Laquian later tried to say that his remarks, gleefully reproduced by the media, were quoted out of context. It cut no ice with his enraged boss, who in a scene recalling cliched scenes in bad Filipino drama movies drove him out of the Palace: "Umalis ka dito, umalis ka." Laquian drove straight to the airport.
As chief of staff, he had been hired to straighten out the administrative chaos in the president’s office. He was also supposed to review all government projects worth over P50 million and all Official Development Assistance projects worth over P200 million pesos.
He lasted only 42 days, one of the shortest tenures in any Philippine Cabinet (Ernesto Maceda lasted six days as executive secretary in a pre-Martial Law government. Salvador Laurel lasted an hour as a "prime minister" in 1986).
In the aftermath of Laquian's departure, a furious Estrada went on to summon reporters to a very unpresidential press conference where he proceeded to slang his undearly departed chief of staff. Spouting the language of a palengkera, Estrada said Laquian was was a whoreson (a poor translation of one of Pilipino's strongest curse words) who was a henpecked husband (ander di saya) and was mentally malfunctioning (sira ulo -- another choice Filipino imprecation).
Everyone was at a loss to explain how the 65 year old Laquian -- an intellectual expat with a political science doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- could commit suicide so publicly and deliberately.
Hot Manila's favored explanation? Aliens did it. We remember a long long time ago seeing this really really bad American movie where a small town politician's delivering a campaign speech and this invisible spaceman shows up and fires a truth ray at the guy, who suddenly starts saying exactly what he plans to do when elected. Naturally the voters riot against him while the pleased spaceman takes a bite of a snack he had brought along -- green cheese from the Moon.
If you can come up with a better explanation let us know but if we were investigators we'd start sniffing around that ballroom where the press con was held. What to look for: bits of green cheese.
Meantime enjoy these tidbits, a recap of what Laquian said during that press lunch:
He said he'd been trying to convince Estrada to dump his cronies: "After 21 months in office, I told the President, maybe we can start saying no to these people. Maybe we should start and go back to delivering on the 1998 promises of Erap for the poor."
He revealed that he would print daily briefing papers in 16-point bold letters (LIKE THIS) for Estrada, who he said is not "a conceptual president."
He said it helped that he, Laquian, didn't drink "because at 4 o’clock in the morning, I am the only sober person in the room" and that "if there is one person who is sober in the room who would be able to take all of these things that were signed and then hide them in my record book, then the decision-making will probably be, in the beautiful light of the morning, very rational."
"The Filipino people did not elect a philosopher-king"
"The trouble with public administration in government is, there is no take two, no take three (like in the movies)."
On the President's perennial tardiness: "One time I told the president he was late. He said, `chief of staff, the president is always on time, the guests are early.' "