Korina Sanchez: Being there for Mar

Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBN News

Korina Sanchez-Roxas, the veteran ABS-CBN journalist, arrives with Mar Roxas during the launch of Roxas' presidential candidacy at the Club Filipino on July 31, 2015. Fernando G. Sepe, Jr., ABS-CBN News
PROFILES: The next First Lady or First Gentleman
Regardless of who wins among the 5 presidential candidates, Malacanang is going to welcome a much bigger First Family as bachelor President Benigno Simeon Aquino III bows out of office on June 30, 2016.
The Philippines will either have another First Gentleman if Senator Grace Poe or Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago wins, a First Lady if Vice President Jojo Binay or former DILG chief Mar Roxas makes it, or a daughter as First Lady if Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte succeeds.
What role the next First Lady or First Gentleman will play and how well (or bad) he or she performs will impact on the Philippine presidency. Will he or she be like an Imelda Marcos, a Ming Ramos, a Loi Ejercito, a Mike Arroyo, or the Aquino sisters?
News.abs-cbn.com takes a look at the women and men who may soon be moving into the Palace as First Lady or First Gentleman.

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It was the calm before the campaign storm for Mar Roxas and his wife, Korina Sanchez-Roxas.

On vacation abroad, they were taking a leisurely stroll when Roxas turned to his wife and asked her: "Honey, sabihin mo nga sa akin bakit natin ito gagawin ulit?"

Deep inside, Roxas, of course, knew the answer. But, as Sanchez-Roxas tells a crowd of celebrities, who have gathered to pledge their support for the Liberal Party’s presidential bet: “Gusto lang niya sigurong marinig mula sa asawa niya bakit ba i-uumpog na naman niya ang ulo niya rito.”

By her own admission, Roxas’s loss to Jejomar Binay for the vice presidency in 2010 was a painful episode for the couple, who were married just months before the elections in October 2009. There were also “many, many mistakes,” she acknowledged.

“I felt like I parachuted into a jungle in my wedding gown with a shield on one hand and a rocket-propelled-grenade launcher on the other! It was very abnormal,” she told ABS-CBN News.

“I report about politics but didn't know much about its innards. I felt then like being tossed around by waves. I ended up all wet and didn't know how I survived or where I landed.”

So, the couple “retreated a bit.” She eventually resumed her career in ABS-CBN, returning to the network’s flagship newscast “TV Patrol,” while Roxas later on joined the Cabinet of President Benigno Aquino III, first as the secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communication in 2011, and then as head of Interior and Local Government.

Sanchez-Roxas considers this current campaign their first as husband and wife.

“I'm a much stronger swimmer in this sea of politics. I'm not so impressionable, affected, not a bit overwhelmed by situations anymore as I was, quite a bit, in 2010,” she said.

So, at that moment, as they were the enjoying the chilly air in their last vacation before embarking on the tortuous road that would hopefully lead to the presidency, she told him: "Sa totoo lang, ang biyaheng ito ay iyo. Hindi ito akin. Pero dahil mahal kita, wala nang iba, ay tatabihan kita kahit saan ka magpunta.”

And they embarked on the journey again.

A WORK IN PROGRESS

A veteran broadcast journalist, Sanchez-Roxas was already one of the country’s top news anchors when she tied the knot with Roxas, who was a senator at the time.

“I've been a career woman all my 30 years as an adult and it's been all about me and my family,” Sanchez-Roxas said, describing herself as “a work in progress as a wife.”

“It wasn't easy, I think, for both Mar and me who were set in our ways. But we love each other. We have a mutual respect for each other. We want it to work and we are aware marriage needs work.”

But it was also amid the stress of this grueling presidential campaign – she said that for two years, she has been going around the country, including going to far-flung and poor areas – that their relationship “developed by leaps and bounds.”

“Maybe the demands for change and adjustment because of the campaign led us to where we are now and it is a good place,” she mused.

My marriage did affect my career in a big way. Much of my meaningful work as a journalist I couldn't pursue any longer. But I found great solace in my charities where I became much more active. - Korina Sanchez-Roxas 

IMAGE AND CAREER

To get there, however, Sanchez-Roxas had to make tremendous sacrifices, especially as far as her career was concerned. Although she continues to host the weekly magazine show “Rated K,” she had to give up “TV Patrol,” as well as her radio program on DZMM.

“I voluntarily took a leave of absence from work and have focused almost exclusively on everything Mar,” she explained.

But even before this campaign, her marriage to Roxas, who even at the time was already perceived as harboring presidential ambitions, had started affecting her public image.

She recalled that in 2009, Social Weather Stations (SWS) surveys showed her as the “most trusted on television” nationally, and she would also consistently land in the top 10 of probable senators. But after her marriage to Roxas, that ranking dropped to number 15-20.

“There were no significant events to explain the drop, so we think it may be because I'm also seen as compromised as a journalist. My partnership with a politician might have been perceived as a conflict of interest,” she acknowledged, noting that she also became a target of Roxas’s political opponents and supporters.

“So, yes, my marriage did affect my career in a big way. Much of my meaningful work as a journalist I couldn't pursue any longer. But I found great solace in my charities where I became much more active.”

Even as she took a leave of absence from work, there really wasn’t enough time for her to do anything else given the demands of political campaigning. She goes out on sorties daily, visiting two to three towns or provinces, meeting local leaders and speaking to multisectoral audiences – in public markets and malls, on the streets and inside jeepneys in terminals.

Then she has to be back in Manila by sundown “because three or four meetings are waiting for me that may run well into midnight.”

“But people love it,” she enthused.

But just as important, she also seems to be enjoying it, and this led her to the realization that “journalism isn't my real calling; charity is.”

DRIVEN AND HARDWORKING

Armed with the lessons of 2010 and her own experience as a veteran in the often-vicious world of the network wars, Sanchez-Roxas is much more immersed and active in her husband’s campaign.

“In television, it is like elections every day. Our ratings -- how we are faring with our audience -- is measured and reported by the minute. So, strategy for a political campaign can't be too different. Imaging, messaging is half the battle; the ground campaign being the other half,” she noted.

Sanchez-Roxas is famous – some say, notorious – for being a tough and demanding boss.

“When people say she can be a handful, they're not entirely wrong. But maybe that's because she is one of the most driven, hardworking and hands-on program anchors I've ever met,” said a former TV producer who worked with her on the program “Isyu.”

“Korina was always proud to say that she started from the bottom as a PA [Production Assistant] and worked her way up the ladder, thus she was quite knowledgeable about all the stages of production. She was meticulous and wanted to be in the loop about everything. On top of these, she maintained the boldness and impatience carried over from her years as a field reporter so malakas talaga ang dating niya. She knows what she wants and demands perfection. Working with her was not for the faint of heart.

“But this also meant that everyone around her was forced to do his or her best. Working with Koring makes one more resourceful, more creative, more mindful of the task at hand, maybe even more resilient. She was a multi-tasker -- she could check her email, talk on the phone and study her scripts all at the same time! Dapat mabilis ang pick-up mo. Hindi puwede ang tutulog-tulog sa staff niya. And that is not really a bad thing. I used to tell our staff, if you are able to work well with Korina, ibig sabihin magaling ka!”

A POLITICAL LIABILITY?

This hardened image, however, has been used against Roxas by his critics. In fact, in one media appearance, Roxas was asked point-blank about those who don’t want to vote for him because of his wife. Amid some snickers from the audience, Roxas replied: “I’m sad to hear that but Korina is my wife and I love her very much. She’s with me.”

Sanchez-Roxas is aware that even among her husband’s supporters, there are those who don’t like her.

“I call them the minority negatrons. To them, if I'm not an overspending prima donna, nor a plunderer, gambler or adulteress, I'm probably something else, right?” she quipped.

And to make sure that they are indeed just a minority, she said they had a survey conducted to find out the areas where she can improve and where she is strong.

“Happily, we all found out my approval ratings are quite high. In the Visayas and Mindanao, I hit almost 70%. In NCR, my numbers are at 60%. I think that's more than we even expected. I could work at achieving 100% to keep everyone happy but, that's just not possible. No one is perfect and no one escapes social media bashing. Hey, not even Pope Francis,” she quipped.

Besides, after many years in the media spotlight, Sanchez-Roxas is used to dealing with criticism and making enemies because of her strong opinions.

“I'm not perfect. But if the majority tell me I'm okay, I must be okay,” she said, noting the ratings of her shows through the years. “My husband seems to think I'm more than okay. These are all that matter.”

ROLE AS A PARTNER

But as far as criticism goes, Roxas had to endure far worse accusations and insinuations.

So, how do they as a couple deal with all the negativity? “Mar and I are both self-sufficient this way. We are very alike in that when some form of conflict comes our way, we each take it in, process it and resolve it alone. We aren't co-dependents in problem-solving,” Sanchez-Roxas said.

“Maybe because we have both been very independent in our personal lives and work for so long, we try not to dump on each other matters we can resolve on our own. Things stay pleasant between us more often this way.”

Her ABS-CBN colleagues attest that off-cam, Sanchez-Roxas is much more relaxed and cheerful.

“I have fond memories of finding her in the office quietly arranging flowers or wrapping her own holiday gifts. These are some of the things that calm her. As I said, Korina is very hands-on and this trait carries over to her personal life. She is the type of person who would write thoughtful messages on a greeting card in her flowing script, who would come to work with an armful of fragrant blooms from Dangwa (in Manila) that made her corner of the newsroom smell like a garden, or even design her own wrapping paper,” her former producer said.

One of her most unforgettable memories of Sanchez-Roxas was when she baked blueberry cheesecake as merienda for the staff.

“I still recall how she personally attended to everyone -- including the camera and technical crew -- placing each slice of cake carefully on a dainty plate and serving everybody herself. Some of the crew were too shy to come near her, so she went around to make sure everyone was fed and happy,” she recalled.

Sanchez-Roxas has brought this kind of personalized attention to her marriage.

“I find myself being home for him when he gets back from work -- even as I myself am out there. I try to keep things pleasant in the home, make sure he gets enough food and rest,” she said.

“This is my job as his partner: Getting things done, representing him, watching his back. When he gets home at night, there is no trace of the partner machine at work. We keep things light. We hardly talk shop. The home atmosphere should be soothing and calming.”

At home, she said, Roxas is no longer the cabinet secretary and she is no longer the broadcast journalist. She admits she used to be conscious about this but has eventually learned to switch off automatically.

“He makes fun of me me when he thinks I'm talking to him in my newscaster baritone. He says, ‘O, wala nang camera ha.’ And when he gets too serious naman with me like I'm one of his staff, I'll take out my cellphone and take his picture habang nakasimangot siya. We bring each other down to earth. The home is for serenity and we try not to ruin the ecosystem inside, as much as possible,” he said.

POLITICAL DISAGREEMENTS

But given her background as a prying and inquisitive journalist, it is but natural that they do have disagreements about politics. In fact, she admits that there were several “too juicy” to divulge.

“Maybe what I can safely share is that I disagree he takes up the cudgels, it seems, for everyone in government who have fallen short of the public's expectations,” she said, citing for instance, Metro Manila’s traffic and problems at the airport.

“But my husband is more upright than I am. He will take it for the team. Hindi siya manlalaglag. He will stand strong and take the bullets. That's a leader.”

It is enough for me that I am heard and that the thought that went into what I say is given enough respect and value. Mar may disagree, but he listens. - Korina Sanchez-Roxas

For her, it is enough that she is able to tell him what she thinks.

“It is enough for me that I am heard and that the thought that went into what I say is given enough respect and value. Mar may disagree, but he listens. I do not need validation. It is enough that I get to tell him and tell him why,” she said.

“There will always be an exchange. That means he is engaged and when he engages, that means he will process with my input. And then I trust his judgment. He and I are, as partners, together to fill in each other's blanks.”


MOVING FORWARD

Pressed about Sanchez-Roxas’s role if ever he wins the presidency, Roxas has been quoted as saying that he doesn’t expect his wife to go back to journalism. “She’s given up her profession for this. I expect her charity work na nasimulan niya, ‘yung kanyang Tsinelas Foundation, itutuloy niya. That would be her role,” he said last November.

Sanchez-Roxas pointed out that traditionally, first ladies are expected to support their husbands by espousing causes that are important to the people and which are close to the her heart. In her case, she said she could use her experience in public service and journalism to “continue lending my voice to the poor and marginalized,” particularly on issues that are close to her like those that affect children and the LGBT community, HIV/AIDS awareness, women's financial literacy, and population management.

“I've always been close to the poor, working with them and for them, and this won't change, with or without the title. I will be a working first lady probably wearing maong pants and sweating a whole lot of the time,” she said.

But, after spending 30 years as a high-profile media celebrity, Sanchez-Roxas isn’t about the quietly fade into background.

“Times are different. Times are modern,” she said, citing US First Lady Michelle Obama, who, she said, is “clearly an active partner to her husband but is never obtrusive.”

“I don't believe in being invisible. Women must lean forward,” she stressed.

“I can also make the sandwiches back home. I am also a homemaker, as my mother was before me. But we also must make our contributions. Women can and should be out there. Even in the Family Code, women are equal in financial responsibility for the household. So whatever we can do, we must do.”