Volume XVII No. 44 (August 23, 2014)

I have a complaint to make.

When Sec. Mar Roxas  made public   his own intentions   of extending P-Noy’s term, Malacanang appeared to be patting him on the back.  But in my case, when I prayed in a cabinet meeting during GMA’s time playfully hinting on term extension, I got ” burned” in the process. Why oh why? Perhaps, someone can help me explain. (ha ha ha!)

IT’S A PLOY –— Yes, presidents who are nearing the end of their  terms always have this issue of term extension on their plates. It is a usual ploy resorted to by out-going presidents so that everyone will still have to  reckon with them   to avoid the inevitability of being viewed early  as a “lameduck”. That way, they can still have everyone guessing and watching their every move, rather than be ignored up to the end. So what else is new?

PLAYING GAMES   — My sense is that Malacanang is playing games with us and we   the public are hyping it up like suckers. Sec. Mar’s claim that he had not previously  cleared his tongue-in-cheek announcement with P-noy is taking the gullible public for a ride. And  media lapped it up and  never had it so good. Of course, we cannot blame some  doomsayers for their paranoa about  dictatorships.   My advice to all: Let’s all just relax.  And enjoy the ride while it lasts.

BRINKSMANSHIP — C’mon guys, let’s all get real!  We all know that  P-noy, even if he really and badly   wants to, cannot hack it and get a term extension for himself.    What Malacanang is doing today is nothing but a game of  “brinksmanship” — going as far as possible to the brink.  The problem comes when it gets too far and  one falls off the cliff.  So…be extra careful, Mr. President.

DURING  FVR  TIME —  I remember towards the last years of FVR’s  presidency I saw how some FVR boys, seemingly appearing to be on their own and second guessing their boss, were   pushing  for charter change.  Only to abandon the idea towards the end.  Some  “got burned” in the process.  But FVR managed to remain above the fray.

DURING GMA TIME — During my work with GMA, the scenario was a bit different.   When I was press secretary, GMA was herself showing discomfort even at suggestions or speculations that she wanted to stay beyond her constitutional term.   I could tell up close that she was anxiously  counting her remaining days and wished to get it over with, although there were the usual sycophants who wished otherwise. And , I too got “burned” for just jokingly suggesting, in one fateful Cabinet meeting prayer that I led, that she could well serve until 2010 and “perhaps beyond”. Boy, that was unforgettable. I’ve told this story before but let me reminisce again for those who missed it.

CABINET PRAYER — Here goes. Every Tuesday meeting, cabinet  secretaries took turns in leading the prayer.  Malacanang press, especially the photogs were allowed to shoot only and take photo ops but would have to leave when the meeting got underway  as discussions  were “off the press “.  It was my turn that Tuesday and my daughter and Head Executive Assistant , Ning  had a well written prepared prayer text for me to read.  At the strike of 10 a.m., all cabinet secretaries,  including the President  were already on their feet with bowed heads and eyes closed ready for my prayer. For one reason or another, I  could not find the text from my folder. I was  frantic  coz I had not   done, ever,  impromptu prayers before,   unlike many I know who had memorized by heart  the usual incantations. So, I had to improvise on the spot. I  went by instinct  uttering light- hearted   words   as they spontanenously came. I started off by asking God to forgive my forgetfulness in losing my copy , ” perhaps this can be due to my age”; then I recall saying some words of welcome for the assumption of “ageing” Senate President Johnny Enrile, that he was already so old for that position and if God could help him out, or words to that effect. Then I asked for God’s blessings for  birthday celebrant Sec. Art Yap but wished and prayed that he would serve “lechon baka” over lunch ( a relief from the usual meager sandwiches during cabinet meetings). I went  on like this  and I was  already noticing  some of my colleagues like Sec. Bebot Bello raising  their bowed heads and trying to suppress laughter.   Finally, I came to the end part. And this was where I got into trouble. I recall  fervently saying: ” And finally Lord, we pray that our President be given the good health, wisdom and fortitude to serve this country until 2010″  (Ahem, I paused…) then  I remember adding naughtily.. “and perhaps  beyond” (and seeing GMA already negatively  reacting) , I hurriedly added my planned  final punch line: ” in her private and personal capacity”, although this was less audible due to the chatter of reactions.  But hell hath broken loose by then. The cameras were whirling and clicking and recording for posterity something that was later called as a clear  admission by no less the president’s own alter-ego and spokesman, that  “aha” there were indeed plans of serving “beyond 2010”.  Of course, that took national center stage  because at that precise time,  we in Malacanang were  trying hard to deny or downplay speculations that GMA had sinister plans of staying in office for another term by amending the Constitution.  The cabinet was abuzz and amused. But not GMA.  Instinctively,   she  told me to go  talk to the camera men and ask  them to keep the whole episode “off the record” and not air their film clips.  Of course, I knew this was a valuable scoop and no mediaman  would agree.

NO INTENTIONS — Sure enough, within less than an hour, the airlanes were choking with the news. Some blared: THE CAT IS OUT OF THE BAG ;  PALACE CAUGHT RED-HANDED; PRESIDENT’S MAN ADMITS CHA-CHA PLANS, etc.. Still trying to downplay and explain my seeming  “paux pas” and somehow to  assuage an angry “Boss” , I invited the President to listen to a re-play of the video where I could be heard saying in the end, although less audible due to the chatter of reactions, the phrase   “in her private or personal capacity” which would preclude intentions of my imploring divine intervention for her staying beyond her official term. No matter the explanation however,  that did me in. Worse, when I listened to the  news that same evening  in my house while licking my wounds, some TV channels either did not run the whole tape or had spliced my ending punch line that would have  lightened my misery. Nonetheless. The president was so angry that she did not speak to me for sometime.  I remember one well – meaning colleague in the cabinet asking me later    about talks that I would resign. I felt though that dismounting at the height of the controversy would hurt the presidency more.

COUNTING MY  DAYS —  Truth to tell, from the time that prayer was said, I was myself starting to  count  my own days in Malacanang. I abandoned my natural self of being self- confident, loose, informal,  at times irreverent. I was already cautious.  The presidency  had so much troubles to attend to at that time  and here I was, whose job was to precisely help protect,  explain and cushion things,   unnecessarily  starting another  bush fire, at the expense of the presidency. That was in November 2008. Three months later,  in  February 2009, I voluntarily resigned,   although primarily because of my wife Beth’s  developing health issues at that time. Again, the rest is history! (

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