OF COURSE, the wedding will push through in October, if not of a President-to-be and his First Lady-to-be, at least of a betrothed couple whose romance, engagement, and planned wedding have become part and parcel of the running spectacle that is Philippine presidential politics.
That was the solid answer we got in this unscheduled interview we did last Friday, to the naughty question that popped up in (some) people’s minds after Senator Manuel “Mar” Roxas
announced his decision last week to give up his presidential bid to make way for Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.
Will Roxas still have a big-production wedding with his longtime girlfriend, Korina Sanchez
, whose powerful broadcasting career is deemed to be a boost to the senator’s presidential ambition?
The announcement to step down should have reduced the political momentum around Roxas to a near-stop, to near-quiet, like the drizzle that Friday night. But has it?
Roxas’ bachelor’s home in Cubao, Quezon City, beside his clan’s Bahay na Puti, is cozy and quiet – a total insulation from the noise and intrigue of its inhabitant’s political involvement, and from the bustle of the nearby commercial center.
It’s apparently an intellectual’s home – books, hundreds of volumes, fill the shelves of all four walls of the sitting room that must be the library: biographies (Churchill, Kennedys, Lee Kuan Yew, Lenin, Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, name it), fiction, coffee-tables.
Only the works of Filipino masters can make you take your eyes off the books –
Manansalas especially, ivory santos, sculptures.
The books and the artworks belonged to at least two generations – his father, the late senator Gerry Roxas, and him.
This setting could only underscore his patrician background.
More than halfway into our interview with Roxas, a beaming Sanchez, in a little white dress perfect for her svelte figure, strode into the room, sat down beside her man, ready for their interview, ready for her close-up.
Excerpts from their interview – their first since the momentous Tuesday announcement: TSSHow do you feel after the momentous announcement?Mar Roxas (MR):
At peace. Excited. Excited for Noynoy, for the reform agenda. You know, this is good versus evil. This is tuwid versus baluktot [This is straight versus crooked]. This is tama versus mali [This is right versus wrong].As simple as that.MR:
Yes. That’s why I was very willing to engage in this; it’s because it boils down to that. All the frustrations, all the anger, all the hopes of our people – it’s not anymore in the policy this or policy that. It’s just good versus evil. You know, that’s the campaign the reformists are going to wage.Noynoy [Aquino] said you’re the logical choice, and his personal choice would be vice president. Has he formally offered you the VP position?MR:
He opened the topic in our talks. Sincerely, and I can look you straight in the eye, I told him, “Noy, let’s not go there yet because I don’t want to cheapen what we’re talking about with quid pro quo. If our conversation is all about me being VP to you, it can also become a reason you should become VP to me.
Our ates [older sisters] were classmates. Naka-short pants pa lang tayo [We were still in short pants], we knew each other already.
Our values are very alike. Our fathers, you know, pre-martial law, were opposition, were Liberal, during martial law, did not give in to Marcos. We both know the burden of carrying a name and living up to the legacy of that name. So I said: “If we’re still going to be fruitful, let’s find a way to talk about the things that bind us, that are common to us. Let’s talk about your dream, my dream, the dream of our parents, our forebears, what we want for the country."Who did you consult in a major way when you made that decision? Was it Korina?MR:
Yes. Korina is very much – well, in a few weeks, she will be my wife. But emotionally and psychologically, we’re a couple already. We’re one.Was it a drawn-out discussion with her or short?MR:
It wasn’t short. It wasn’t drawn out. It was just a normal conversation – several conversations. She said: “You’re the one in this and I’m there to support you. You do what you think is right. You do what is in your heart.”
She saw the battle within me, of Mar as candidate and Mar for the people, for the country. Maybe it wasn’t the same path.Do you think Noynoy has a good chance to make it?MR:
Yes, very much so. Let me put it this way: all those people who came out for the wake and the burial, those people came out not because of some traditional political... Walang hakot ’yun [They were not paid]. It’s just people, kusang-loob [on their own], who wanted to say thank you. But in their saying thank you, I also read this thirst, this yearning for those times when they saw in Tita Cory somebody who was selfless, who was for the country, country above self.
That’s why Noynoy has a very good chance, because of that yearning, I guarantee you, is in you. If they see that Noynoy is the bearer of change, the bearer of reform... How many governors do you have? How many mayors do you have? How much money do you have? That’s the conventional, eh. This battle, 2010, has a chance of being outside of that, of being good versus evil.So you don’t think Noynoy would need a First Lady to run for president?MR:
I would not want to force Noynoy into any decisions simply to conform with conventional imagery na dapat may [that there should be a] First Lady. It’s not as important as what’s in his heart, his determination to carry on the fight of his father and mother.How do you feel that after you made that announcement, some people’s reaction was: “So matutuloy ba ang kasal [So will the wedding push through]?”
MR: They just don’t know me. Those people don’t know me. I don’t blame them. Look, in this world, there will always be snide remarks, there will always be people looking for an angle. It’s more a reflection on them than it is on me and Korina. There’s a German term – schadenfreude
– where people’s happiness is only obtained when they see somebody falling. It could be a little bit of that, who knows?
Do you have a say on the wedding?MR:
No. (Laughs)Aside from what you’ll wear, what is the littlest you could say?MR:
We agreed early on I wanted Filipiniana, I wanted to wear barong. Korina also wanted Filipiniana. She wanted piña. Korina will choose what barong it is for me. (Laughs) You know, in most things, Korina and I fully agree.Really? There’s such meeting of minds in everything?MR:
We’ve been together six years. It’s not like we’re sweethearts.
But you’ve also had long relationships before that?MR:
Yes, and many. (Laughs)What would be your last fling with bachelor-hood aside from the usual stag party?MR:
You know, even the thought of a stag party is tiring. (Laughs) We’re gonna go out, go drinking... We’re grownups. We can go drinking now. We don’t’ have to have this [stag party]. I’m comfortable.So you don’t have the wedding jitters?MR:
No. Kung puwede lang eh ’di tomorrow na [Tomorrow, if possible]. We’ve been boyfriend-girlfriend a long, long, long time. We’ve thought of ourselves as one for a long time.Where do you think your political career is going after you gave up the presidential race?MR:
I think it’s going very well. I’ve done something that is sincerely for the country. I’ve set my personal interests aside for the greater interest. Yesterday, I took Korina to North Cemetery to my dad, my lolo [grandfather], my brother. Hindi ko pinahiya, hindi ko nilagay sa masama ’yung pangalan na binigay nila sa akin [I didn’t shame them, I didn’t shame the name they gave me].How about your mom?MR:
My mom, she’s gone through martial law. She’s gone through being grenaded in Plaza Miranda. She’s lost the use of both her knees. She’s still tadtad [filled] with shrapnel. She was with my father one day when he was at the height of his powers and the next, because of martial law, he was an outcast and in the wilderness. She knows that first, these things happen, but that in the end what keeps you whole is doing the right thing. In all of this, when I would consult her, she would say: “Make us proud, do the right thing."(Korina enters)So how are you?Korina Sanchez (KS):
(Laughs) How am I? I’m okay.
Mar and I are at an unusually peaceful place. I have to be honest that Mar got to that place of serenity and discernment much earlier than I. I needed at least two days to catch up. Mar told me, the morning he would make the announcement: “Honey, between you and me, I need you to know that I know I do not have to do this. But I am not settled with the idea of resisting this. Napakaluwag sa puso at isip ko nito [It is clear in my heart and mind to do this]. Whenever I think of doing this, I feel it is right. When I reverse and think of going the other way, my mind again becomes unsettled. This is the right thing to do, and I do not want you to think I am forced to do this.”
As days pass, we are even more serene about it. There has been an overwhelming outpouring of texts, e-mails, letters to us from all over the country, how they thought no one could ever do such a thing... We are thankful to everyone.
And you know what? Mar also told me the day after: “Hey Honey, for the first time in a long while, as I was approaching home, I wasn’t thinking of burying myself again in thought. I was actually looking forward to just snuggling with you, watching a movie!”
.I was asking him (Mar) what was the littlest detail that he’s decided on for the wedding.MR:
I’m not allowed to decide. (Laughs)KS:
Allowed to decide? He’s the auditor. That’s what you get for marrying a man who wears Timex rubber watches instead of the Cartier I gave him. (Laughter) He’s very practical as against my need for creative outlet.Is that how you call it now, creative outlet?KS:
Without having to spend too much. I think he’s more like Zen and I am more like Filipino-ornate. It’s a matter of negotiation until we come up with something that’s mutually agreeable and that will make both of us happy.The wedding preparations are 90-percent done?MR:
Most of the preparations are already on the first phase... The next phase is tomorrow, when we actually decide on the actual choices.MR:
I don’t want it too stiff and Korina also agrees. So we sort of said, like, even if people are dressed up let’s make the atmosphere a little bit relaxed.How many guests are you expecting?KS:
We don’t know yet.
Will it be a thousand?KS:
Initially I thought it would be around that number, but it really depends how small or big you want it to become.Now that Mar is no longer running for president, will it affect your wedding list and the style and the preparations?KS:
No, this is the wedding I really liked from the beginning.He’ll wear Randy (Ortiz), right?MR:
I don’t even know him.KS:
(Laughs) He’s not into fashion, so he doesn’t know anybody actually.MR:
She knows me, that it must be something to my taste. If not, then I’ll go back and just pick up one. OK naman ’yung barong [The barong is ok].KS:
One thing about his personal stuff, only he decides on his personal stuff. He’s not the kind of guy na [that] I can dress up like a doll. I mean, some guys defer to the taste of their wives. Mar really has his own.MR:
We’re not really teenagers. I’ve dressed myself for 40 years, before we [got together]. (Laughs)Did it affect you when you learned of people asking, after his announcement, whether the wedding is still on?KS:
(Laughs) It’s like a split-second reaction and it’s, like, a little odd for anybody to be asking that. But you disregard it after a second. Well, of course, they’re invited to the church if there’s space, for them to see for themselves that this is going to happen. I guess the TV coverage is evidence enough.I was asking how he was after that announcement and he said “at peace.” How about you?KS:
I agree.I mean you.KS:
Well, I am even more at peace when I’m with Mar. He’s a calming factor in my character and in my life. (Laughs) He’s a stabilizer.What do you feel about Mar stepping down?
Hahaha, now I realize why it is always the juicier idea to pursue an interview with the spouses of politicians. The spouses are usually not the trained diplomats, not the seasoned politician.
As a soon-to-be spouse and someone who has seen Mar and everyone around him plan and work tirelessly in this campaign, and as someone who as well has worked and sacrificed as much for the pursuit of these very same goals, I hurt, naturally. The pain, as my friend told me listening to my interview with Ted Failon, was infectious. But you have to consider, this was a day right after Mar’s abdication as LP (Liberal Party) standard-bearer. It wasn’t planned that I would break down. But it was inescapable once I started remembering Mar’s hard work and eventual sacrifice.
I think it’s forgivable for the would-be spouse and the fan and the believer to think that Mar is the best candidate of them all – for whatever position he goes for. Before it all started for him, prior to his younger brother Dinggoy’s death, Mar was also the most reluctant to enter politics. And as my story to Ted went, I chanced upon Mar’s diary of written prayers a few months ago, continually asking for divine discernment – asking God where he should go, how he should do it, knowing well what his intentions are in the name of his forebears, for what’s best for the country.
So I believe he was going the way his discernment told him, led by answered prayers.
What’s admirable about what he did was that I knew it to have been a burdensome process. As burdensome and painful as the eventual outcome of that decision-making process was, he decided very swiftly.Is politics changing you? How?KS:
Sometimes I can’t help but feel the difference between politics and public service. I guess politics is what you have to put up with so that public service can even be possible. In this sense, it is much easier to do public service as a broadcast journalist. Politics hasn’t changed me. But, I would like to believe, it has improved me – in as much as I would like to continue to discern which parts of politics are good and which parts I would never want to succumb to.
How? As they say, it takes a village to succeed. Mar tells me: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to get to your destination, bring many.”What do you now say to Mar’s detractors?KS:
Mar’s decision came out of his own discernment. Out of his talk with Noynoy. For this kind of sacrifice, no one can really tell you what to do, or be dictated by personalities whose opinions are predictably biased or baseless. What do I say? Nothing more. Mar’s integrity shines too brightly now and they are all too blinded to speak. And even if they do, it doesn’t matter anymore.At this point, which way do you think Mar’s political career is going?KS:
At this point, Mar is whole. Most importantly to him, he stood by what he believed in his heart to be the right thing to do... Do you know that Mar did not even want to entertain Noynoy’s offer for him to be vice president in case Noy actually runs? Mar did not want to tarnish the integrity of his decision with a transaction.Both of you have been independent singles for so long. How are you adjusting to being one-half of a couple?MR:
Are you asking how’s the sex?KS:
(Laughs) You cannot answer questions like that until after the wedding.MR:
(Laughs) It’s an adjustment. I think that in the most important elements, there’s not much adjustment. Meaning, there’s a difference between preference and fundamentals. In the fundamentals we’re very, very aligned. In the preference... well, you know, giving, giving, giving...Has she brought you to a, let’s say, a dermatologist?MR:
No, but I will say that she’s taken me on a few adventures, some of which I thought were kooky. We went to this, I don’t know, eskinita [sidestreet], I don’t know, I can’t remember. I can’t even go back there... Sa may [It’s somewhere in] Singalong, you know? It’s like, parang [like a] secret – not-everybody-is-allowed-to-come-here kind of place. We put our feet in this batya [basin]. Parang it drains you of toxic stuff like that, and the batya, the water in the batya became rust-colored, orange.Was there ever a chance when she had to drag you kicking and all that?MR:
All the time. (Laughs)KS:
No, no, no, no, no. That’s not true. I am the least nagger of all.So you’re not yet a nagger?KS:
Not yet and I don’t intend to.MR:
Yeah, I mean, I think we respect each other’s downtime a lot because we know how busy and how public our lives are.How about shopping? (To Korina) Do you shop for him?KS:
No, because he, you know, he likes wearing the same shoes all the time. (Laughs) And if you buy a replacement, it’s the exact same design. For years and years and years from the time I met him...MR:
I’ll have... like these brown ones (shows his shoe)... I’ll have, like, three of these. Exactly the same. Napudpod na [It’s worn out] so I just buy exactly the same one. And so she learned. She bought me a very, very nice [expensive] watch. “Thank you.” For Christmas. “Thank you, I love it. It’s wonderful.” And I wore it for like two weeks and I’m back to my Timex.Have you reached a point na [that] you had to hide your shopping from him?KS:
Sometimes. Sometimes I have to keep the bags in the car.Why?KS:
Well, he never really calls my attention to anything that I buy because in our entire six-year relationship, I have never asked money from him for anything. To buy anything. I’m really averse to asking money from my partner to buy anything for myself.Have you seen your gown?KS:
Well, I’ve seen the drawing.Drawing lang [Only the drawing]?MR:
It’s two months away.KS:
I’m quite excited about it. It’s simple enough but not too simple. Pepito [Albert] is great. Very talented. And I acknowledge his talent.MR:
She has three bags that are our children (laughs). I know she’s saved up for them, she’s searched the Internet for the best price... Tatlo, apat na beses na balik-balikan niya ’yung tindahan to buy it, ganun [Three, four times she went back to the store to buy it, like that]. So when she finally came home with it, I said: “Parang anak na natin iyan ah [It’s like having children].”
Ano ’yun, Birkin?MR:
I don’t know the names eh. I just know.KS:
Hey, but you know what? I sold most of my bags. I have this traveling tiangge of much of the stuff I never really get to use. The money went to a community in Quezon. I put up houses for, like, 200 families? It’s still a work in progress... Bags, all my stuff. I figured: “What will I do with all of these?”
So I put it all together, and it went to building a community whose houses were damaged and lost in the landslides in Aurora, Quezon.
Are you in combative mood? Why? Why not?KS:
No, no. Never combative. I am not in a position to become combative. I wasn’t the candidate, I wasn’t the one who abdicated. I’m merely the sympathizer and the fan and the spouse who feels for her husband-to-be. Maybe I was just misunderstood. But I was just actually hurt.
Mar should be the example. It was his sacrifice. Mar made it clear to me this battle has been won... So, since yesterday, I realize that it doesn’t matter now what anyone had said about Mar, or whether they want to apologize, retract, deny or insist on what they want to believe. There is nothing that speaks louder and truer than that day in Club Filipino. It is a sacrifice that now seems to have paved the way for others to emulate.Are you disappointed you won’t be First Lady – for now?KS:
I am his only lady. When anybody would ask me that before, I would always say: “It never really is in my agenda.”
I don’t even know what a First Lady does. While I think that position is something you can use to do some good, in media we can do so much more. No, I don’t miss anything that I never really aspired for in the beginning. I never went delusional about being First Anything. The ball I kept looking at was Mar’s determination to reform, to change this country.How are you making sure all that stress will not show on your face on your wedding day?KS:
Well, it will be much easier now. I’m not really going out so much. Since my leave of absence, I’ve really caught up with my eight hours of sleep. And I am a believer that past 35, the surest and most foolproof way to stay slim is to suffer – eat less, exercise more.Happy about the wedding preparations?KS:
Tuloy na tuloy [It’s all systems go]! I am very excited about the plans so far, and resuming the preparations. We have a big meeting tomorrow about the final plans and I’m just all about the look, the colors, the decorations, the layout, the music, the entourage, hay! For someone who has abandoned all romanticism about weddings, I am succumbing to these guilty pleasures.
But that’s what you get from a man who wears a rubber Timex watch instead of the Cartier watch I gave him. He’s all about practical. But each and every time, the bottom line is what is true to us and what will make us and our loved ones most happy on that day.