By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Of all presidential candidates this 2016 elections, Mar Roxas (Manuel Araneta Roxas II) is the most and the longest minted from a traditional landlord-political clan. His late grandfather whose name he shares was the first president of the ‘independent’ Philippine Republic; his late father was former Senator Gerardo Roxas; his late brother was former congressman of Capiz. His mother, as described by a US ambassador, is a “socialite-philanthropist” Judy Araneta-Roxas. Compared to other presidential candidates, he alone boasts such an elite pedigree.
Mar Roxas is a scion of the landed Roxas-Araneta clan, which a farmers’ group UMA has described as “a professed backer of sugar barons in Negros island, and actively involved in land grabbing activities in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan and in Mascap, Rodriguez, Rizal.”
Roxas himself is wealthy, with interests not just in his family’s vast tracks of land and estates, but also in at least seven mining companies.
Educated in Ateneo from elementary to high school, he went on to finish an economics undergraduate degree in no less than one of the most prestigious schools funded by the rich in US, the Wharton School of Business in Pennsylvania. Its graduates, according to Fortune magazine, are some of the highest paid in the world.
He did not take his MBA in that school, contrary to what he told the likes of former US Ambassador Kristie Kenney in a dialogue eight years ago. At the time, Roxas said he felt that 2010 was his one chance at the presidency.
He knew even then that the key to winning the elections was “convincing the lower classes that the person running had their interests at heart.” But that has been a problem for him.
“Roxas confided to the (US) Ambassador that he was not sure how he personally would tackle that problem, given that his Wharton MBA and ten years on Wall Street as an investment banker did not “exactly call to the common man,” read a confidential report from the US Embassy in October 2008. And, as he told US Ambassador (Kenney), he had trouble getting media coverage, and television ads were going to be expensive.
In 2009, he deferred his “one chance at the presidency” for Aquino, who won in the country’s first ever automated polls, which IT experts questioned for having disabled much of the mandated transparency and safety safeguards. Aquino took Roxas in his cabinet, where everyone agreed he continued preparing, this time, for the 2016 elections.
And now that 2016 elections is here, he does not appear to have trouble anymore in getting media coverage and television ads. But, is he convincing enough to the lower classes?
So far, he has consistently trailed behind three of his four rivals in surveys. He is optimistic though, about the capacity of the ruling Liberal Party’s machinery to deliver and make him “flavor of the month” come election day. They have unleashed Kris Aquino’s entertainment factor, amid viral news that their sortie organizers were handing out envelopes if they cheered for the MarLeni tandem.
Consistent service for big business
A former investment banker at Wall Street, Mar Roxas’ record since he entered government centers on making conditions conducive for big business, trade and investments.
In the beginning, Mar Roxas spoke a few times for progressive positions. For example, Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo said they supported him in the 2001 elections because, “During the Doha WTO negotiations, he took a relatively progressive stand and sided with developing countries.”
But a decade after that, “The goodwill he gained by his position in Doha was negated by his sponsorship of the (one-sided, anti-Filipino) Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA),” Ocampo wrote in 2011.
JPEPA allows Japan to export toxic waste products and hazardous materials to the Philippines. It also makes it easier for Japan products and materials, such as those used in its assembly plants here, to enter and leave the country.
As Congressman (1st District of Capiz City), Roxas authored R.A. 8756, amending the Omnibus Act of 1987. It sets the terms for multinational companies opening regional or area headquarters or warehouses in the Philippines. At the same time it provides for tax exemptions and duty-free importation for such multinational companies.
Based on his record, Roxas has consistently worked for the interests of big business at the expense of the lower classes and working poor, before and during his stint under the so-called ‘daang matuwid’ (righteous path).
Wooing the the lower classes?
Roxas drumbeats his achievements at job-generation but at a high cost to those it employed. As secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry, he brought the biggest global industry players in BPO to the country and with the IT-Business Process Outsourcing Association of the Philippines (IT BPAP), started enforcing the ‘self-regulating’ policy in the BPO industry. “Through this, most policies being implemented by BPO companies including call centers are either left unchecked by state agencies or are not being regulated by the Department of Labor and Employment,” said Ian Porquia, chairperson of BPO Industry Employees Network (BIEN).
“If Mar Roxas has a legacy in the BPO sector, it is in opening the doors to further exploitation and abuses of BPO workers,” Porquia of BIEN Philippines said.
Roxas is leery of admitting that the government has employer-employee relations with contractual or project-hired employees, despite Supreme Court decisions to the contrary. Saying that admitting the employer-employee relations has “geometric consequences,” he purposefully refused to appropriate a budget for the separation pay of illegally dismissed LRT workers, even if the same has already been approved in 2004. A Supreme Court decision showed that the government was actually the employer and not the labor-only contracting agency.
With Mar Roxas in a position of power, farmers in land disputes with the Araneta clan have also reportedly suffered. Eriberto Peña of the Tungkong Mangga Upland Farmers Association, Inc. (TMUFAI) said the Araneta clan is grabbing more than 1,000 hectares of agricultural land in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan.
“There is obvious connivance between Roxas’ relatives and the DAR,” said Antonio Flores, KMP secretary general, when the 311 hectares of land the DAR agreed to be covered by CARP in 1998 was allowed to be converted as desired by the Aranetas since 2010.
In Pangarap Village, Caloocan, violence broke out in a residents’ barricade in defense of their land as it was being taken over by the Aranetas. It has been an on-and-off battle with the Aranetas, they said, but in late 2010, the Aranetas renewed and intensified their efforts to blot out the residents of Pangarap village. It coincided with news about the $1.12 billion contract for the engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning of the MRT Line 7 project. Residents say it would benefit Araneta’s interest in building a financial, commercial and industrial zone in Pangarap Village.
As to helping consumers, neither can Mar Roxas truthfully claim he “fathered” the Cheaper Medicines Act, because he had “castrated��� the law, according to Rolex Sulpico who authored and filed the house version of the bill (now known as RA 9502 or Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicine Act of 2008) when he was still a representative for the 13th Congress.
“The senator only filed Senate Bill 101 in the 14th Congress seeking parallel drug import, which would have benefitted more the multinational companies,” Sulpico and then Iloilo Rep. Ferjenel Biron who debated with him said. http://www.thedailypedia.com/2015/10/teddy-locsin-mar-roxas-cheaper-medicine-act/
In fact, Wikileaks-disclosed cables of meetings between then Sen. Mar Roxas and Assistant US Trade Representative (for SE Asia and the Pacific) Barbara Weisel showing that Roxas was working with the US government in crafting the final version of the Cheaper Medicines Act. http://thedailyguardian.net/index.php/local-news/4605-did-roxas-sell-phls-interest-wikileaks-us-used-mar-to-water-down-cheaper-meds-act (Weisel is currently Chief negotiator for TPP.)
After a series of meetings with Roxas, Weisel concluded, “there is now an opportunity to collaborate and ensure that new legislation addresses USG (US government) concerns.”
Mega Manila train riders who endured the worsening services and rising fares in MRT, LRT and PNR under the Aquino administration, can partly blame that on Mar Roxas for his concept of “burden-sharing” which permeated the DOTC’s budgeting under the Aquino government.
In practice, burden-sharing has meant increased user-fees and reduced to no subsidy, even as public funds are helping to pay for the infrastructures the private companies control and profit from. (Link)
The country’s jeepney drivers, meanwhile, condemns Roxas for expanding fines and exactions from drivers, and a year or two from now, phasing out today’s running jeepneys in favor of pooled fleet management of new, wholly imported jeepney units. Drivers said it will “massacre” the livelihood of small operators and assemblers and eventually increase fares.
On pursuing peace, Mar Roxas’ record showed that he led in defeating the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain or MOA-AD under the Arroyo government. But in confidential dialogues with representatives of the US government, he was told that continuing peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was needed to prevent the Philippine military or police from being mired in protracted fighting with the BangsaMoro people in the South. For this, the US wanted the MILF to appear as “good interlocutors” of the peace process.
As for pursuing peace with the Left, Mar Roxas had spoken against other candidates whom he derisively calls “coddlers” of rebels. Given Roxas’ unquestioned agreement with the US government’s reasons for deploying troops in the Philippines, he looks headed to continue Aquino’s counterinsurgency tack, patterned after the US COIN, in confronting progressive resistance and the left.
Roxas has also demonstrated his unabashed kowtowing to US brand of “humanitarian assistance,” which, as seen in supertyphoon Haiyan, had meant deployment of thousands of US troops for peace and order, and paving the way for the signing of EDCA and granting of new bases. Meanwhile, disaster survivors said they received little to no aid. In the aftermath of Yolanda, Roxas especially distinguished himself for glib buck-passing as he tried to blame the absence of government on LP’s rivals in the local government.
On sovereignty issues, the US-educated Mar Roxas has clearly been deferential to the US government and their troops’ presence in Philippine soil. For example, even when he thought the US was here for “clandestine operations,” he made no objection, but expressed appreciation of the US ambassador’s openness in telling him why they are here. (i.e.…”the USG was in the Philippines strictly at the invitation of government to assist in counterterrorism efforts, military training, and humanitarian assistance.”) In US war parlance, anyone who opposes and criticizes their neoliberal policies are enemies of the state, ‘terrorists’, including rebels and revolutionaries.
If Roxas, the administration bet from LP, managed to make it, Filipinos especially those from the lower classes might expect the continuation of the hallmarks of ‘daang matwid’ — higher prices, lower wages, costlier public services under public-private management, continued mining and unmitigated disasters, landgrabbing, US intervention, big businesses raking it in.