Postscript to a farce | Inquirer Opinion
There’s the Rub

Postscript to a farce

/ 01:02 AM December 16, 2013

I watched the 43-minute video that Cito Beltran uploaded on YouTube and not just the 18-second version of it. Much of it is garbled, but which is not necessarily a bad thing if you’re trying to catch the spirit of the exchange. True enough, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas’ manner wasn’t threatening, it was merely cavalier, as though he was talking to a subordinate. The way he kept thumping the table with his fingers to emphasize a point certainly didn’t help dispel the impression.

None of this is to say, however, that this makes the 18-second video irrelevant. That video has Roxas telling Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez: “You have to understand. You are a Romualdez and the President is an Aquino. If it’s not legalized, then OK you are in charge and we’ll help you, then that’s it … (unintelligible) bahala na kayo sa buhay ’nyo.”

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Roxas complains this was spliced, his original being: “You have to understand we are talking very straight here. You are a Romualdez, the President is an Aquino. So we are very careful … in just taking over because we don’t (want) anything to be misconstrued….”

True, but none of this bolsters his cause. The 18-second video remains the heart of the matter.

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The problem isn’t just how Roxas put his case, it is his case itself. It is cavalier. No, more than that, it is scornful. What he wanted was for Romualdez to step down and put it in writing. None of the fine points he put on it in the course of the exchange alters that fact.

Roxas would justify it by saying it’s the normal procedure. There is a law that sanctions it. And it is not without precedent: Beng Climaco, mayor of Zamboanga, volunteered to surrender her mayoral functions to him during the MNLF siege.

I myself don’t know how true the last is, and until Climaco herself gives her version of things, I’ll take Roxas’ under advisement, his version of things having a way of differing with the people he likes to speak for. But even if that were true, it is one thing for a mayor to request it, it is another for a mayor to have it imposed on him. Quite apart from that, why should you want to set aside the very people who know their turf?

As most everyone who has weighed in on this these past days has pointed out, rather than Roxas’ demand having a precedent, it is the one that sets a precedent, and a most dangerous one. Henceforth, under conditions of calamity and strife, local officials must first agree to step down before the national government can come in. Or else bahala na sila sa buhay nila.

You insist on that and the most reasonable tone won’t make it reasonable. Of course

Romualdez is not blameless here; government is right to take him to task for failing to heed the dire warnings about Supertyphoon “Yolanda,” being near the shore when it struck, thereby giving a terrible example to his constituents. But to punish him for that one blunder, however egregious, one that other officials might easily have made? Which was how the meeting between him and Roxas looked: He was being punished for Yolanda.

Roxas could have put his proposal in the friendliest way, and his message would have still read: “I am in charge. You do what I say. You do only what I tell you to do. You agreed to it, here’s your signature below the dotted line.”

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I agree, the “bahala na kayo sa buhay ’nyo” has been taken out of context. Roxas was just using it idiomatically to mean, “If that’s what you want, then do as you please but don’t expect us to back you up.” But trust him to pick the worst possible idiom at the worst possible time, it’s a sensibility thing, he’s never been sensitive to language, let alone the feelings of other people. Amid the teeming dead, in the face of a starkly life-and-death situation, in conditions where you’ve become the lifeline of a devastated people, you have to say, “bahala na kayo sa buhay ’nyo?”

More to the point is his remark about the president being an Aquino and the mayor being a Romualdez. At the very least, I don’t know that P-Noy himself thinks that way, which does him a monumental disservice. In fact, I don’t know that Roxas himself thinks that way, he has never been ideological, he never took a stand against martial law or was even there at all. That he should discover ideological stripes when the person sitting across him is an electoral foe, ah, there’s the real reason, and there’s the rub. As Shakespeare said, the devil himself may quote Scripture to suit his purposes.

The excised “we are talking very straight here… we are very careful … in just taking over because we don’t (want) anything to be misconstrued” doesn’t make things better, it makes them worse. What, you are being careful by treading heavily on the toes of a shell-shocked local official? You don’t want anything to be misconstrued by making the ideological divide between the Aquinos and Romualdezes an issue in relief? To see how ridiculous that is, imagine Yolanda to have befallen Ilocos Norte and Roxas telling Imee Marcos: “We are talking straight here, the president is an Aquino and you are a Marcos. We are very careful in just taking over and don’t want to be misconstrued. So just step down and let us take over. And put that in writing please, never mind in triplicate.”

The wonder in all this is that Romualdez never retorted: “OK, let’s talk straight here. Please understand that I am an elected official and you are not. We have to be careful because you want to become the next president of the country and relief is precious fuel for that ambition. We don’t want anything to be misconstrued, so let’s be clear: You are not the president, you are not even the vice president, you ran as vice president and lost. So where do you get off acting as the President’s alter ego?

“Hell, where do you get off acting like the President?”

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TAGS: nation, news, Roxas-Romualdez word war, Yolanda
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