By Toots Ople
I knew it was coming but was stunned just the same when I heard it.
Claiming my space in the crowded Gabaldon room of Club Filipino, I saw him enter the room, my former boss, Mar Roxas in blue, smiling and with a sparkle in his eyes. If he was in pain, he didn’t show it.
Butch Abad, campaign manager of Noynoy Aquino in 2007 and of Mar for 2010, opened the press conference. Liberal Party chairman emeritus Sen. Jovito Salonga was seated with Mar at the presidential table. The heat was rising as warm bodies jostled to get the best shot, or have the main speakers directly in their line of vision. Suspense was palpable.
Mar stood up and read a prepared statement. Short and sweet. Country above self, he said. Noynoy wanted to carry the torch. Even before his speech was over, the new LP presidential bet came in and joined the main figures at the presidential table. No Q & A. In a matter of minutes, the torch was passed, and Mar of those silly padyak ads became Mar the selfless leader who saved his party.
Sometimes I think our political system is so broken, that we only strive to listen when a politico publicly and uncharacteristically slices his beating heart open for all to see. Now that he has done so, perhaps more people will be more open to getting to know the real Mar, the one that even he tries to downplay with his immediate staff.
For three years, I worked for him as communications adviser/consultant and chief of staff. It was sometimes exasperating though many times edifying working for someone who insisted on his own favorite font, Sylfaen, and the institutionalization of “headers and footers.” We would sometimes go back and forth, working on a particular speech, with me ending up exhausted trying to take all of his ideas and historical perspectives in. Sometimes, I felt like I was drowning. But then there was that other side of Mar. The kind who would buy an entire batch of ice cream from a sorbetero just so the man could go home early rather than stand for hours under a scorching sun; or who would stop a presentation of a government functionary to inquire about the department’s budget for toner – the logic being if the presentor had used a plain background for his slides then the printed copies would require less toner, but since he didn’t then maybe the department had too much money for toner. He was funny and unpredictable, in that way.
I remember during my early days on the job, he told me – perhaps to warn me — that he was not the nurturing type. He doesn’t have the patience to “mentor” people, he said.
Yet for the three years that I worked for him, I learned how business principles can actually be applied to politics and governance to make the system work. I learned how attention to detail is key to a successful preparation towards memorable and meaningful events. I learned how education matters whether it be for the rich or poor, because the rich also requires an education that can only be derived from having the humility to bow down and listen.
Last night, when I was claiming my space at the crowded Gabaldon room at Club Filipino, I turned to my left and saw Thea, Mar’s close-in aid since Congress, trying her best to hold back the tears. She failed, miserably. In front of me were Mar’s cousins, nieces and nephews, watching him from across the room, sad yet as always, united in their love and respect for Mar. I heard Melchor, one of Mar’s political officers, shout from the back, “Oras na! Roxas Na!” and saw Chito Gascon of the Liberal Party and Mar’s political campaign director, doing the same.
After the press conference, I was told by my friend, Rose Romero, that Mar’s staff and supporters will proceed to the Cubao campaign HQ otherwise known as Balay ni Mar. Famished, Fort, Danton Remoto, John Laylo and myself opted to grab a quick bite at nearby Gloria Maris before proceeding to Cubao. Throughout the meal, we kept going over the events that could have led to the announcement. I shook my head, knowing how excruciating this decision was for such a competitive person like Mar.
At the Balay, Mar was his usual gracious and outgoing self. He gave comforting hugs to those who were there, quite a few who have several questions to ask but opted to hold back and wait for more decisions to be made. Photos were taken, a banner was pulled out by the members of the communications team, Tita Judy Roxas, Ria and Gus were there together with Korina, entertaining the guests and just talking about what transpired that fateful night. It felt more like a family gathering than a political get-together of allies and friends.
I left the campaign HQ thinking to myself how wrong Mar was. The tears of his staff proved that he nurtured and taught them well. The inexplicable sadness – a certain mourning for what could have been — the collective inability to articulate with more gravitas what has transpired, is a manifestation of shock, that such selflessness could come so early in this political run-up from a man who could have easily stood his ground as party president and chief fundraiser.
Mar was wrong. He is the nurturing type. He had a dream but chose to nurture a party, and with it the vision, ambition and dream of another man. History alone will say if Mar’s sacrifice would yield the best dividends for the country. At the very least, the public got to see a different side of Mar, the giving side that one equates with principles rather than price tags. Now is a good time to cultivate, nurture and explore that other dimension of a Mar Roxas leadership, and not because he needs anyone’s vote, but simply because he is what he is.
For now, I wish my former boss and good friend, Mar Roxas, the best that life has to offer — a Sudoku session in the quiet of his living room, perhaps a new dog like his old friend Barney, more time for golf, and of course, a lifetime of happiness with Korina.
Politics? In the afterglow, perhaps. But if he doesn’t? Life goes on, leaving us with even lesser choices.