Why Tiglao resigned

HERE'S THE SCORE - Teodoro C. Benigno - PHILSTAR
April 17, 2002 | 12:00am

The whole thing looks like a page out of Alice in Wonderland. Press Secretary Rigoberto (Bobi) Tiglao just took himself a bride, the fetching Gethsemane (Getsy) Selirio. That may not have been a shocker. After all, Bobi Tiglao was a bachelor, his wife having died just about a year ago. But when President Gloria Macapagal’s press secretary announced he would take a six-month leave to take over the job as visiting professor fellowship at Kyoto University, then I knew it was adios, adieu and hasta la vista. The whole thing was choreographed, with Bobi having no choice but to scram out of Malacañang before he sunk deeper in the pits.

I know whereof I speak. I was press secretary and spokesman of President Corazon Aquino for almost three years. It was a job I didn’t seek, enjoying as I did then the emoluments of Agence France-Presse Manila bureau chief and a roving foreign correspondent. But Cory Aquino beckoned and her martyred husband a bosom friend of mine, I eventually relented. Why not? In retrospect. It was a chance to serve the nation. It was also a chance to prove one could be a model public servant without looting the public till I figured I was excellently qualified for the job, having labored in the vineyards of journalism for 36 years.

In just about two weeks, I realized I had blundered.

I will not mention Palace names. But there was around President Aquino a cordon sanitaire, barracudas Lupita Aquino Kashiwahara called them. Lupita, younger sister of Ninoy Aquino, wasn’t exactly glad I took the job but said, okay, for Ninoy’s sake. From the outset, the cordon sanitaire didn’t like me; darted dagger looks in my direction. Even in the Guest House, the secretariat there, ladies all, coiled like aroused rattlesnakes wherever I was around. My only friend and ally was Ching Escaler, presidential appointments secretary. She was a protégé of Jimmy Ongpin, at the time the bête noire of the three-man cordon sanitaire. Poor Jimmy. They dragged his name through the mire at the Guest House. Unang bulong, as they say into the president’s ears, and therefore the most lethal bulong.

Proximity is power. And the cordon sanitaire is the most proximate to Cory Aquino. They had virtually life-and-death powers over any paper or document that sought entry to Cory Aquino’s office. The only way I could seek unimpeded entry to the president’s office was to ride piggyback on Ching Escaler. The cordon couldn’t stop, neutralize, or marginalize Ching. Jimmy helped heaps during the 1986 electoral campaign, his helicopters and planes at Cory’s service. Contributions flowed from the business community to the electoral war chest, because Jimmy Ongpin did a yeoman’s job here.

But back to our subject. In less than three weeks, I wanted to get out of Malacañang like nobody’s business.

It was not my cup of coffee. At the Agence France Presse, I was the big boss. As press secretary, I found myself a supernumerary, a note-taker, a sort of beat reporter all over again, glued to the president, listening to her every word, scribbling furiously, making sure I understood everything she said, fathoming her mind all the time on the great and paramount issues of the day. It was back-breaking work, on top of which I had to run the Press Office, attend to the infinite demands of the bureaucracy, and make sure I touched base with that most demanding of domestic press organizations–the Malacañang Press Corps. That probably was the most difficult job. Trying to please and satisfy the horde of media covering Malacañang was like doing housekeeping in a raging volcano.

Anyway, I told President Aquino I wanted out in less than three weeks.

Cory Aquino looked at me with eyes that brooked no dissent. "Magtiis ka," she said. "Lahat tayo nagtitiis. Ako’y talagang nagtitiis. Maghintay ka. Huwag ka munang umalis." And that was that. After that, I tried a couple of times more to leave. I asked for several months' leave of absence. She easily saw through that and said no. Cory Aquino saying no is like seeing and hearing the heavens opening and the word no streaking out like a lightning bolt. But I knew, I just knew one day I would just have to get out. I hated the job, hated every moment of it. If the President was up in the ratings, it was because she was a gosh-and-golly chief of state. If the President was down or faltering, it was the fault of the press secretary. And he had to be skewered, impaled on the rack, scorched with expletives.

Now, let’s go to Bobi Tiglao.

He can deny it till the lowing cows come home, President GMA can deny it in any kind of language including Esperanto and Swahili, but you can smell it a mile away. Bobi was booby-trapped into leaving. Virtually all power had been stripped from him. His undersecretaries and deputies were not his appointees. He, unlike Rod Reyes, was never an insider. Eventually, if not soon enough, he realized who the boss of the whole shebang – Dante Ang was. Who is Dante Ang? I’ll tell you who is Dante Ang. He is GMA’s capo di tutti cappi, boss of all bosses, who has earned the president’s trust, and confidence over the years.

It was Dante Ang who worked GMA up to look like Nora Aunor. Gloria was a shorty and therefore frailty. But Dante remedied this by hooking her up to the entertainment world where the likes of Boy Abunda gussied her up. Soon she was almost Nora Aunor to the core as she ran for the Senate in 1992. Political shows were verboten. Sitcoms were the thing, entertainment shows were the booster rocket to political fame. In a sense, this prefigured the phenomenon of Rico Yan. Gloria was cute, pert, pretty, cuddly and wondrously, a Nora Aunor look-alike. This Dante Ang played to the hilt. Media took care of the rest. Gloria soared to topnotcher in the Senate race.

I once asked GMA, when I handled overall strategy for her as a presidential candidate in 1996-97 why she couldn’t bump off Dante Ang. Her answer was simple enough: "Every time I need him, he is there. Every time I need a press conference, he hustles it fast. I admit he is not a deep thinker. He hates research. He is not a strategist, but he is loyal and dedicated, and I need a man like him, always around me, ready to do my bidding." What GMA did not mention was that Dante Ang and her hubby Mike Arroyo were buddy-buddies, inseparable, each toting the other like Damon and Pythias. Both like the good things in life. At one time, Dante Ang was buying racehorses–mirabili dictu! – from the Cojuangco cousins. Big breeders they.

Dante Ang was a shoo-in for the portfolio of Press Secretary when GMA became president. I understand. However, many around GMA just didn’t like him, particularly the Kompil camarilla of Vicky Garchitorena. But that didn’t matter much. It was just a question of biding time. Dante Ang inhabited the shadows, always loomed over GMA together with Mike Arroyo. In the meantime, he was casing Malacañang, calling virtually all the shots, where it came to media and communications, lorded it over Broadcast City, bought the Manila Times. And, I do not know what else.

It didn’t take long, I am sure, before Bobi Tiglao realized he was in leg irons and handcuffs.

Dante Ang, with GMA’s enthusiastic blessing, loves to spread his shadow over Malacañang. He now has, I understand, the title of "senior media adviser," whatever that means. What I understand by that is everybody in the Press Office and Malacañang’s communications set-up, including the government’s sequestered TV radio empire, kowtows to Dante Ang. Boy, they love "Angs" in Malacañang. Joseph Estrada had his Atong Ang. Atong was the only wrongo in town who could give Erap a lesson or two in getting in and out of revolving doors in a split second

.

It takes a gorilla’s hide, a baboon’s stomach, and a monkey’s brain to stomach Malacañang. I weathered it for almost three years. When I got out, it was like getting out of Treblinka.

Bobi’s just not the type to take orders from Dante Ang. What Dante knows about journalism, Bobi has already forgotten. As I didn’t like to pander, Mr. Tiglao didn’t want to. You can see that in his face. It has a thin layer of melancholy, a pain waiting to get out but can’t, eyes that lie but often seek refuge. I think I know the guy. When he got his first honor scroll from the Catholic Mass Media Awards many, many years ago, I was a member of the board of judges and insisted he and he alone deserved the award for reporting. He was a damn good business writer and proved this by eventually getting the coveted job of Manila bureau chief for the Far Eastern Economic Review.

Eventually, he became president of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) which I founded in 1973. When he deserted his column in the Inquirer to take over the job of presidential spokesman, I wondered what made him do it. Ambition? Quest for power? Opportunity to make big money? I figured he wouldn’t last. And I was right. Tiglao was never tailored for the job. I do not know if he was ever the target of GMA’s volatile temper. I never was. But if he was, after all the years he worked as a foreign correspondent, that would have been humbling and humiliating.

All things considered, he did the right thing. Married. Got out.

WHILE the late President Fidel V. Ramos wasn’t the highest-ranking officer in the military establishment that supported Ferdinand E. Marcos’ martial law when it was imposed — Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Romeo Espino who served until 1981 was — he was widely viewed as its strongest pillar.

This was not only because he was Marcos’ second cousin, who under Filipino culture would profess undying loyalty to the strongman. Ramos was head for 14 years until 1985 (when he was appointed acting AFP chief of staff), of the powerful and centralized Philippine Constabulary (PC).

It was the PC that had the main task of going after “subversives,” which included all civilians that were plotting against Marcos. The other three service commands were tasked mainly to go after the Moro insurgents. It was the PC’s dreaded Constabulary Security Units in each region that captured most of the Communist Party’s leaders, in my case, with members of the Manila-Rizal regional committee, the 5th CSU.

Those accused of grave human rights abuses — mainly by the communists and its front organizations — have been, without exception, officers of the PC, which were under Ramos’ command.

Don’t get me wrong. I write on this topic, days after FVR’s death, to point out that the narrative of his life — skipped as if it didn’t happen — by nearly all newspapers the other day, was almost entirely on his crucial role in the 1986 toppling of his cousin and his presidency, the best according to most who wrote eulogies on him yesterday.


Ramos with two of his bosses. FROM THE OFFICIAL GAZETTE


Furthermore, I emphasize his role in martial law to get anti-Marcos fanatics to think: If martial law is as bad — the “Dark Era” — as the Yellows have brainwashed Filipinos, why would Ramos have been its pillar? If “10,000 innocent” Filipinos were killed, tortured and incarcerated during martial, why did Ramos head the PC which did most of these alleged human rights abuses.

Articulate defender

But Ramos was the most articulate defender of martial law, perhaps by necessity, as it was his men — the Philippine Constabulary — that were the most visible, and feared, executioners of strongman rule, from the dreaded Metrocom to the death squads of the Narcotics Command.

Indeed, Ramos spent 13 years and five months serving martial law (1972 to Feb. 22, 1986) and 12 years and four months (Feb. 22, 1986, to June 3, 1998) as a champion of the Yellow rule. In a speech before businessmen in December 1972, he was a true believer in martial law:

“It is a martial law that is uniquely our own, a Philippine-style martial law devoid of the interdiction of barbed wire, rumbling tanks, and bloodshed, that are the normal appendages of such a system elsewhere in the world. The distinctive and benevolent character of our martial law doubles from our democratic background and compassionate nature as a people. We in the Armed Forces are too steeped in the principles of freedom and too accustomed to the norms of the gentle Filipino traditions to be capable of authoritarian measures.”

A remarkable man indeed, FVR is the sole Filipino leader to have spent the most productive period of his professional life, half with the Marcos regime, and half under the strongman’s nemesis, the Yellows.

He was one very lucky (or clever) man, one could say: he abandoned Marcos only on the morning of February 22, when hundreds of thousands of Filipinos — both true believers, the curious, and the overnight patriots — had already amassed at EDSA as a human shield, upon Cardinal Sin‘s injunction, to protect the amateurish RAM mutineers and their godfather Juan Ponce Enrile, whose coup plots were discovered a week earlier.

Abandon Marcos

Why did he abandon Marcos? I cannot find any actual quote from him that he did so because he thought Marcos had turned into a corrupt autocrat whom the people wanted to be toppled. Ramos was a very logical man.

If he did not abandon Marcos, and the strongman survived, his rival Gen. Fabian Ver would have eased him out of power, to force him into retirement. But if he left the strongman, there was a chance the anti-Marcos forces would win, and he’d be a hero of a revolution, that the world so to speak would be his oyster.

Did his US contacts help him decide? To believe so is reasonable, as he was known to have had close contacts with top US officials, even with its intelligence services. His decision to abandon Marcos eerily is right after US President Ronald Reagan, who had considered the strongman as a personal friend, also decided to do so. Unfortunately, and rather strangely, Ramos wrote very little on why he decided to defect to the Cory camp.

What we have though, as reported in his biography by W. Scott Thompson (a US “foreign affairs official”, his obituary read) is his intriguing farewell words to Col. Jose Almonte when they last met a day or two before EDSA broke out: “Whatever you’re planning, just don’t make it too bloody.”

FVR was very realistic (opportunistic, others would say) that he quickly distanced himself from Marcos (even refusing to allow the family to bury him in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. He let the Yellows and the Reds weave their yarn of massive human rights violations during martial law, which he knew since he was the PC head was not the case, but the unavoidable result of the war the communists and the Moro insurgents waged against the Republic.

I am not a fan of Ramos. He was defense secretary when Cory Aquino bypassed him, effectively surrendering our sovereignty when she asked the US ambassador in 1989 for American military help to neutralize the rebels’ World War 2-era planes by buzzing them with two Phantom jets. A self-respecting defense secretary would have resigned with that insult to him and the nation.

Almost all eulogies the other day claimed he changed the country's image away from its “sick man of Asia’ image. But average GDP growth during his term was just 3.8 percent, just a bit higher than the 3.6 percent of his predecessor, and low compared to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s 5 percent from 2001 to 2007.

Washington

The core of his economic policy, as he attempted to popularize it, was deregulation and privatization. But that was merely following the so-called Washington Consensus — what the US-controlled World Bank, the Europe-controlled International Monetary Fund, and the US Bureau of the Treasury claimed was the tried-and-tested formula all developing countries should adopt.

Twenty years after Ramos’ free-market prescriptions were implemented, we still have one of the highest power and retail electricity prices in Asia, among the most expensive petroleum products in the world, and one of the most efficient and expensive water services — while the oligarchs who acquired such firms during Ramos’ regime, including an Indonesian, have become richer and richer, moving to other sectors.

If there is something I admire in Ramos’ presidency, it is its efficiency. Right beside his office was his computer man, who kept track of all documents and letters sent to him, with a special watermark of sorts, with an “out” window, mostly with his notation addressed to an official concerned with the letters “NLT” plus date, which meant he was expecting a response from the official “not later than” the date noted.

Steeped in military-intelligence practice, Ramos did not rely solely on his official Cabinet. He had so-called parallel groups which were mini think-tanks, paid well from his huge intelligence funds or private-sector donations, and independent of the Cabinet secretaries. A cluster didn’t know others existed.

These gave him feedback on his moves on particular issues, and data on the real performance of his officials. I think that because these parallel groups were collectives, they were more objective and careful with their reports — in contrast to the “we bulong” cabal of the Cory administration and the informal advisers of most of his successors.

Contemplacion

For instance, while almost his entire Cabinet supported then Foreign Affairs Secretary Romulo who was seen by an outraged public to have been less than sympathetic to the OFW Flor Contemplacion, accused of murder in Singapore, one of Ramos’ parallel groups advised him to fire Romulo, a move that helped him recover his political support.

It was his national security adviser, Jose Almonte, who supervised these parallel groups. One of these was the media group, whose core included hotelier and man-about-town then Perfecto Quicho of “Giraffe” fame, Alex Magno (as he implied in his column the other day), Liberal Party ideologue Mario Taguiwalo, novelist Alfred Yuson, and two others whose names I forget. No wonder, Ramos continues to have the best image among modern Philippine presidents.

But of course, the US media loved him, the West Pointer, like no other Philippine president.

In my 2016 book, Colossal Deception: How Foreigners Control Our Telecoms Sector*, I reported the claim of a top official of the First Pacific Co. Ltd. that Ramos helped that Indonesian conglomerate win the bidding for the Fort Bonifacio estate. He ordered the Government Service Insurance System and other private companies close to him to join that Indonesian-led consortium, allowing it to bid higher to beat the Ayala conglomerate. The records do show that.

Ramos, that official disclosed, also committed to helping the First Pacific group take over San Miguel Corp., which he could do by lifting the sequestration of the shares held by Eduardo Cojuangco. However, the PCGG officials dragged their feet so that the project was overtaken by the end of Ramos’ term in 1998.

Indeed, if Ramos’ “cha-cha” plan had succeeded in giving him another term, our corporate landscape would have been so different.
 

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