M. Roxas 2nd, politically: Dead man walking

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Manuel Roxas 2nd’s attempt to pressure the Iglesia ni Cristo to support him, by threatening, through “non-bailable” illegal detention cases, to put its entire leadership in jail, has not only obviously failed but also reaped dire consequences for him.

President Aquino’s anointed to succeed him in 2016 has not just made a mortal enemy out of the INC.  Roxas 2nd  has  also alienated the Yellow Horde and Catholics that wanted the sect humbled. He was a wimp of a leader in the fight with the INC, and in the end, buckled with his boss Aquino to the sect’s demands.

When the INC faithful in the provinces started to troop to EDSA last Monday, they panicked and surrendered to the INC’s demands. The only concession Aquino and Roxas got was to keep the future firing of justice department secretary Leila de Lima appear to be unrelated to the INC’s all-out campaign against her.

It is the height of naiveté to think that it was the INC that surrendered because of “netizens” outrage over the traffic jam its EDSA rally had caused, or that it was running out of steam.

An organization mostly of low to lower-middle working class Filipinos, the INC is hardly into cyberspace, with the “official website” of this 2-million strong organization just part of a blog. What INC understands are warm bodies, whether in its weekly services or on election days. In contrast, most “netizens” – an anti-authoritarian, we’re-global-citizens bunch – I suspect, don’t have voters’ IDs.

Last Monday morning, still unaware of the INC’s call to end their protest, the househelp of my relative living in Cavite was asking for permission to leave her work to go to EDSA, saying the INC leadership had issued a call to all its “lokals” to ask their members to join the EDSA rally.

Is this a picture of strength? Photo that Roxas released through his Twitter account on Aug. 30, with the caption, “In a meeting with the President to discuss the INC rally at EDSA.” The next morning, the INC declared its protest ended, that it had reached an agreement with the Palace. Some have noted how thin Aquino looks in the photo.
Does this look like they won? Photo that Roxas released through his Twitter account on Aug. 30, with the caption, “In a meeting with the President to discuss the INC rally at EDSA.” The next morning, the INC declared its protest ended, that it had reached an agreement with the Palace. Some have noted how thin Aquino looks in the photo.

Because of the INC’s ire at Roxas 2nd and Aquino for even thinking of jailing its leadership, next year would be its first time to not just endorse a national candidate, but also to work actively against one, and their targets certainly won’t be Vice President Jejomar Binay, Grace Poe, or even Rodrigo Duterte.

While a few commentators claim that the INC can command only 1.4 million votes – “but we’re 50 million Catholic voters,” one moron posted in his Facebook – the sect could, as it has done in the case of senatorial candidates it wanted to win, leverage its command votes.

It would tell, say, a candidate for the gubernatorial contest, that it would support him in exchange for his organization’s support for this presidential candidate. Or probably in the case of Roxas 2nd, it could simply propose an anyone-but-Roxas deal. The governor of course could renege on the agreement, but the INC would come back with a vengeance just three short years later.

Note that except for Senator Aquilino Pimentel 3rd, all of Aquino’s senators, political leaders, and Cabinet members (except his spokesman) avoided the press like the plague since the INC demonstrators started, fearing that they’d be quoted supporting Roxas and De Lima.

Nowhere to be found were the noisy Senator Antonio Trillanes 3rd, Senators Teofisto Guingona 3rd, the President’s nephew Bam Aquino, Sonny Angara – not even Senate President and Liberal Party pillar Franklin Drilon, nor House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte.

Not one dared say anything about the INC revolt, nor defend De Lima. For all their tuwid-na-daan, self-righteous statements, they of course loved more their political futures, and worried how these could be damaged by the INC’s command votes if they opened their mouths.

Aquino’s lieutenants were nowhere to be found in a very serious crisis situation that could have gotten out of hand and brought about a coup d’etat. Except for a single, short announcement by Roxas, no Cabinet member – not even MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino who could have talked about traffic, or Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin to ensure the stability of the state — dared appear before television or talk to reporters to express their support for the “rule of law.”

During President Gloria Arroyo’s term, the Palace would be a beehive of activity, as her supporters, especially the senators, would troop to the Palace in crisis situations to express their support for her. This happened during EDSA Tres and the Hyatt 10 power-grab attempts.

At the height of the Hyatt 10 power-grab try, Arroyo’s officials had a televised press conference that lasted the whole day, with all Cabinet secretaries and political leaders within her camp expressing support for the President in front of the TV cameras.

Deserted as a cemetery

In sharp contrast, the Palace since the start of the INC siege was as deserted as a cemetery.

I dare not use the metaphor of Aquino hiding under his bed since the INC started its siege, thinking of the libel suit his mother threw at journalism icon Louie Beltran. Still though, except for the “un-cancellable” state luncheon with the  Thai prime minister on August 28, Aquino was cooped in his residence during the entire episode and cancelled all other appointments. He emerged only for the Heroes Day rites, after the INC declared its protest actions ended.

The Liberal Party during the INC crisis wasn’t exactly the picture of a solid fighting organization for the 2016 elections. Congressman Edgar Erice, the Liberal Party’s vice president for political affairs and whom you would see on TV for practically every issue, was nowhere to be found.

Even Roxas seems to have vanished during the INC crisis, with the statements attributed to him merely written ones issued by his office or posted in his Facebook page, rather than actual media interviews.

With INC so angry at Roxas, I’m not sure if any of Aquino’s senatorial candidates would want to appear on stage with his presidential candidate or be photographed with him. I’m not sure if anybody of consequence would now want to be his vice presidential running mate.

Worse, Roxas in this episode miserably failed to portray himself as a strong, principled leader, as indeed he failed to do so in the Yolanda and Mamasapano episodes. If I were superstitious I would think:  INC is strike three for Roxas, and he’s out.

If he had dared to threaten the INC for their support, he should have gone for broke to confront it. For example, he could have appeared in press conferences with justice secretary de Lima to defend her.

He didn’t, and even appeared to have supported Aquino’s decision to buckle under the INC’s siege, and the Yellow Crowd and noisy Catholics who were practically ranting to have the entire INC arrested now feel betrayed.

With INC against him, with Aquino’s allies fearing the sect’s electoral clout tiptoeing away from him, and failing as a strong, principled leader in a political crisis, Roxas 2nd is politically, a dead man walking, a month before the race even officially starts.

Government lawyers for INC rebel

The two lawyers representing the INC rebel Isaiah Samson, who filed the illegal-detention cases against the church’s leadership, feel they have been left twisting in the wind, and wrote an angry letter protesting the “agreement” with the INC that ended its protest.

It is revealing though that the letter was addressed not to Aquino alone (or to Aquino and t justice secretary de Lima) but to Aquino and Roxas. Why would they address the letter to Roxas, if it wasn’t Roxas who asked them,  through an intermediary of course, to lawyer for Samson, or was the brains behind the operation against the INC? The lead lawyer Ms. Trixie Cruz -Angeles responded to my query on this to say that somebody whose identity she cannot disclose “referred” Samson to her.

Angeles and her colleague George Ahmed Paglinawan are lawyers of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts, which is under the Office of the President. Angeles has been the NCCA’s lawyer in all cases related to the celebrated Torre de Manila controversy. The developer DMCI Homes in July sued the NCCA for P20 million in damages for the cease-and-decease order it issued authored by Angeles.

Quite strangely, Paglinawan is the NCCA’s hearing officer for the Torre de Manila case. He even once warned the DMCI counsel: “What we do here is not a joke. If people defy us, then we must seek warrants of arrests against them.”

Angeles claims they are just on a contractual employment with the NCCA. However, even the employment of a “legal consultant” requires the approval by the Office of the Solicitor General and the Commission on Audit. I was told Ms. Angeles and Paglinawan have not secured such clearance from these agencies.

Angeles is also President and Publisher of a news site politiko.com.ph, which has posted items critical of Aquino but which, as far as I have monitored it, has published not a single article against Roxas.

Paglinawan was clearly upset over his boss Aquino’s agreement with the INC and wrote in his Facebook account: “There is simply neither legal nor political basis for the (agreement with INC). And that makes any ‘forced courtesy resignation’ (of De Lima) so busted for what it really is: “Tiklop na naman si Manoy.”

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