THE Palace admonished Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya for referring to Interior and Local Governments Secretary Manuel Roxas II as “President Mar” in a public event over the weekend, saying the Aquino administration is not yet on “election mode.”
Abaya drew flak after referring to Roxas by that name during a visit to areas devastated by super typhoon Yolanda in Roxas City.
“We’re not on election mode, to put it quite frankly,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.
But Valte said Abaya may have only been trying to lighten the mood in Barangay Culasi during the groundbreaking of the Coast Guard’s search and rescue base.
“I understand that his follow up statement was that he referred to Secretary Roxas also as president of the Liberal Party, which is why he called him like that,” Valte said.
“Perhaps Secretary Abaya was really just joking. I don’t think any offense was meant by that nor was it meant to signal anything,” she added.
When told that perhaps Abaya should give priority to his job first before cracking possible half-meant jokes, Valte said she would pass on the message.
Last month, Abaya was also reminded by the Palace that he is not in a position to say who will be the Liberal Party’s standard bearer for the 2016 elections.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said there is no decision yet whether Roxas will be the administration bet for the presidential race, as Abaya had said.
“The Liberal Party has not started the selection process, and the President already said that he will announce it (standard bearer) at the proper time,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda said Abaya was only making a personal opinion, which was not the official position of the Liberal Party.
“Let’s wait until the President’s final imprimatur as to who his choice will be. Let’s just wait for that,” he said.
“We can hear other people saying (it’s Roxas) but it’s not the President (saying that),” Lacierda added.
President Benigno Aquino III has said he has yet to choose the Liberal Party’s next standard bearer.
“I will announce at the appropriate time. Right now I am focused on the problems facing our country instead of the 2016 elections,” Aquino said.
“We are just in the first quarter of 2014 and I think the public will understand if that is not our priority. The rainy season is just around the corner as well and we have to prepare for it,” the President added.
The leftist bloc in the House again slammed Abaya for acting as Roxas’ “primary rah-rah boy and campaign manager” instead of attending to the needs of suffering Metro Rail Transit commuters.
The militant lawmakers also accused the ranking officials of the ruling Liberal Party led by President Aquino, Roxas and Abaya of using the Yolanda funds to advance their political ambitions.
Bayan Muna Rep. Isagani Carlos Zarate said the open campaigning took place at the groundbreaking rites for two multi-million-peso infrastructure projects in Roxas City, Capiz.
“Abaya is at it again,” Zarate said.
“At the event, Secretary Abaya said ‘Thank you, President Mar Roxas,’ addressing Roxas after the latter introduced Abaya as the guest speaker at the groundbreaking for the Philippine Coast Guard’s search and rescue base in Barangay Culasi.”
“He is the president of our party and of our future plans and endeavors,” Abaya added.
Zarate said: “This is very frustrating especially since MRT-LRT commuters are suffering the daily penitence of endless lines, computer glitches, non-working elevators and escalators, sardine-packed coaches, accidents and many more but the government official tasked to solve these problems is already doing his rounds as the campaign manager of Mar for the 2016 elections,” Zarate lamented.
“Besides it seems that they are using the donations for the Yolanda victims to advance their political ambitions,” he said.
Zarate said Abaya should focus on solving the problems besetting the MRT instead of promoting the presidential ambitions of Roxas.
The leftist bloc in the House earlier chided Abaya for claiming that the Liberals would field Roxas as the party’s standard bearer, a claim the Palace immediately dismissed.
Abaya’s announcement came amid complaints by MRT riders who had to bear with kilometer-long queues and amid the $30-million extortion scandal that has engulfed MRT general manager Al Vitangcol III, whose agency is under Abaya.
“Aside from these constant MRT operational problems, there are also a slew of other unresolved issues that hound the MRT-LRT: from the extortion attempt on a Czech company, to the supposed rigged bidding on the unified ticketing system and common terminals and the MRT7 extension,” Zarate said.
These issues, he said, were now with the various committees in the House for investigation.
Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon reiterated his view that the 48 new MRT coaches ordered from China might become white elephants because the government had no power to take over the MRT-3 operations from the private consortium that owns it.
Ridon blamed Abaya, Vitangcol and the Aquino government for doing nothing for the past three years when they knew the problem of long queues was inevitable.
“Vitangcol and Abaya announced that the new coaches would start arriving next year yet. And there is no guarantee that these coaches can be attached because of the ongoing independent international arbitration in Singapore,” Ridon said, referring to the case filed by the private owners. “Meanwhile, the DOTC-MRT has no concrete solution to remedy the MRT problems that burden the commuters.”