Column: The ‘bully’ in Mar Roxas

Published October 2, 2007

I took part in a rousing three-hour forum on media ethics at De La Salle Lipa last week; there were so many questions we didn’t have time to answer them all. I had described a journalist’s fundamental moral obligation as one of fidelity — to the situation (or the news event), to the “language” of journalism (the craft), ultimately to the journalist’s conscience. One question, in particular, stood out, not least because it conflated all three dimensions.

A discussion on the sensational coverage of the seven-year-old girl found dead and stuffed in a suitcase reflected the dilemma that I said many journalists experience when they handle rape stories or stories about minors. Inevitably I made a reference to the “Nicole” case, where the name of the victim was protected. This led one student by the name of Kristine to ask: Why name minors who are rape victims just because they are dead?

* * *

“Sometimes my passion is mistaken for anger.”

Sen. Richard Gordon is still smarting from the flak he has received over his run-in with Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano during last Wednesday’s Senate hearing and his questioning of (just resigned) Commission on Elections Chair Benjamin Abalos.

The continuing argument with Cayetano, the blue ribbon committee chair, still riles him, he said, because it involves Sec. Romulo Neri’s unwarranted claim of executive privilege — and the distinct possibility that Neri would decline to make a second appearance at the Senate. “They let him get away … The chair should have decided. The chairman let him get away with it.”

Gordon was the committee chair who detained Camilo Sabio, chief of the President Commission on Good Government, last year for refusing to testify before the Senate. Sabio sued, but the Supreme Court sustained Gordon and the Senate.

“The guy doesn’t even know his rules,” Gordon said, and of course he was talking about Cayetano, not Sabio. As for his grilling of Abalos, Neri’s alleged briber, he repeated what, in my view, is a question with unimpeachable logic: “Obviously the poisoned fruit has been distributed. Doesn’t it stand to reason [that] others have also been offered [a bite]?”

* * *

Eminent economist Partha Dasgupta of the University of Cambridge is giving a lecture at the Asian Development Bank tomorrow, as part of the ADB’s Distinguished Speakers series. He has, for the last decade or so, advanced the view that neither gross domestic product nor the Human Development Index provides an accurate measure of sustainable development. Interesting stuff, but I’m no economist; I am more interested in his work (almost an avocation) on the theory of voting — and how it may apply to our continuing struggle, with or without Abalos, to truly reflect the people’s will.

* * *

At a dinner with bankers the other night, the way the senators conducted themselves during the hearings was quite naturally the recurring topic of conversation. Sen. Loren Legarda was singled out for praise, for asking solid, resonant questions without fanfare. Co-chair Sen. Mar Roxas was also cited, for his obvious facility with numbers and concepts.

I must confess, though, to a certain tentativeness about Roxas’ performance. Yes, he certainly seems to have done his homework. Of all the senators present (the blue ribbon committee alone has 17 members), he alone seems to have the consistent benefit of that old Ramos mantra, “complete staff work.” (How complete? Here’s an alternative gauge: Just about an hour after he tangled with Assistant Secretary Lorenzo Formoso on the government’s estimate of the savings it would generate from the ZTE deal, his news release, complete with his quotes, was already in my email inbox — and in dozens of other journalists’ inboxes too. The time stamp was 6:59 p.m.)

With his investment banking background, Roxas also knows enough to debate, not only economic policy, but the theoretical framework or philosophical assumption informing a given policy. Witness the altercation with Neri on whether financials should be included in the project evaluation. When was the last time a senator brought Modigliani (the economist Franco, Google tells us, not the artist Amedeo) into a legislative discussion?

* * *

But it is precisely those bullying altercations with Formoso (“This answer offends me, because it is designed to obscure reality”) and Neri (“Wow, that is a stunning admission”) that give me pause.

Like many others watching the hearings, I shared Roxas’ frustration with the witnesses’ often unsatisfactory answers. But Formoso and Neri weren’t the only ones being evasive. Formoso’s boss, Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza, was a study in ambiguity. Abalos, true to form, was slickness personified. Where was Roxas’ indignation then?

Indeed, after Roxas wiped Formoso off the Senate floor, he faced Mendoza and said: “And now I turn to Secretary Mendoza, whom I always greet with a smile, since we were together in the Cabinet” (or words to that noxious effect).

I am reminded of Dean Raul Pangalangan’s column the other week, in which he spoke of a “class divide” in the treatment of witnesses. We believe the Clarissa Ocampos, not the Ador Mawanays. With his treatment of Mendoza and Abalos (both true sources of power in the current administration), Roxas has shown us that there is a power divide too. And we lash out only at those without.

* * *

The Christian Family Movement ( is holding its 29th national convention at the Eco-Tech Center in Lahug, Cebu City from October 26 to 28. A formation seminar precedes the convention. It includes, tellingly, a session on “Understanding Psychological Incapacity,” that marriage voider. Ah, a true sign of the times.


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One response to “Column: The ‘bully’ in Mar Roxas

  1. Pingback: Column: Roxas’ path to victory | John Nery | Newsstand

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