of the DoTC Secretary Mar Roxas who quickly organized and mobilized a response unit upon knowledge of the vessel fire, thus averting what initially appeared to be a major maritime disaster.”
            Leadership is in Mar Roxas’ blood. Son of a Senator, grandson of a President, scion of one of the country’s wealthiest families, he is destined for politics simply by virtue of  who he is. But does his road lead to MalacaƱang? Here is the story of a man who have made a name for himself by proving he is more than his name.

Democratic Ideals

Manuel “Mar” Roxas II was born on May 13, 1957, son of the late Senator Gerardo “Gerry” Roxas, one of the foremost allies of the legendary Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., in the fight against Martial Law during the Marcos regime in the 1970s. Gerry is the only son of the late President Manuel Roxas, immortalized in history as the first President of the Third Republic, his Inauguaral on July 4, 1946 marking the pivotal juncture when the United States of America officially granted the Philippines complete sovereignty after establishing fully functioning government institutions here – setting the template for our democratic ideals and traditions that have shaped our national character and collective destinies.
            A Blue Eagle, Mar studied at the Ateneo from grade school to secondary, then went on in 1979 to earn a degree in Economics at the Wharton School of Economics at the University of Pennsylvania.

Champion of the Underdog

            Mar’s expertise in the complex subject of economic theories and practices shined brightest, even more than his genetic heritage, during his career just after college. He made it big in New York: an investment banker who rose to become assistant vice president of  the giant investment firm Allen & Company.
            A champion of the underdog even then, he made sure that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) get a fair share by providing them venture capital to kickstart their start-ups. He was also responsible for helping finance a new cable company which we now famously watch as Discovery Channel; and an independent film outift called Tri-Star Pictures – the Oscar-winning producer of  Glory with Matthew Broderick and As Good As It Gets with Jack Nicholson, as well as Jerry Maguire with Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg’s Hook with Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams.
            During the historic U.S. state visit of then President Corazon “Cory” Aquino on Sept. 1986, Roxas was behind the series of round-table meetings with representatives of the business community to channel investments to the Philippines. In a strategic and serendipitous development, Roxas was stationed in Manila under North Star Capitals Inc., and one such permanent achievement is taking Jollibee public which, to this day, proves to be one of the most consistently stable picks in the inherently volatile stock market.

National Prominence

            The Biblical injuction of not hiding your light under a bushel teaches us that who we are determines our destiny. Politics runs in the family, after all, so it was only natural when he had taken a leave of absence from the corporate world to join Cory Aquino’s presidential campaign during the 1986 snap elections against Marcos, which culminated in the global phenomenon known as the Edsa People Power Revolution.
            It was a family tragedy that would propel him to the political stage. Mar’s brother, Gerardo Jr., more popularly known as Dinggoy, was the first to enter, representing the First District of Capiz in Congress. But in 1993, Dinggoy died of cancer.
            The country not only lost a young leader with a bright future: his constituents was also left without a voice. This could not be, so a special election was held to fill the void. Mar, despite the pain of losing a loved one, ran as a way of honoring his brother’s memory and continuing the family tradition of public service. Mar was then 35, fast gaining national prominence as a young man of great potential and one of the country’s hottest bachelors. Mar won Dinggoy’s post handily, and that same year jumped into the world of politics as a member of the House of Representatives.

Independence of Mind

            Mar Roxas has become synonymous with advocating economic and trade policies for the welfare and protection of consumers, with special focus on the development of SMEs. Another key advocacy is universal access to quality education. His most major landmark law during his Congress days is Republic Act 7880. The Roxas Law, as it came to be known, guarantees the equitable distribution of the education budget throughout the country, unshackling the chains of political patronage and regional favoritism.
            In January 2000, the dawn of the new millennium, Roxas was appointed as Secretary of Trade and Industry (DTI), an exectuive position right smack in his mileu and perfect for his strengths. The then President Joseph “Erap” Estrada, who appointed him, would have been, in the context of traditional politics, his patron. But Roxas was his own man, with an independence of mind that’s befitting his distinguished lineage.
            Estrada was embroiled in one major controversy after another, diminishing the effectiveness and credibility of his administration. Roxas resigned the Cabinet that November as a sign of protest. The cascade of scandals and alleged violations of the Constitution climaxed as the first impeachment trial against an incumbent President in the annals of Philippine history.
            When the Estrada allies prevented the outnumbered opposition and independent Senator-Judges to acknowledge a critical piece of evidence, the nation-wide public outrage led to the spontaneous mass rally at the Edsa Shrine in Ortigas, site of the People Power Revolution. The fiesta-like gathering of folks from all walks of life came to be known as Edsa 2. Like Marcos in 1986, Estrada was forced to step down when the Armed Forces withdrew its support. In a cover story, Time paraphrased the breakthrough hit single of  Britney Spears:” “Ooops, We Did It Again!”

Economic Progress

            Assuming the Presidency was the then Vice President Gloria Arroyo. In January 2001, a full year after his first appointment to the DTI top post, Roxas was reinstated by the new administration. For a brief period, he was also concurrently Energy Secretary.
            Thus begins the sustained period of his philosophy of “Palengkenomics,” where the palengke (public wet market) becomes the measure of all the economic progress of the government. The vast majority of the population buy their daily needs in the wet market. Politics and safeguards are needed to shield the buying public from fluctuating prices of basic commodities whcih, in turn, directly affect their lives.
            In concrete policy terms, this entails the vigilant monitoring of prices, trends and economic activities such as hoarding and overpricing. That’s how Roxas became Mr. Palengke. A populist media-friendly nickname which would serve him in good tead in his climb up the political ladder.
            He is also known as the Father of  the Call Center Industry. Roxas was instrumental for the steadily burgeoning business process outsourcing (BPO) industry in the country. We have hundred of thousands of call center professionals today thanks to Roxas’ Make IT Philippines program, which paved the way for the biggest BPO players in the world – Teleperformance, TeleTech, eTelecare, PeopleSupport, Sykes, Telus, Convergys – to come here and build their offshore headquqarters.
            This is perhaps the bigest and the most successful job-generation program in our history.

Sure-Fire Winner

            Roxas’ popularity made him a sure-fire winner in the 2004 senatorial elections, political analysts predicted – and a possible contender for the presidency in the near future. True enough, Roxas won overwhelmingly, fueling the second part of the pundits’ prophecy.
            Senator Mar Roxas’ legislative track record is outstanding, a comprehensive blueprint where government should focus their resources: Tax Exemption for Minimum Wage Earners, Magna Carta for SMEs, Free Information Act, Decriminalizing Libel, Anti-Smuggling Act, to name a few. He has voted for the abolition of the death penalty, and voted against the Human Security Act, declaring that “The fight against terror requires operational reforms over reforms that could impair civil liberties.”
            The Senator’s flagship legislative triumph, however, is the Universally Accessible and Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act of 2008 – which directly benefits millions of Filipinos, most of whom live below the poverty level

He Was Right

            Roxas, then as now, belongs to the Liberal Party, co-founded by his grandfather. The Liberal joined Arroyo’s K-4 coalition for the campaign. But history moves in cycles. In an eerie parallel during his Estrada days, Roxas broke away from an administration to which he is identified because of alleged high-level corruption.
            To cite just one example: the Senator slammed the P329.4 million national broadband network (NBN) agreement with the China-based Zhong Xin Telecommunications Equipment (ZTE) Corp., saying that the allegedly anomalous deal will not benefit the people because it was “driven by supply and not by demand.” He further added that scrapping the agreement will not affect the friendly relationship between the Philippines and China, and he was right.

Unifying Factor

            With the 2010 election looming over the horizon and his Oct. 27 wedding to broadcast journalist Korina Sanchez making the headlines, the Roxas For President Movement gained momentum as the Liberal Party National Executive Council, on Nov. 26, 2007, appointed him as the president of the party and its standard bearer. His first order of battle, however, is to begin the struggle to unify the two LP factions, the other led by former Manila Mayor Lito Atiena.
            Another major tragedy took Roxas in a different direction. He has already announced his candidacy, but the entire world was suddenly blanketed in grief and an excruciating sense of loss – on August 1, 2009, former President Cory Aquino, like his brother Dinggoy, died of cancer.
            The world mourned the passing of Cory, a true Christian in the purest sense of the word and the ultimate epitome of honest leadership. To the Filipino people, Cory was more than their leader: she was the unifying factor in this culturally fractious country, a symbol of how decency, sincerity and selflessness can change the course of history and make this world a better place.
            For no other President since the iconic Ramon Magsaysay died in 1957 had the nation so deeply mourned and wept unashamedly. It was the passing of an era, but the people want that sense of hope to remain. They began to look for that one leader they can all rally to, one who embodies Cory’s sterling qualities and would carry on her legacies.
            As one, the people wanted her son to be their President.
            Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, the only son of Ninoy and Cory, is also with the Liberal party and was a shoo-in to be Roxas’ running-mate as vice president. All of a sudden: nothing was the same again—Noynoy is practically the next President. The palpable wave of public sentiment virtually pulverized whatever alleged schemes the Arroyo administration  has left to perpetuate itself in power.

Act of Statesmanship

            Roxas was at a momentous crossroad in his political life. Like Franklin D. Roosevelt when Pearl Harbor was attacked, he was a principal player as history unfolds, whose decision will define him for life. And like Julius Caezar crossing the Rubicon, there can be no turning back.
            Club Filipino in Greenhills, witness to milestones in history such as Cory’s oath-taking, was where Roxas displayed an honorable act of statesmanship – he let go of his plans to run for President in favor of Noynoy, sliding nobly as the latter’s vice president.
            Weeks later, on Sept. 21, 2009, Noy and Mar, on the 37th anniversary of Martial Law which both their families have opposed so gallantly, officially launched the Aquino-Roxas tandem. As expected but at the same time, totally unexpected, Aquino’s victory was an overwhelming landslide. What immediately happened next was equally unprecedented: the other presidential contenders conceeded even before the votes were finished counting.
            In extreme contrast to Aquino’s formidable lead, Roxas lost the vice presidency in one of the narrowest margins in the national polls. In the wake of the ascension of former Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay to the VP post came Roxas’ protest to the Presidential Electoral Tribunal.

Internal Initiative

            You can’t put a good man down, goes the age-old adage. After the 1-year prescriptive period where non-winning candidates may not be appointed, Roxas returned to the government. Designated by President Aquino, he assumed the post of Secretary of the Dept. of Transportation and Communication (DoTC) – and as one of the President’s senior economic advisers and eventual chief of staff—on June 30, 2011.
            Secretary Roxas plunged into work at once, creating a task force to investigate the ageny’s past procurements, beginning with the allegedly anomalous purchase of marine environment protection equipment  (MEPE) and aids to navigation (ATON) spareparts for the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) lighthouses in 2006 worth P1.15 billion.
            Members of the inter-agency task force represent the Dept. of Justice (DoJ), National Bureu of Inverstigation (MNBI) and Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG). This is now the subject of a report from the Commission On Audit (COA) which revealed that the funds were under 6 special allotment release orders (SAROs). The lighthouse equipments alone – solar panels, solar bulbs, halogen bulbs, flasher-lamp changers, battery controllers and photo eyes – were worth a staggering P250 million.
            “The results of this internal initiative,” he said, “will be used by the task force to distinguish what equipment had been acquired without the proper protocol and were purchased in violations of the rules set by the budget department.”

Glittering Prize

            Public office is the symbol of the people’s trust. To enter politics is a fundamental right of a citizen, and the power of that which one seeks is vested by the law – and a gift of the people.
            Mar Roxas’ streak of independence, however, is the shining light that set him free from the shadows of his distinguished forebears. But he followed in his father’s footsteps and became Senator of the Republic. He has always been upfront that he wants to claim the post his grandfather once held.
            Already the 2016 presidential elections seems within reach, like a warm shelter at the end of a long journey, a glittering prize at the peak of a sacred mountain. 

Into the Woods With Tim Cahill

I love nature. Having grew up in Antipolo, away from the hurly-burly of the city life, my childhood memories is a kaleidoscope of idyllic images infused with the exhilarating sense of freedom experienced only in the great outdoors. I hope all children would know what it feels to have no less than Mother Nature as their playground; if not throughout the wonder years of growing up, at least for one unforgettable summer; they would cherish it for than a thousand summers.
           The woods, Nature’s inner sanctum, has been a metaphor for a lot of things but usually as a path to initiation: you go in and return a different person. I have known this firsthand. I learned all the nuances of compassion and affinity with the earth when I saw a helpless baby sparrow on the ground. When I put it back to its nest, I was enveloped in such a feeling of happiness and peace; It seems as if the universe had opened up and accepted me as proven to be worthy for passing some kind of mysterious test. It’s hard to explain, but the feeling remains vivid, and it’s one of the many wonderful things worth remembering in my love affair with nature.
               Given all these, it is perhaps crystal clear why I was so affected by a book about the wilderness and the great lessons to be learned from her hidden treasures and forbidden knowledge: Pass the Butterworms: Remote Journeys Oddly Rendered, the epic memoir of Tim Cahill, the founding editor of Outside magazine.
             Tim Cahill went to the woods and returned as a search and rescue hero. His story is filled with the stuff a child’s fantasies: frightening forests, mystical mountains, elusive creatures. Man, he teaches from experience, should not battle with nature because she is not his enemy; not try to conquer her because she can never be subjected by anyone or anything.
         Living with harmony with nature means playing it by her rules; and that is a universal truth, ego-shattering as it may be. Almost twenty years before he wrote Butterworms, Tim Cahill moved to Crazy Mountains in Montana, near Poison Creek (I’m not making up the names). His neighbor, Don Hindman who lives over a mile away, once asked him if he had forgotten than the weather in the mountains changes drastically, sometimes in the blink of an eye; in less than 24 hours, temperatures can vary thirty to fifty-five degrees.
           Obviously Tim did: he went to Don’s farm wearing only shirt sleeves. “So, Don told me, even if you’re walking only a mile on a sunny autumn day, it’s worth your life to be prepared.”

             Don’s exact words of advice were, “Wear a coat, you imbecile.” Tim eventually proved for himself that don’s affectionate teasing is a gem of wisdom that can spell the difference between life and death. “During my first years in the mountains, I did a lot of those imbecilic things,” he confesses. “Obviously I survived. It’s called dumb luck. That’s why I figure I owe something to the wilderness, and that is something called Search and Rescue.”

Once, two hunters came across the footprints of an elk near Tom Miner basin adjacent to Yellowstone National Park. One went to follow the tracks while the other waited. The hunter who pursued the trail disappeared from sight. The other waited…and waited.

Darkness fell like a gloomy blanket on an eerie phantasmagorical landscape. The one who was left behind controlled his panic, and he went to call the sheriff. Midnight came, and Tim was notified by the Park County Search and Rescue. With the local outfitter’s cabin as their base camp, they studied the topography and tried to figure out what the hunter was likely to do. Fortunately,  everything they know about him, as told by his partner, was very encouraging.

The hunter wasn’t a local, “But he’d done some snow camping. He was a highly-trained security guard as a sort of facility terrorists target, and he kept himself in shape. We knew that while he didn’t have a tent or a sleeping bag, he did have matches, good boots gloves and a hat. He also had dressed in woolen layers. His partner said he was the type of guy who pushed himself, who didn’t give up.”

Tim had seen more dead bodies trapped in the wilderness that he cares to count, like the two elk hunters they searched for in his first year as a rescuer. The first man was found sitting by a frozen tree, the second one some two hundred yards away. “No,” Tim Learned.  “The wilderness is not tolerant of mistakes.”

But this case was different, he sensed. “Usually after forty hours in minus 34 degree weather, they don’t make it. But I had a good feeling about this one.” Tim and the rescue team were “working from what we call PLS -- point last seen. Mostly after a day and a half, we’ll lost folks within a radius of about three miles of the PLS.”  But they stretched the radius for this hunter, guessing that “our man must have followed the elk south and west until it got dark.”

It was a four in the morning, more than fifty hours after the hunter had gone missing. Suddenly, there was a knock on the cabin. Tim heard the deputy sheriff open the door and exclaim, “Oh man, are we glad to see you!”

The visitor – the guy they’re looking for – rasped, “You think you’re glad?!”

Summarizing the harrowing ordeal, Tim writes, “We kind of like it when the lost hunters find us.”

I love the woods, the birds, bees, butterflies, birdsongs, the sunlight filtering through the tress, the aroma of moss and wood, and ozone when it is about to rain. I love nature, and like a scientist, I am enamored of her secrets; and that’s why I respect her, and her awesome, glorious, sometimes terrible beauty.




Photos courtesy of Todo Sa Bongga http://todosabongga.blogspot.com/2010_05_01_archive.html and
Salsas Photos http://salsaphotos.blogspot.com/2010/07/forest-magic.html