Squabbles Brewing in Philippines?

Will Mar Roxas’ likely increased role in the Philippines government lead to clashes with Paquito Ochoa?

Defeated Philippines vice presidential candidate Mar Roxas is slowly being ‘eased’ into the government—and into the public’s mind.

It all began with a simple bicycle ride with President Noynoy Aquino at the launch of the Health department's nationwide fitness programme. Nothing grand—in fact the whole event was rather low-key, and Mar Roxas didn’t even deliver a speech.

But the media wasted no time in trying to get comments from other Cabinet officials so as to piece together a bigger picture—of Mar Roxas being appointed as Palace Chief of Staff and how he would work with Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Jr.

The picture being painted is one of intrigue as Mar Roxas and Paquito Ochoa, Jr are known to belong to the two rival factions within the Aquino administration. Roxas leads the so-called Balay House group, while Ochoa is identified with the Samar House group, which is believed to be under the sway of Vice President Jejomar Binay’s group.

Binay, of course, defeated Roxas for the vice presidency in last May’s elections, something which has generated much discussion in the Aquino administration ever since.

With the ongoing employment crisis facing many Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in their host countries, Binay and Roxas have been trying to outdo each other in trying to help them out. Binay, for example, flew to China to beg for the lives of three OFWs scheduled to be executed for drug trafficking. The story received significant media coverage, with Binay earning brownie points for obtaining a one-month stay of execution for them. Even though they were eventually executed in March, Binay's trust ratings among the public have remained high, proof that the public greatly appreciated his efforts.

Roxas, meanwhile, was dispatched to Taiwan to assuage the island's anger over the diplomatic row triggered by the Philippines' deportation of Taiwanese nationals to mainland China. Roxas, however, doesn’t appear to have been as persuasive as Binay, and Taiwan refused to budge. In fact, it threatened to retaliate by suggesting it might tighten controls over Filipino migrant workers, or even deny them entry.

The diplomatic row was eventually resolved, with Roxas playing a part. Still, the public considered it a failure on Roxas’ part, with many seeing it as a sign that he might not be as good a trouble-shooter as the administration has made out.

With Roxas looking likely to take a more active role in the Aquino administration, there will be even more chances for him to go toe-to-toe with Binay or his Samar group. How Aquino handles the two rival factions while trying to shape the public response to the expected squabbles should give plenty of insight into the administration’s mettle.