Can LP clout lift Roxas’ ratings?
The endorsement of Interior Secretary Mar Roxas as the Aquino administration’s presidential candidate in the May 2016 general elections marked the revival of the Liberal Party (LP) as a pivotal force for political change in Philippine electoral democracy.
But the question remains: Can the clout of a resurgent party lift Roxas from the doldrums of his dismal popularity ratings in poll surveys of voter preference as prospective successor to President Aquino?
Roxas is struggling in the search of a formula that would reverse the tide of survey results sweeping him out of the winning column of the presidential race.
Using all the resources at its disposal to bail him out of his predicament as a laggard in the surveys, the administration has gone out of its way to stage a “show of force” of local government leaders demonstrating their support for the President’s endorsement, and has deployed the weight of the power of the presidency to sway public opinion behind his embattled heir-apparent.
In this demonstration of all-out support for and loyalty to Roxas, the President has not only thrown a safety net to his protégé but has also put his prestige on the line as he winds down the last few months of his presidency at the risk of being exposed as a lame duck incapable of influencing the flow of events as he struggles to leave an enduring legacy.
As I write this appraisal, there is so far no survey result that shows whether the presidential endorsement and the show of force had an impact in significantly changing public perception of Roxas’ winnability (not his competence or his integrity) which is the key issue in next year’s elections.
This issue is as important as the demonizing of Vice President Jejomar Binay as the incarnation of corruption, as he is depicted by allegations of charges laid against him and his family for unexplained wealth in various investigations, including congressional inquiries.
The issue of popularity in the ratings boils down to charisma, of which, according to recent survey, Roxas suffers a debilitating deficit compared with some of his rivals, notably Sen. Grace Poe.
Roxas comes off from these surveys as an elitist without a common touch that identifies him with the masses, though he is long on credentials for executive and technocratic experience, as secretary of trade and industry in the Cabinet of President Joseph Estrada, and in the private sector as an investment banker in New York, as well as academic preparation at Wharton, the business school of University of Pennsylvania.
Not a clone
In endorsing Roxas, the President praised him as “one who is certain to pursue the straight and narrow path,” and who can combine good governance with technocratic knowledge.
In accepting Mr. Aquino’s endorsement, Roxas came under criticism that he was too closely identified with the President’s “straight path” reform blueprint and had left the impression that he was becoming a clone of, and more of the same, Mr. Aquino.
He served notice that while he pledged to uphold Mr. Aquino’s anticorruption doctrine, he had his own version of political reform that would not be a stereotype of Mr. Aquino’s program.
The endorsement also marked the beginning of the dismantling of President Cory Aquino’s constitutional reform legacy, the chaotic medley of undisciplined parties held together by nothing more adhesive than charisma—a glue as elusive as a good dream.
Cory Aquino oozed with charisma; her son, in contrast, was not gifted with that endowment, unfortunately, and inherited his mother’s vindictiveness.
But Roxas is bland, unexciting, and can bore you to death. Roxas has no illusions about his huge deficit in this asset, forcing him to highlight his credentials on financial and economic management, and record of integrity in public service in both executive and legislative departments, unblemished by corruption scandals, to make up for his poor ratings in the poll surveys, which do not allow him to make exuberant claims on his winnability.
In accepting the challenge of Mr. Aquino to act as a bridge of continuity of his reform legacy, Roxas served notice he was not embracing the straight path anticorruption program hook, line and sinker.
In fact, he did not promise to be an echo of Mr. Aquino’s simplistic moralistic lectures that straight path is the key to economic progress and eradication of poverty.
Roxas cannot be expected to mouth the slogans of “daang matuwid” to proclaim his honesty every time he opens his mouth.
In his acceptance speech, Roxas implicitly made the point that he was not part of the legacy of the Cory-led Edsa People Power Revolution—that he was not a creature of the Edsa tradition and his political and public service career was not launched from the firing lines of people power. In this way, Roxas dissociated himself from the Aquinos’ Edsa legacy.
Going back to the resurgence of the Liberal Party in relation to the issue of Roxas’ winnabilility, I wish to argue that his endorsement at Club Filipino put in the hands of Roxas a pragmatic instrument that can only enhance his prospects of winning in 2016 and overcoming his deficit in the poll surveys, without depending on the weight of endorsements of others.
It is clear there is no stronger political machine with an extensive network nationwide and the capacity and resources to carry out a campaign of such scale for its candidates. Binay’s opposition coalition has nothing to offer as a credible counter to a strong Liberal Party.
Senators Poe and Francis Escudero have a semblance of a political party to mount a credible challenge. In this coming showdown, the ruling party has the edge in logistics.
It’s now up to Roxas to use this advantage of incumbency of his sponsors to make him look like a winner so he won’t be hostage to surveys.
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