THE BEST MAN FOR THE JOB (An Open Letter for Sec. Mar)

Dear Sir,

For months now, I have been struggling.

There are times when I think my brain would explode into tiny, unrecognizable pieces. There are moments when I want to smash my head against the nearest wall. There are instances when I long to shout at the top of my lungs. There are occasions when I feel like tearing my hair out. And, then, there are those split seconds when I am itching to throw in the towel.

But, I am an intelligent and responsible voter. And what most intelligent and responsible voters do is to study the choices laid before them.

So, that’s what I did.

Rodrigo Duterte is the country’s real-life Punisher. Tough-talking and foul-mouthed, he is able to endear himself with the disillusioned majority of Filipinos with his promise of getting rid of criminality within the first six months of his presidency.

Jejomar Binay is a leech in a vice-presidential suit. If King Midas has the unusual ability to turn everything he touches into gold, Binay has the uncanny talent to bleed dry any office he handles.

Grace Poe is the ambitious political newbie who once renounced her Filipino citizenship to fully embrace the country that coddled her and her family. Also, her campaign is said to be heavily funded by Danding Cojuangco.

Miriam Defensor Santiago is the feisty senator who has earned for herself the moniker The Iron Lady of Asia. Despite her choice of a running mate, some people consider her the best among the presidential aspirants for her meritorious academic, professional and moral background.  I would have seriously considered supporting her bid, too, if she were not battling Stage IV Lung Cancer. But as it is, she was stuttering and trembling and could hardly stand during the last presidential debate — this, despite her earlier pronouncement that she has already beaten cancer.

That leaves me with only one choice. You.


All the criticisms hurled at you by your critics, political opponents and their respective supporters are anchored on only three major issues:  (1) You come from old money, (2) Your supposed incompetence and lack of compassion for the downtrodden, and (3) You happen to be part of the present administration’s Daang Matuwid platform.

Allow me, Sir, to dissect the said issues — carefully, thoroughly, one at a time.

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True, you are a scion of the rich, prominent and powerful Roxas and Araneta clans. True, you went to the most exclusive schools, even earning your Economics degree at the prestigious Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, one of the top business schools in the world. True, you were the 4th richest member of President Aquino’s cabinet in 2014. And, it is also true that based on your SALN, you have the highest net worth among the five presidential candidates today.

But the circumstance of your birth cannot be helped. You were born rich and there’s nothing wrong with that. Neither is there something to be ashamed of about that.

When Mel Tiangco asked you in an interview, “Bakit gusto nyo pang maging presidente? You have everything.” Your response, “While I may have everything, my countrymen do not.”, could have easily been misconstrued as a line akin to what our traditional politicians deliver to elicit a favorable reaction from the electorate. But coming from you, that statement, laced with so much sincerity and conviction, was some sort of an affirmation – a vow even – that you made to yourself when you entered politics. You wanted to serve your fellow Filipinos while protecting the legacy of a good name and good governance that your father and grandfather left behind.

Over the years of your public service, you managed to prove that, instead of having your privileged upbringing as a hindrance, you used it as your motivation and inspiration in helping and reaching out to the less privileged.

Among your most notable pro-poor initiatives are the Cheaper Medicines Act (RA 9502) that reduces the maximum retail price of 22 essential medicines by up to 50%, the Tanggal Buwis Law (RA 9504) which exempts minimum wage earners from paying income taxes, the Amended RA 9994 that provides senior citizens with free maintenance medicines for diabetes & high blood, and the Salintubig Program through which water supply systems were provided to 445 municipalities all over the country.

There are many other moneyed politicians like you, Sir. But, unlike them, you did not use your position to protect your or your family’s interests. In all your 23 years in public service, your name has remained untainted by any allegation of corruption. So if I am to choose between a candidate who was born into poverty but is now faced with numerous corruption allegations AND a candidate who was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth but has maintained his integrity while trying to break down the barrier between him and the people he serves — I will choose the latter. Hands down.


Philippines is now the Call Center capital of the world. The country’s BPO industry is on track to meet its goal of 1.3 million jobs and $25 billion in revenues (8% of GDP) by the end of this year. The industry boom in the early 2000s is heavily credited to your initiatives during your tenure as the DTI secretary, earning you the title “Father of the Call Center Industry in the Philippines”.

You were also dubbed Mr. Palengke because of your various palengke-based programs that promoted consumer welfare and protection.

You know the issues that every ordinary Juan and Juana face on a daily basis, and you endeavour to address them. For education, you authored the Fair Education Act; for peace and order, you implemented the anti-crime strategy Oplan Lambat Sibat, you accomplished Isang Baril Bawat Isang Pulis, you launched the Project SAFE KAm in crime-prone areas in the NCR, and you modernized the Bureau of Fire Protection; for livelihood and economy, you promoted the development of SMEs through SULONG and the Magna Carta for Small Businesses, you established a Public Employment Service Office (PESO) in all municipalities, you protected the Filipino international seafarers by placing all the local maritime institutions under MARINA, and you spearheaded the creation of the Air Passenger Bill of Rights; and for local government empowerment, you enforced Bottom Up Budgeting (BUB) that provides budget for LGU-determined programs.

When the country was besieged by three tragedies in three consecutive months in 2013 — the Zamboanga armed conflict in September, the 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Cebu and Bohol in October, and the Supertyphoon Yolanda in Samar and Leyte in December —, you were always in the thick of things, serving as the government’s link to the victims. You were heavily criticized for your “slow” responses by people who were not even there. But, unaffected, you persisted in meeting the immediate needs of the victims.

You received the vindication you badly needed when no less than the United Nations lauded the government “for working closely with the international community to coordinate support and to avoid duplication of efforts” in the wake of Super Typhoon Haiyan, the world’s most powerful storm to ever make landfall.


PNoy may have committed some mistakes, he may have made some wrong decisions, and he may have occasional lapses in judgement (which I’m sure he’d be made answerable for once he steps down from office), but I believe that the President is squeaky clean and is genuinely concerned for the country. That should account for something.

Filipinos should also learn to give credit when and where credit is due.

Under PNoy’s administration and amid global uncertainties, the country continues to enjoy a robust economic growth. (For more information on this, click here.) The number of 4Ps recipients have ballooned from .79 million in 2010 to 4.39 million as of mid-2015, Philhealth coverage is now at 90% (with full coverage for all senior citizens), we have much improved revenue collections (thanks to Commissioner Henares!), and for the first time in history, a Supreme Court Chief Justice was impeached, a former President and three sitting Senators were put behind bars (in a manner of speaking) and a host of other big names investigated due to PDAF-related charges. (For a complete list of PDAF scam defendants, click here.)

Your running mate, Leni Robredo, said it best. “Hindi po perpekto ang ating gobyerno pero hindi po natin maikakaila na ang buhay po natin ngayon, labis na mas mabuti na kumpara noong anim na taong nakalipas.” On Daang Matuwid, she had this to say, “Ang mga pagkukulang ay pupunuan, ang mga pagkakamali ay isasaayos.

Finally, Sir, I think that it would benefit our fellow Filipinos if they understand that it takes more than six years (a far cry from Mayor Duterte’s six months!) to completely rid the country of most of its ills. The important thing is that the foundation is already laid; the momentum is on our side. Rocking it will definitely have an adverse effect on our otherwise smooth-sailing development.

Also, not every change is good. Not every change promotes progress. Not every change brings out the best in us.

What we really need at this point is someone who would safeguard and nurture the country’s hard-earned gains. What we really need is continuity.

Be warned, though, Sir.

When you win, we will remain vigilant. We will watch your every move. We will be here to give you a pat on your back for a job well done, or a slap in the back of your head for every foolish act. So, don’t be an asshole, Sir, okay?

Huwag kang lilihis mula sa Daang Matuwid.


Respectfully yours,

Lorelei B. Aquino (Mom On A Mission)


November 08, 2013. Friday. It was my oldest child’s 18th birthday. We were all home because classes were suspended. But instead of being in a celebratory mood, my family’s attention was glued to the harrowing scenes and images flashed on our TV screen.

Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan), the most powerful storm to make landfall in recorded history, was ravaging most of the Visayan regions.

Sufficiently forewarned, the government had been preparing and making the necessary arrangements as early as three days prior to the landfall. But no amount of careful and meticulous planning could have spared us from the onslaught and fury of the mighty typhoon. With maximum sustained winds of 315 kph and gustiness of up to 380 kph, it ruthlessly devastated everything in its path.

The national government couldn’t penetrate the affected areas right away. (Many areas remained isolated, and communications, power, road and port systems were down.) The Local Government Units (LGUs) were reeling from and temporarily crippled by the magnitude of the devastation. The survivors who lost the people they loved or their homes or their source of livelihood were walking around in confusion. Chaos, desolation, grief and hopelessness reigned.

When the weather condition slightly improved and permitted the entry of the authorities to assess the extent of the damage, everyone was shocked by the staggering figures.

An immense loss of lives and a trail of massive destruction were left in Yolanda’s wake. 9 regions, 44 provinces and more than 12,000 barangays were devastated. 6,300 lives perished, 1,062 gone missing and 28,688 injured. 1.1M houses were damaged, leaving 4.1M people displaced. 3.4M families or 16M individuals were adversely affected. ₱95B worth of damages was recorded. 

What was left of Tacloban City after the onslaught of ST Yolanda. Image owned by
          What was left of Tacloban City after the onslaught of ST Yolanda. Image owned by

The days that followed witnessed the overwhelming support of the international community as pledges, aids and donations poured in from all over the world. Humanitarian contingents from various countries also kept on coming. Both the public and private sectors, local and foreign, joined hands in reaching out to the victims. Random acts of bravery and generosity by faceless and nameless heroes and philanthropists were often heard of.

For a time, people saw a world without borders. Race, color and language were virtually nonexistent. Realizing that something like that could happen to any nation, everyone was doing his share to help. Faith in humanity was restored.

But, all too soon, greed and politics reared their ugly heads.

Organized looting, wanton ransacking of malls, stores, ATMs and gasoline stations, and even attacking of warehouses and trucks loaded with relief goods were documented. Some people saw the tragedy as an opportunity to make easy money by overpricing, hoarding or selling of relief goods. Some politicians saw it as a chance to pocket relief money and practice grandstanding and politicking. There were relief goods and financial assistance that did not reach the victims on time. Some undistributed goods were even reported to have been left in warehouses to rot.

Again, we got the attention of the international community. But, this time, for the wrong reasons.

Now, 2 years after that fateful day, I got the chance to coordinate with someone who experienced Yolanda and was able to survive to tell her tale.

Lynz de Mesa Ecap was 16 years old when Typhoon Yolanda happened. She was from Brgy. Nula-tula, one of the most devastated barangays in Tacloban City. She narrated how she and her family survived the heavy rains, strong winds, 15-foot storm surges and massive floods at the height of the onslaught of the typhoon. She recounted how, when the storm finally cleared, the sight of the countless lifeless bodies strewn along the roads, of the several sea vessels washed ashore and of the houses totally demolished by Yolanda, and the cries of agony from their neighbors broke her heart. She described how, when nightfall would come, she would shudder in fear because of the eerie howling of dogs, the rumors of an impending tsunami, and the stories of the NPA guerillas raiding the city and of the criminals who bolted from the city jail wreaking havoc in the already ravaged communities. She detailed how being thirsty, hungry, cold, homeless and clueless on whether help would come could force someone to do things to survive. She also shared the lessons she learned and the blessings she received during her Yolanda experience. (Click here for her story.)

Up to now, her family and most of their neighbors are still living in temporary shelters like tents and bunk houses. Financial assistance comes few, meager and far between (There are even cases when the money they actually receive is not the same as the amount indicated on the papers that the social workers make them sign.). Lynz’ family gets by largely through the help of friends and relatives and of some local non-government and international government organizations.

From an outsider’s point of view, I dare say that our government has failed immensely in addressing the issues that continue to plague its rehabilitation and recovery efforts in the Yolanda-stricken areas.

Of the ₱150B required for rehabilitation, only ₱93.87B has been released. (This despite the enormous amounts of money we received from 70 foreign governments and various multilateral organizations.) Thousands of the survivors are still living in cramped temporary shelters. Of the 205,128 houses that the government is planning to build by 2017, only 17,641 have been actually built as of press time. Many areas are yet to have access to electricity and water. 

According to Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, who served as the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery until he stepped down last February, the government implementation of the recovery plan for the Yolanda victims is “slow”, and that the cause of the delay is the release of the budget. He also added that some government agencies are not doing their jobs.

Philippine Red Cross Chairman Richard “Dick” Gordon basically said the same thing. He noted that programs are not being implemented by the Yolanda rehabilitation agencies and that the coordination among these agencies is “weak”.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte, in defense of Malacañang, said that “policies on procurement and land acquisition along with required permits and clearances before certain projects could be started, were hampering government efforts to build permanent relocation sites faster”.

So, what is Valte trying to say? Should the Yolanda survivors have to suffer longer because the government efforts have been reduced to a slow crawl under the heavy burden of a cumbersome bureaucracy?  I hope not. As it is, people are already demanding for a full accounting and disclosure of the status of the government’s relief and rehabilitation programs for the Yolanda victims. I, personally, would like to see the comprehensive list of all the donations received by the government. I need to know if every peso went to the intended beneficiaries.

Photo credit to
                                                           Photo credit to

Finally, now that the 2016 election is just around the corner, I fervently hope that political campaigning would not take precedence over the welfare and well-being of the Yolanda victims; that squabbles and bickering between and among government officials would stop to give way to faster and more effective solutions to the more pressing problems in the Visayas. I also hope that an urgent and clamorous call for more ambitious and aggressive action to address the issue of global warming would be made. Most importantly, I pray that people would not forget that all Typhoon Yolanda left us is not just destruction and havoc. It also taught us valuable lessons and values, such as faith in God and in humanity, the power of unity (bayanihan), and the Filipinos’ innate strength, determination and resilience that will see us through the many other storms that will come our way.

Sources: NDRRMC / Office of Civil Defense, DND; DBM’s website, Foreign Aid Transparency Hub (FAiTH),, Prospero Pulma Jr., Lynz de Mesa Ecap