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Analysis

Roxas must watch back against avowed friends

In a surprise move, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas stunned the ruling Liberal Party (LP) last Friday when he told Senate President Franklin Drilon, a fellow West Visayan (of the vote-rich Ilonggo bloc), that he is running for president in next year’s elections.

Drilon announced Roxas’ plans in an interview on Radyo Inquirer. “As of now,” Drilon, LP vice president, said, “Mar Roxas has expressed internally that he wants to offer his candidacy to the public, and the party will probably endorse that. So it’s Mar Roxas.”

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The announcement delivered the message that Roxas—the presumptive LP presidential standard-bearer in the 2016 elections—has lost patience waiting for the endorsement of President Aquino, the titular head of the party.

It jumped the gun on the President, who is expected to announce his preferred successor in June, and wrested the initiative from him, generating speculation in party circles that Roxas has at last cut the umbilical cord with Mr. Aquino and is now seizing the initiative to stake his bid for the presidency on his own merits and political assets, instead of hitching it to the daang matuwid (straight path) bandwagon of the administration.

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With his own experience in the legislature and previous administrations, Roxas does need to tirelessly remind the electorate of his honesty and record in governance, which remains untainted by the scandal of corruption.

But the problem dragging down Roxas is his ratings in opinion polls. For example, the most recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey, taken in March, showed Roxas ranked third among the potential candidates that voters said they would prefer to be president in 2016.

According to the SWS survey results, Vice President Jejomar Binay still occupies the top spot, with Sen. Grace Poe running a close second.

Binay is one of the earliest presidential aspirants to announce his candidacy. Why Binay has held on to the top ranking in the surveys despite battling serious allegations of corruption during his term as mayor of Makati and not while serving as Vice President with a post in the Aquino administration is hard to explain.

Corruption and experience are not an issue in the case of Roxas—electability is the issue.

Aquino’s endorsement

Doubts persist whether the President’s endorsement would help lift Roxas’ ratings.

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There are reasons to argue that Roxas, if he continues to tie his presidential bid to the apron strings of Mr. Aquino, will be pulled down by the weight of the plunge of the President’s trust and public satisfaction ratings following the deaths of 44 police commandos in a clash with Moro rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, on Jan. 25.

Assuming that, as Drilon has indicated, the Liberal Party endorses Roxas as its standard-bearer in 2016, the ruling party will be a crucial element in the success of Roxas’ presidential bid.

The LP is in the heat of cranking up the party machine for the campaign.

In the post-Edsa multiparty system, the LP emerged not as powerful structurally as the premartial-law LP under the old two-party system.

Four presidents

As the second-oldest party (after the Nacionalista Party, or NP), the LP produced four presidents—Manuel Roxas (1946), Elpidio Quirino (1949), Diosdado Macapagal (1961) and Benigno Aquino III (2010).

But Mar Roxas can’t be complacent about the LP’s history and track record to propel him to Malacañang, even though he is a descendant of the first postwar President and founder of the Liberal Party.

After the restoration of democracy following the 1986 People Power Revolution, the revived LP managed to be a significant party by serving as the nucleus of the coalition of post-Edsa parties.

In 1986, the LP supported Corazon Aquino, who was fielded by PDP-Laban as the common candidate of the anti-Marcos parties in the February 1986 snap election.

The LP supported the administrations of Lakas-CMD Fidel Ramos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

During the Arroyo administration, the LP had only 20 members in the House of Representatives.

But the LP was split after Drilon led a faction of the party in abandoning Arroyo at the height of allegations that she cheated in the 2004 election.

Not solid number

The LP remained a significant force in the Senate before Sen. Benigno Aquino III was elected President in 2010. It had four members in the Senate—Drilon, Mar Roxas, Francis Pangilinan and Mr. Aquino—not a solid number on which to build a stable coalition in the chamber.

The four senators voted not as a bloc, and were split individually on a number of issues.

Now, the LP has 89 members in the House. The number is relatively small compared to the 130 that Lakas-Kampi-CMD had in the chamber during its heyday.

Despite its growth, the LP was forced to coalesce with other parties—the NP and the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC)—in the 2013 senatorial election. No single party could fill up a ticket of eight candidates in that election.

The administration, despite the popularity of the President, had to admit that it needed the votes of the NP and the NPC in the House to push Mr. Aquino’s reform agenda.

Best friends

Knowing the shifts and volatility of alignments in Congress, President Aquino has not been known to rely on ideologically and policy-based parties for stable coalition-building.

This is why Drilon faces an uphill battle in building a working coalition that will support the presidential bid of Roxas, whose presidential aspirations are being undercut by lack of encouragement or, to put it another way, being sabotaged by a close buddy for whom he stepped aside in 2010.

Under Mr. Aquino’s style of politics, Roxas is better served by watching his back against avowed best friends. With such friends, he needs no enemies.

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, candidacy, Elections, Franklin Drilon, Mar Roxas, politics
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