Turning points for Roxas and Catapang
July 2015 marks a possible turning point for both incumbent Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and General Gregorio Pio Catapang, Jr., who recently retired as the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Roxas desperately wants to win in the May 2016 presidential elections. His actuations over the past five years confirm this. Roxas is almost certain of being chosen as the presidential candidate of the Liberal Party (LP) headed by President Benigno Aquino III.
Despite the publicity Roxas gets in the media, particularly during national disasters, the surveys always place him several points behind Vice President Jejomar Binay of the political opposition party.
Adding to the political problem of the Roxas camp is the possible candidacy of Senator Grace Poe, the adopted daughter of the late cinema icon Fernando Poe, Jr. Despite being a political neophyte, Poe placed first in the 2013 senatorial derby, thanks to sympathetic voters who believe that FPJ won the 2004 presidential polls. Courted by both administration and opposition camps to run in 2016, Poe was equivocal in her public announcements, until she became openly critical of Binay. In doing so, Poe identified herself as an LP ally.
Although Poe seems undecided about running for president or vice president, she is a threat to the Roxas agenda. That threat became more pronounced ever since Poe overtook Binay in the recent surveys.
The entry of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte in the presidential race also poses a problem for the Roxas camp. Duterte is seen by many as a no-nonsense local chief who dispenses instant justice in a way reminiscent of America’s wild west. If the law and order situation in his city is an indicator, Duterte is a nemesis of crime.
Surveys suggest that Filipinos are so disappointed with the administration of justice in the country that many of them are open to a Duterte presidency. Although Duterte recently announced that he is no longer running for president, his admirers believe that their candidate will may still change his mind and run. Remember President Gloria Arroyo who promised that she was not running for the presidency in her own right in 2004? An intervening visit from President George Bush of the United States made Arroyo change her mind.
Recent developments, however, have not been very favorable for Roxas’ potential competitors. Binay and his family are facing numerous charges for alleged corruption concerning construction projects in Makati. Poe may not be the natural-born citizen of the Philippines she claims to be, and this renders her ineligible for the presidency. Voters are displeased with Duterte’s announced plan to install a revolutionary government if he is elected.
These developments provide a turning point for Roxas. He does not face plunder or corruption charges; he does not have any problem with his citizenship or residency; and he is not seen as a gunslinger with no regard for the rule of law. If he plays his political poker game correctly, Roxas may win the chips.
The same may be said of General Catapang. His turning point is his recent retirement from the AFP upon reaching the compulsory retirement age of 56.
A professional soldier educated in the Philippine Military Academy and in the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Catapang has both a military and a civilian background. His pivotal role in the 1986 People Power Revolution opened doors for him in both the military and political corridors of power, thus making him rise from a lieutenant, to a four-star general, and to the top officer of the AFP.
On at least one occasion, Catapang almost perished when his helicopter crash-landed after a mission. That incident did not diminish his zeal in the military service.
In September 2014, Catapang proved his military savvy to the nation and to the world. A contingent of Filipino troops sent on a peace-keeping mission to war-torn Syria found themselves surrounded by Syrian rebels after fighting non-stop for seven days. All 75 Filipino soldiers managed to escape unhurt after following a plan devised by Catapang. He also spoke up against the pompous Indian General who had unkind words for the Filipino troops.
During his long tenure as a soldier, Catapang was never involved in any corruption or irregularity. His record is unblemished.
Weeks prior to his retirement, Catapang disclosed that he was not interested in elective public office. He admitted, however, that he was open to appointive public office for the remaining months of the Aquino administration. The threat to the Constitution posed by the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) should change those plans.
Everyone in the military who has fought repeated attempts of Muslim separatist rebels, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in particular, to establish their own sub-state in Mindanao, and who were either injured in doing so, or saw their relatives and comrades killed or injured in the process, knows that the BBL is an state-sponsored attempt to dismember the Republic of the Philippines, and to hand over a sub-state to the MILF. Catapang is one of them.
While he was soldier, Catapang was unable to openly oppose the BBL out of respect for its principal endorser – his commander-in-chief. Now that he is retired from the AFP and is free to speak his mind, Catapang should lead all retired soldiers, their families, and the families of soldiers killed in Mindanao in opposing the BBL and upholding the Constitution. Everyone in the AFP must oppose the BBL because President Aquino did not consult the AFP in the drafting of this divisive measure.
Since it is unlikely for the BBL to be enacted during the Aquino administration, Catapang ought to consider running for the Senate in 2016 on an anti-BBL platform. Everyone in the AFP, active and retired, their families, friends, and the countless Filipinos opposed to the BBL, will vote for him. That honor is better than getting appointed by President Aquino to a government post to last for just 11 months.