Mar Roxas: Game changer?

President Benigno Aquino III’s endorsement of Interior and Local Secretary Mar Roxas as his preferred successor could be the game changer in the simmering run-up to the 2016 presidential elections.

The President’s endorsement of Roxas simplifies the political equation, but this move could also lead to the realignment of the parties and groups in the political spectrum. The awaited "presidential anointment" makes Roxas the rallying point of the ruling coalition led by the President’s political party – the Liberal Party (LP).

This indicates the continuation of the “Daang Matwid,” the LP-led ruling coalition program of government that emphasizes a strong anti-corruption agenda. No less than the President has made it clear in his July 27 State of the Nation Address (SONA) that he prefers his successor to continue his agenda. “Gains can falter in just one election,” the President in his last SONA.

It appears that the President’s preference for Roxas has yet to meet opposition within the LP-led ruling coalition, or even within LP, of which Roxas is a ranking leader. It is somewhat a foregone conclusion. When asked about the prospect of becoming the standard-bearer of the LP-led coalition, Roxas was brief and straight to the point: “If I were to be anointed, I won’t dribble the ball. I’ll dunk it.” (READ: Why Mar Roxas won't take things for granted)

Implications

Every presidential contender covets and works to get all support – political or financial – to win the presidency. The presidential endorsement is a form of political support. An effective one, however, depends on the credibility of the outgoing president and even the presidential contender.

Cory Aquino’s endorsement of Fidel Ramos helped the latter in the tight presidential elections in 1992, the first ever after the dismantling of martial law. But Fidel Ramos’ selection of Jose de Venecia Jr in 1998 and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's support for Gilberto Teodoro in 2010 proved to be disastrous. Their candidates lost miserably.

Aquino's endorsement of Roxas is being perceived as the game changer since opinion polls show the President enjoying popular support and goodwill among the people. Moreover, opinion polls also showed the people’s growing acceptance and appreciation of his anti-corruption agenda.

Roxas is also being perceived in a positive light. He is seen as the lesser evil, when compared to Vice President Jejomar Binay, who faces serious allegations of corruption, and Senator Grace Poe, who is said to have serious citizenship and residence issues.  

The presidential endorsement carries a lot of weight, as it could become the clarion call for all supporters of the President’is anti-corruption agenda to support the President’s candidate, who happens to be Roxas. Incidentally, Roxas has pledged to continue and uphold the anti-corruption agenda, if ever he wins the presidency in 2016.

Moreover, it could lead to what has been the unwritten rule in Philippine politics – the mobilization of the state machinery to support the President’s chosen candidate. (READ: LP: Party to beat in 2016)

To show the importance of a presidential endorsement, Binay, the country’s second highest political leader, openly coveted and solicited it, but to no avail. When he knew it would never come, he resigned from the Cabinet and assumed the stance of the political opposition.

Political scion

Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, 58, is the son of former Senator Gerardo Roxas and Judy Araneta. Mar is the grandson of Manuel Roxas, the first president of the Philippine Republic and one of the troika of LP founders, and industrialist J. Amado Araneta. He was born with the proverbial silver spoon, as he belongs to an entrenched political family on his father side and an economically privileged family on his mother’s side. He is married to broadcast journalist Korina Sanchez and has a son, Paolo Gerardo, from a previous relationship.

Roxas went to the Ateneo University for his elementary and high school education. He earned his economic degree at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Economic. Roxas did not plan to go into politics unlike his father and elder brother, the late Gerardo Jr., or Dinggoy. Instead, he worked in New York as an investment banker, where he rose to become an assistant vice president of a boutique investment firm there.

Roxas returned to the Philippines in 1985 to help in the political campaign of Cory Aquino, who faced dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the 1986 “snap” presidential elections. When Mrs. Aquino was installed as president after the EDSA People Power Revolution, he went back to the US but not without helping those business missions to help Philippine officials find suitable American business interests willing to invest in the country.

After his brother Dinggoy died of cancer, he ran in the 1993 special congressional election and won his brother’s seat, the first district of Capiz. He was reelected in 1995 and 1998 and rose to become to the majority leader of the House of Representatives.

He resigned his congressional seat in 2000 to assume the post of Department of Trade and Industry secretary under the Estrada administration. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo reappointed him in 2001 and he held the position until 2004. He topped the 2004 senatorial elections. He was the running mate of the President in 2010, but he lost to Binay.

The President named him as secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communications. Later, he assumed the post of secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government after Jesse Robredo died in 2012.

As DTI secretary, Roxas quietly worked to make the nascent business process outsourcing (BPO) a major pillar of the Philippine economy. In a visit to the US, Roxas met with American tycoon and philanthropist Bill Gates and convinced him to provide software which Filipinos could use in servicing American clients.   

Sticking to timetable

Roxas took a low political profile, even as Binay, his old nemesis, projected himself as unbeatable in 2016. He has been the subject of a surreptitious but vicious media campaign to portray him as inept, inefficient, and unwinnable.

Over the last five years, Roxas has endured the brickbats, even as he has worked quietly to establish himself as one of the vital cogs in the Aquino administration. He hardly talked about his political plans, as he preferred to address the requirements of his job. Unlike Binay, Roxas hardly went to provincial sorties to project his political aspirations.

His patience eventually paid off when the President thanked him, paid tribute to his efforts, and spoke glowingly of his integrity and dedication to public service. In what appeared to be a putdown of Roxas’s political enemies, the President said: “Mar, you have proven that you can never put a good man down.”

It appears that Roxas has deliberately kept quiet and shied away from making premature pronouncements. It appears too that he has stuck to a political plan that sets a definitive timetable for his political aspirations.

Moreover, Roxas seems to have learned tremendously from his 2010 political debacle, where, after enjoying a big lead, he became complacent and lost to Binay. It appears, too, that he has become calculating but deliberate in going after the presidency.

In short, he has learned when to talk and disclose his political aspirations, unlike Binay, who seems to have lost any semblance of rationality in his presidential quest.  

Strong points

Roxas’s strong points as a presidential contender stems from his capacity to work hard and stay away from any corrupt activity. In almost 22 years of public service, his name is not tainted with corruption.

In brief, Mar Roxas, who has been earlier dismissed as lacking in charisma and, ergo, unwinnable, becomes the new center of political gravity.

Alliance and party building and preparations for 2016 become easier, as logistical support flows to ensure a working and effective political machinery in 2016.

So many things and issues would emerge in the run-up to the 2016 presidential elections. But the way Roxas has been preparing and managing his quest for the presidency and the way the President and the ruling coalition have been supporting him, it appears he has a good chance of getting it. – Rappler.com