Even with a Cabinet rank and the privilege of being in the President’s inner circle, Ronald Llamas claims he still forgets that he’s “no longer a regular guy.”
The presidential adviser on political affairs admitted this much in an interview on Monday, after issuing a formal apology to Malacañang over a Philippine Daily Inquirer eyewitness report that spotted him buying pirated DVDs in a Quezon City mall last week.
The episode once again put Llamas on the spot, three months after he was forced to explain why he was keeping several firearms, including a semiautomatic assault rifle which was inadvertently exposed in public after two of his bodyguards figured in a road accident while Llamas was abroad.
But Llamas need not feel alone and without friends on this one. Among those who think he should be given some slack is a former President—and ironically a pillar of the local film industry—as well as a former university president who vouched for Llamas’ “simplicity” and fancy for “everything cheap.”
“He was not stealing. He was, in fact, buying,” former President Joseph Estrada said at Kapihan sa Diamond Hotel media forum on Monday, drawing chuckles from the gathering.
Estrada said the Aquino administration had more important matters to prioritize, like the issue of corruption. “(Llamas’ purchase of pirated DVDs) is not an issue, so why should we play it up?” he said.
He said the government should instead offer alternative sources of livelihood to those being forced to sell pirated merchandise and “investigate why pirated DVDs were being sold (in a mall) in the first place.”
Former University of the Philippines president Francisco Nemenzo also defended Llamas on Tuesday from what he called the “hypocritical outrage over the tabloid photo showing him in a pirated DVD stall in a popular shopping mall.”
“Pirated goods will attract ordinary people when the originals are excessively priced,” Nemenzo said in a press statement.
Nemenzo said he had been a close friend of Llamas for the past 30 years and that he knew him to be “an assiduous bargain hunter who shuns expensive department stores and boutiques.”
He recalled that during a conference he and Llamas attended in Europe a few years ago, the latter “dragged (Nemenzo) to a flea market where they searched for treasures in piles of rubbish.” This was when the conference “became unbearably boring.”
‘He loves anything cheap’
“He loves anything and everything cheap,” Nemenzo said, noting that his friend “has not lost his simplicity even if he is already a Cabinet member and one of the President’s closest advisers.”
“The derogatory publicity he elicited last week only shows that Ronald is unlike others who suddenly adopt a lavish lifestyle once appointed to high positions. I am glad that he is still the simple person I have known him to be,” Nemenzo said.
Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., has given Llamas until Wednesday to “explain in writing” why he should not face “administrative disciplinary proceedings” over the DVD purchase.
Llamas apologized to President Aquino, a shooting range buddy, on Friday and also to fellow government officials in a statement released to the press on Monday.
“Sometimes I do forget I am no longer a regular guy,” he said when reached by the Inquirer on the phone.
He said this could pretty much explain what happened on the night of January 23, when he was photographed by Inquirer Bandera associate editor Dona Policar casually buying almost P2,000 worth of pirated DVDs.
Llamas said he was with his two daughters when he purchased the DVDs at Circle C mall on Congressional Avenue. They do go malling together at least once a month, and he would indeed often go for cheap items if offered a good bargain, he said.
In his statement, Llamas apologized to the government “for any difficulty and unintended embarrassment” and promised to “exercise more care and prudence” in his actions.
Llamas said he had also apologized to President Aquino himself “for the impropriety and lack of discretion as well as the unintended embarrassment this may have caused the administration.”
“I didn’t want the government to expend its energy over a regretful incident and so I submitted to the process that was launched and I am ready to face the findings and recommendations of the inquiry,” he said.
Deputy presidential spokesperon Abigail Valte said the Palace was “holding off any judgment because the investigation (was) still ongoing,” when asked by reporters whether Llamas still enjoyed the trust and confidence of the President.