Drilon: Only Mar Roxas for LP standard-bearer

MANILA, Philippines – He may not be doing well in presidential surveys but for the ruling Liberal Party (LP), only Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II is the choice for standard-bearer.

Senate President Franklin Drilon made this clear after Roxas said he prefers a second term for President Benigno Aquino III and following talk that the LP might turn to Senator Grace Poe to be its presidential bet.

“At this point, we are looking only at Mar,” Drilon said in an interview on #TalkThursday with Rappler Executive Editor Maria Ressa on Thursday, August 7. 

The LP stalwart acknowledged that Roxas, the party president-on-leave, is not ranking high in opinion polls but is still optimistic about his chances.

“[We still have] two years to go. There’s still a lot of things that can happen. Yes, right now, he’s lagging behind but let’s see what happens in the next few months,” Drilon said.

In a Pulse Asia survey from June 24 to July 2, Roxas ranked 4th among possible presidential bets, behind Vice President Jejomar Binay with 41%, Poe with 12%, former President Joseph Estrada with 9%, and tied with senators Francis Escudero and Miriam Defensor Santiago with 7%.

In 2009, Drilon also said Roxas remained the LP standard-bearer despite calls for Aquino to run for president after the death of his mother, the late president Corazon Aquino. The party though later changed its stance when Aquino decided to seek the presidency, and Roxas agreed to slide down to be his running mate.

Asked about Poe, Drilon said, “She is not a member of our party. We have not discussed matters [other] than our own party.”

LP member and actress-turned-Batangas Governor Vilma Santos-Recto is among those some observers see as a possible candidate for higher office.

“The person we are in touch with is Ralph,” Drilon said, referring to Santos’ husband, fellow LP member Senator Ralph Recto. “Ralph does not entertain any thought of Vilma going to a higher position.”

Crucial endorsement

Drilon said Aquino’s endorsement will be crucial in 2016, even if the President’s approval ratings went down after the controversy over the administration’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). The Court struck down key practices under DAP for violating the separation of powers among branches of government, and undermining Congress’ power of the purse.

“Maybe the endorsement of the past president (Gloria Macapapagal-Arroyo] shouldn’t matter and it didn’t matter. But yes, the endorsement of President Aquino will matter here. Four years into the presidency, majority of people still approve [of him]. After 4 years and going through all of this, he has a good majority of people approving him so his endorsement will be of value,” Drilon said.

Aquino’s endorsement became a subject of discussion after Binay, who heads the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), said he got word that Aquino might “adopt” him to be the ruling LP's standard-bearer in 2016.

Drilon, LP campaign manager in 2013, shot down the talk as the work of “spin masters.”

“If Mar Roxas makes public his decision to seek the presidency, the LP will support him. Having said that, the President is our chairman. He is the leader of our country. Certainly, his views as to who will continue his programs and who has supported him on his reform policy for the past 2 or 3 years will count a lot on who the next candidate will be for the administration and the party,” the Senate leader said.

PRESIDENT'S CHOICE. Drilon says the LP will heed the President in choosing who will succeed him. For now, the party's choice is Secretary Mar Roxas. File photo by Ryan Lim/Malacau00f1ang Photo Bureau

PRESIDENT'S CHOICE. Drilon says the LP will heed the President in choosing who will succeed him. For now, the party's choice is Secretary Mar Roxas.

File photo by Ryan Lim/Malacau00f1ang Photo Bureau

‘Term extension not on LP agenda’

Drilon also clarified that the LP is not pushing for another term for Aquino despite Roxas’ statement, which caught even him by surprise.

“I haven’t talked to Mar. Why he said it, I do not know. But certainly I was not consulted before that statement was made. I haven’t talked to him since he made that statement,” Drilon said. 

“All I know is it needs a constitutional amendment. All I know is that the President up to this point is averse to any constitutional amendment and it’s not in our agenda.” (READ: Palace: Aquino not aspiring for a second term)

Drilon reiterated that there is no talk of charter change in the Senate, adding that he doubts lawmakers will touch the political provisions of the Constitution. House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr is pushing to change the charter, but only the economic provisions involving foreign ownership of land and businesses.

Whatever Roxas’ motivations for floating the idea are, Drilon said it is still too early to write the secretary off as a presidential contender.

“One week can change the fortunes of a candidate. [In our] recent political history, on August 1, 2009, President Cory passed away. President Noy was out of the scene. Suddenly, with the death of Cory, he became the leading candidate from nowhere.”

He added, “I’m not saying that somebody should die again. What I’m saying is you’ll never know what will happen in two years. One week is too long in politics for political fortunes to change.” – Rappler.com