MMDA chief out of LP Senate slate
IN THE END, the public had spoken and Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chair Francis Tolentino had no choice but to heed it.
Tolentino on Wednesday apologized for the raunchy dance number at a Liberal Party (LP) event in Laguna province last week that unleashed condemnation from various sectors, who said the sexually suggestive performance was at odds with the ruling party’s “straight path” avowals.
Tolentino, who declared his senatorial bid just days before the Playgirls controversy, asked the LP to drop him from its senatorial slate, and resigned his post as MMDA chief.
Even so, he still expressed his intention to seek higher office in 2016.
At the inauguration of a new boat at the Pasig ferry station in Guadalupe on Wednesday morning, Tolentino apologized for not stopping the Playgirls’ performance during the oathtaking of LP members that coincided with the birthday celebration of Laguna Rep. Benjamin Agarao Jr. in Sta. Cruz, Laguna, on Oct. 1.
“I am asking for understanding and forgiveness, especially from women groups who were hurt because of the incident,” Tolentino said, admitting that he failed to stop the performance of the female trio which, he said, “can also be seen every day by millions in television shows.”
“I am asking forgiveness from everyone who got offended by the incident especially to the family of Congressman Agarao and our friends from Laguna. I also apologize to my mother, who also got hurt, to the Liberal Party and Secretary Mar Roxas, whose name was dragged into what happened,” Tolentino said.
“I asked the Liberal Party to remove my name from the list they are considering for their senatorial lineup,” he added.
“I am now resigning as the MMDA chair,” he said, reading the resignation letter addressed to President Aquino that he signed before the agency’s employees. The time has come for him to seek a higher level of serving the nation in 2016, he said.
In a statement released earlier Wednesday, Mr. Aquino said Tolentino had reached out to him and “accepted responsibility” for the Playgirls incident.
“With this, he has likewise decided to withdraw as a senatorial candidate of the administration,” he said.
Tolentino, however, said that the incident should not take away the sacrifices his leadership had done for the MMDA, adding that he offered 24/7 service to the people as head of the agency.
“I entered the MMDA to serve the interests of the majority. And I would not have done it without your help,” he said addressing MMDA employees, whom he also asked to pray for him and support him in 2016.
While Tolentino did not reveal his political plans, sources close to him confirmed that he would still pursue his senatorial bid, but was still undecided under which party.
Last week, Tolentino declared his Senate run in a gathering of Cavite political clans, including the Revillas, Maliksis and Remullas, and promised to carry the province’s banner in seeking higher office.
Two days after, the Playgirls incident happened, stirring up public condemnation after an Inquirer video of the raunchy dance number drew at least 1.3 million views on YouTube. The emcee had repeatedly acknowledged the Playgirls’ number as Tolentino’s gift to Agarao during the LP event, a claim that the former MMDA official had denied, saying he was just an invited guest at the party.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in a press briefing that the Playgirls fiasco “does not define Chairman Francis Tolentino and it should not define what he has done for us as chairman of the MMDA.”
Palace officials said the show, which triggered public indignation, brought forth the need to discuss women issues at a national level.
“Issues like this and the public outrage that followed will bring gender sensitivity and equality high in the national discourse. That’s one good take away from this incident,” said Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.
“It is also a reminder to those participating in the political process of the need to always be mindful of how we treat the dignity of everyone, including the womenfolk,” Lacierda said.
‘Victim of circumstance’
Tolentino’s withdrawal from the LP’s Senate slate has rendered the ongoing LP investigation into the incident “academic,” Abad said.
As for Agarao, the budget secretary described him as a “victim of circumstance” who had already apologized for what happened.
In a text message, Abad said Tolentino was “asked to seriously consider whether to pursue his Senate bid in the face of the public outrage” against the Laguna incident.
“So this was his decision and we should laud him for taking such a painful and politically difficult position,” Abad told the Inquirer.
The President said Tolentino knew that “those who oppose meaningful reform will want to exploit the incident.”
“Francis is a firm advocate of daang matuwid (straight path),” Mr. Aquino said in a statement released by the Palace, although Malacañang had yet to confirm if the President had accepted Tolentino’s resignation.
“I believe that Chairman Tolentino is doing his part to ensure that public debate truly focuses on the continuation of daang matuwid and the undeniable benefits it has brought to our bosses,” Mr. Aquino said.
“In all his years of public service, from the time he was appointed by my mother (the late President Cory Aquino) as officer in charge of Tagaytay City in 1986, to his participation in the reform agenda as a member of my Cabinet, Francis demonstrated the dedication and dynamic leadership of a public servant committed to the common good,” he added.
“It is this same commitment that encouraged him to set his sights toward serving our people in a higher capacity,” Mr. Aquino said, adding that he believed Tolentino “will take the opportunity to further reflect on how he can better effect positive change in the future.”
Former Interior Secretary and LP standard-bearer Mar Roxas also lauded Tolentino for instituting reforms in the MMDA, including launching its own smartphone application and Twitter account to help the agency react faster to emergencies.
“As regards the recent incident in Laguna, it was a mistake. And I appreciate that… Tolentino has acknowledged this,” Roxas said in a statement.
“I also want to say that this mistake does not reflect the totality of Francis Tolentino and his service to our people,” he added.
“By his decision to withdraw from the LP’s Senate slate, Francis Tolentino demonstrates he is a true believer (of the) straight path,” Roxas said.
The LP presidential contender said the Playgirls incident “prompted” the LP leadership “to take a hard look at how we are conducting our campaign… which is a reflection of how you are going to govern. Our goal is always to raise the level of public discourse, to always appeal to our better angels. Moving forward, I ask our LP members and our supporters to adhere to this objective,” Roxas said.
As Tolentino packed his personal things, he bade an emotional farewell to the MMDA employees. “I think this is the last time we will see each other,” he said.