Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Mar Roxas won't be suitable as Executive Secretary

 Media is rife with speculation that losing vice-presidential candidate and former senator Mar Roxas would soon be appointed Executive Secretary in place of Paquito Ochoa. It has been confirmed by the President in an ambush interview recently that Roxas will be his “chief troubleshooter” in an administration that’s getting more memorable for its fiascos than anything else; lately, however, a major newspaper bannered that Mar would be the ES.

More suitable as Trade Secretary

I’ve been asked about this rumor a number of times, to which I reply that Mar would be better suited in his old job in the Macapagal Arroyo administration as Trade Secretary than as ES. While the brainy Mar would be an infinite improvement over the current bumbling Palace officials, I reasoned that the job of ES entails absorbing the blows for the President---a shock absorber no less--- and dealing with all manner of politicians incessantly out to bag concessions from the Palace. Mar wouldn’t be suitable in those roles because of perceptions about his elistist background that would never go away, no matter how he tried.

A good job

On the other hand, Mar did very well as Trade Secretary, nursing the budding IT and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry, so that it has now come to full bloom. But if he retains national ambitions, Mar could go after the Agriculture portfolio which is grassroots-based.

I recall that Monching Mitra told me long ago that he wanted to remain as DA Secretary in the Cory administration, as he knew what that job could do for his presidential ambition. But President Cory needed an old political pro to run the House of Representatives, and persuaded him to run in Palawan instead, with the assurance that he’ll get the Speakership. Mitra was a darned good Speaker, with the House passing a number of landmark legislations; but alas, fortune didn’t smile at him, but at an old soldier from West Point in the 1992 elections.

Wedding of the season

The wedding of the season has to be the union of Joey de Venecia III, son of former Speaker Jose de Venecia, and lady achiever Karen Viaplana Batungbacal, daughter of famed ophthalmologist Dr. Ramon Batungbacal at the NBC Tent in Fort Bonifacio Global last Friday evening. Joey III is remembered as the ZTE whistle-blower who came within a hair’s breath of the magic 12 in the recent senatorial elections. Few, however, know that Karen is the CEO of JP Morgan Chase in the Philippines. As her new father-in-law proudly pointed out at the reception, Joey failed to make it to the Senate, but in politics, it’s always addition and Karen has under her employ 12,000 people!

A star-studded wedding

The afternoon wedding ceremony held in the Tent gardens was studded with political friends of the groom’s father, including prominent leaders from overseas who served as the inter-faith sponsors, among them a Muslim, a Buddhist, and several Christians. The dinner inside the Tent drew politicians from various political hues and administrations, including two ex-Presidents, Joseph Estrada and Fidel Ramos, and VP Jejomar Binay, who chairs the PDP-Laban party of which Joey III is the Secretary-General.

It was totally in character with JDV that after the wedding ceremony he called the small political group that included Joey III, to remind them that he was calling a meeting of local and visiting VIPs after the reception. Joey protested, “Dad, it’s my wedding night.” Well, okay, retorted JDV, tomorrow morning then.

A tricycle party no more

At the reception I chatted briefly with former Sen. Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, Jr. who once headed the PDP-Laban, and Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, the current party president, and they confirmed what I had written here earlier---that the PDP-Laban is a tricycle party no more. Nene said his old party is growing by leaps and bounds under Binay’s chairmanship, stressing that the renewed interest among among the politicians is due to the fact that Binay is one heart-beat away and everyone is sure he will be a candidate in the next presidential elections. And don’t forget, said Nene, his eyes twinkling, that Jojo is “masang-masa” beginning with his color.

The Pimentels also stressed that P-Noy and Binay are getting along fine, and in fact, this columnist confirmed that “binitbit ni P-Noy si Binay” to the turnover ceremonies for new Navy Chief Alexander Pama.

As I said earlier, the President realizes that it’s better to have VP Binay as his friend and ally rather than as a protagonist.

Just one venue

By the way, it was such a good idea for the newly-wed De Venecia couple to have both the inter-faith wedding ceremony and the dinner in the same venue, as the guests didn’t have to cross town anymore just to attend one or the other function. That night the couple’s thoughtfulness averted what could have been terrible traffic in Makati, and the guests were so relaxed.

Upsetting the Iglesia ni Kristo

The grapevine is rife with talk about how President Noynoy ran into trouble with the powerful Iglesia ni Kristo some time back. It seems that the INK was quite upset that many of its members found themselves jobless with the mass lay-offs of GMA appointees. The new INK Supremo sent his No. 2 man to the Palace to find out how this could be remedied and a top Palace official telephoned P-Noy who was at that time in his car, to inform him about the presence of the No. 2 INK official and consult him on what to do.

But P-Noy reportedly told him he had to handle the matter himself, as he was busy with some other pressing matter. The story goes that the ranking INK official was quite displeased with the inattention; but the Supremo was even more furious and telegraphed his feelings to the Palace, which is now making the necessary amends. One of the recent INK appointees is former Secretary of Justice Artemio Tuquero in the Erap administration, who was named to the Judicial and Bar Council.

Did-you-know Department:

Former Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez of the Arroyo administration has recovered from his health problems and is busy putting together a book on his life and career. This promises to be most interesting as it will cover virtually the entire post-war period when Gonzalez, one of the legal luminaries of his time, began as a human rights lawyer and later, in the early days of the formation of the opposition to Marcos, became chief counsel of the UNIDO, headed by Salvador Laurel.

Gonzalez also ran under Laban, together with the likes of opposition stalwarts Ninoy Aquino and Ramon Mitra, in that memorable election of 1978, where the entire slate was wiped out by the KBL machinery, Incarcerated in Fort Bonifacio later, he was appointed Tanodbayan by Cory, and then ran for representative from Iloilo for several terms. As presiding officer at the House he was instrumental to a large extent in saving Chief Justice Hilario Davide from impeachment by the House.

In his forthcoming book Gonzalez promises to reveal many details hitherto unknown about burning issues through the years and prominent personalities.

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