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By Marian Pastor Roces

Now that Vice President Leni Robredo is within an inch of the presidency, an expensive subrosa operation is in play.

Sub rosa: happening or done in secret.

In this election, RoSa is the Robredo-Sara gambit. While it is no secret that this is a full campaign mounted as reasonable-sounding compromise, it is subterfuge because it hides the cynicism under deft hardball. Under the display of savvy is a gross maneuver to secure a place for trapolitics in what looks like the inevitable new scheme of things. The maneuver is contemptuous of this—or any—new scheme of things.

A Leni-Kiko tandem win will slow down if not finally thwart the Marcos-Duterte-Arroyo cabal (and cabals-in-cabals) and their marauding projects despoiling the country. Kiko winning with Leni will mean consistency of political mission: renewing and shoring up democratic institutions, so that social justice in all its forms can be delivered. No kontra punto on principle, even if they differ in style.

A RoSa steal-from-behind will mean tripping the momentum of the turn to a stronger democracy.

Securing Sara is securing more oxygen for what she says, in public, she believes in: for example, that honesty is not required of senators. It would mean guaranteeing a space for leaders who do not understand the Philippine Constitution, in spirit and in the grain of the text.


Sara Without The H is, in fact, missing that H. Heart, it was pointed out by one columnist. Honesty, too. Humility would be good, since Vice President Leni has already made this quality a political force. And a final absent H: Head.

It is not mere provocation to take swipes at this candidate. She herself has let loose her pugilistic bent. She memorably punched a barangay chief in the face, and allowed an inner prizefighter persona to surface as her public image. What she has in abundance—a war chest that is from all indications legendary, the tough talk punching a path outside the Constitution, a pseudo independence from the old man—is proportional to what she does not have. The missing H’s.

What SWTH does not have—what empty space she represents—is exactly where huge numbers of Filipinos hope will be given to a person with the heart for detailed peace-making; the transparency that accounts for how order is maintained and power distributed; the kababaang-loob that recognizes the power of poor to help themselves; and the head to grasp the spirit of the people-centered Constitution.

Instead, SWTH announces that she will stop the peace process with the insurgent fronts, having no interest in what the entire democratic world understands as the only way to peace: incremental negotiations covering the true sources of discontent. As Davao City mayor, she responded to the pandemic by building a mass grave and crematorim while a rational health response system was still vague. Chilling personality.

SWTH represents the same dynastic power that ruled rather than governed Davao City; and then the Philippines. That rule brooked no calls for transparency. Certainly no accountability for brutal events. How order is imposed in the city has long been the half-obvious, half-hidden but always tactical use of fear mongering. Tokhang was born in Davao City.

Fatou Bensouda, the previous International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor who initiated the call to investigate allegations of crimes against humanity committed by President Rodrigo Duterte, intends an inquiry of Davao City killings as well, from 2011 to 2016, years included in Sara’s stint as mayor. This is the same mayor who has spat out vulgar, oversized threats to anyone (for instance, Senator Antonio Trillanes) who ticks her off.

One might be tempted to think of STWH as lacking in humanity.

The H’s

Who are foisting this hellcat on a country already made wretched by her father?

Local government officials hatched the strat. Congressmen Rufus Gutierrez and Joey Salceda, Zamboanga City Mayor Beng Climaco, and four LGU officials of Agusan are only the obvious heads of a political culture of endless, unprincipled accomodation. Trading Kiko for SWTH in this unrosy play stinks because it frustrates what is already a clear, popular signal for a full return to the Philippines’ democratic project.

Grafting a tyrant’s daughter to an already flourishing democratic evolution—we call it what it is, people power, this time national in scale—betrays the spirit of the moment. If RoSa succeeds, all that heart-on-sleeve outpouring in the streets would have been tamed to trapo machinations.

Kiko Pangilinan is not an expendable in the present political equation. He has, precisely, the missing Hs. Heart. Honesty. Humility. Humanity. And a good, experienced Head on him. He is Leni’s guarantee that she will rise with ease to meet the historical moment. Hers is to answer the groundswell; to match the awesome trust people now reside in her, with idealism to match the people’s.

It is for President Leni to do what she does best: respond with good governance to a people exercising self-empowerment. She can do so robustly, without a counterforce pulling in the direction of abusive leadership. RoSa is an ugly figure, a healthy and bright political animal with a cancerous appendage.


Call this article naïve. Unappreciative of realpolitik. But then you must go on to say the same of the hundreds of thousands in the streets with their pink puto and tees and homemade placards. That they, too, are naïve. This is what the RoSa ruse asserts. That it is OK to compromise the power of all those who have collectively created this phenomenal electoral event.

Over the past few months, enough Filipinos have brought the Philippines so very close indeed to liberation from the ugliness produced in the body politic by ugly leaders. But the cynicism of realpolitik can trump idealism. It would not be the first time, if that happens. Besides, idealism is disbelieved in pol circles.

Only, if the purest expressions of vox populi is again trounced in the Philippines—this time restraining a nationwide groundswell for good governance—the dark operatives would have already wounded the woman who may indeed be President Leni.

Would already have, again, squandered the best possibilities presented by this historical moment. Frittered its breathtaking depth and breadth into horse-trading. No. This is not the time to Let it Be.

Marian Pastor Roces works internationally as an independent curator, critic of institutions, and analyst of culture and politics. Through her corporation, TAOINC, she curates the establishment of museums. She is also a founding Partner of the think tank, Brain Trust, Inc.

She has long argued that governance, civil society action, and policy making in the Philippines are weakened by the absence of cultural analysis. Such analysis, in turn, needs to work with updated data. Hence Pulitikultura, Roces' platform for probing the intersection of culture and politics.

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