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How it became Leni

So it’s Leni now for Mar. But it almost was Kim—if the Liberal Party had taken her up on her offer.

Last Monday, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad met with Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo at a trendy café at the Podium in Ortigas Center, one the first of a series of formal talks between the Liberal Party and the congresswoman, whom the ruling party wants to bring in as running mate of Mar Roxas. It may take some doing to convince Robredo to run for vice president, but at least it’s still easier than if the Liberals had fielded someone like, say, Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares as Roxas’ partner.

Only last week, the Liberal politburo, which includes Abad and the rest of the so-called “Hyatt 10,” called an urgent meeting to settle once and for all the issue of who should be Roxas’ running mate. The discussion was long and heated because the prospects in the LP short list of two, made up of Robredo and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, each had their own supporters.

The selection process was still deadlocked when someone proposed that, if the choice between Robredo and De Lima was proving to be so difficult, perhaps a third candidate should stand up and offer herself as a compromise. And that someone, according to the proponent herself, was none other than Henares herself.

Henares’ offer to run as the LP’s vice presidential candidate shocked the party leaders into silence, I’m told. In response, they quickly resolved the problem and chose Robredo for Roxas.

“What does she [Henares] think we’re doing here, guaranteeing that Mar loses?” grumbled one of the people at the meeting. And that’s how the LP solved the problem of whom to field for vice president in the May elections.

Of course, some people are still wondering why it had to be a choice between Robredo and De Lima to begin with. It really has to do with making sure that another Bicolano candidate for the second-highest post, Chiz Escudero, doesn’t get votes in his home region; but that’s another story for another time.

* * *

Some of the retired top generals who recently came out with a statement opposing the Aquino administration’s insistence for Congress to pass the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law are hopping mad at Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma. See, Coloma declared yesterday that President Noynoy Aquino “convinced” the 19 generals whom he summoned to a meeting at the palace last Monday to see it his way on the BBL.

“Nothing of the sort happened,” said one of the generals. “Coloma was there at our three-hour meeting with the President; he should know better than to report that the President convinced us to back the BBL.”

I asked the former officer, but what about the release by Malacañang yesterday of the photographs of Aquino’s meeting with the retired generals, showing them all smiling? Wasn’t that Coloma’s reason for saying that a meeting of the minds had taken place?

“We were having merienda after the meeting and pictures were taken,” the retired officer said. “It wouldn’t look good if we looked angry since we were already having snacks and the discussion had already been finished.”

What really happened, according to this retired officer, was that the President explained his support for BBL and appealed for the  former generals to do the same. “At least three times, he called on us to trust the Moro Islamic Liberation Front,” he said.

To be fair, the President heard the complaints of the generals, especially their concerns about the disarmament of the MILF and their published objections to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which gave birth to the BBL. But he did not budge—and neither did the generals, my source said.

The meeting between Aquino and the generals was actually the result of an earlier conference held between the retired officers and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin right after the paid advertisement detailing their objections to the BBL. At that earlier meeting, Gazmin (who was also at the palace meeting together with Coloma, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Hernando Irriberi) promised to bring the matter to Aquino.

Many of the 31 generals who signed the original statement were not sanguine about the chances of Aquino changing his mind about the BBL, which was probably why only 19 of them attended. But majority of them went anyway, secure in the knowledge that they, too, would not give an inch.

In the end, that was exactly what happened. There was no compromise on either side—but they ended up smiling for the cameras brought in by Coloma, even if there was no agreement.

“But Coloma had no call to say that we were convinced, because we were not,” my source said. “And if he continues to say that we were convinced, then he’s not telling the truth.”

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