After much speculation, President Aquino finally anointed DILG Secretary Manuel Roxas II as the standard bearer of the Liberal Party for the 2016 presidential elections.
Everything considered, it must have been a difficult and agonizing decision for the President. Before the Club Filipino proclamation, he tried his best to form a winning team in Secretary Roxas and Senator Grace Poe. Senator Poe however, refused to join. In the end President Aquino was left with no other choice but to endorse Secretary Roxas.
If he did not endorse Roxas, President Aquino would have been seen as someone who does not know how to acknowledge a debt of gratitude and reward loyalty. It would also have been difficult to explain to the Liberal Party why he did not endorse Roxas. The possibility of the party revolt was a big consideration.
In a way, the endorsement was the easy part. The more difficult part is how to get Roxas elected as president in 2016. The gathering was billed as a gathering of friends -- but why there? It is understandable that the place has a lot of emotional attachment to the Aquino family. It was in Club Filipino, after all, where the late President Cory Aquino took her oath of office as President in 1986. It was also there that PNoy announced his intention to run for president in the 2010 national elections. But Roxas has no such attachment to the place. For a candidate battling the impression that he is elitist, Club Filipino was the worst place for him to announce his intention to run for president.
The place is a bastion of elitism. Even if it was chosen because of its significance to the Liberal Party, it was a poor choice for Roxas because it only reinforces the notion that he is the candidate of the rich. Indeed, one journalist was overheard saying to the other camp, presumably the party of VP Binay, saying that “panalo na kayo puro mayayaman and nandito.” It would have been better if the place chosen was less ostentatious like a simple makeshift grandstand with less fortunate people in the crowd. As it was, an air-conditioned room full of rich people was not a good way to start a presidential run considering the number of poor people in the country.
The crowd invited also included local political stalwarts who are considered kingpins in their provinces but have a reputation of being very corrupt which makes one wonder what corrupt politicians were doing in a gathering whose battle cry is daang matuwid.
With the endorsement of Secretary Roxas, there are now two declared presidential aspirants. Senator Poe, although she has not made any announcement yet, is certain to declare her intention to run for president in September. This was at least what a very ranking official of the National Peoples Coalition told me. This NPC official also told me that Senator Cynthia Villar of the Nacionalista Party has also committed to support Senator Poe.
If what this official said is accurate, then we will be seeing three or more candidates for President. Senator Poe who is clearly the frontrunner and is so far ahead that she could even afford to turn down an invitation from the Iglesia ni Cristo for a meeting. If this report is true, it is probably the first time that a politician has turned down an invitation from the INC, a denomination known for voting as a block.
Whether this refusal is a show of strength on the part of Senator Poe or simply a calculated political move, we do not know. After all, she has not yet made any categorical pronouncements as to her clear political intentions. But her refusal to join the administration may now pose some problems for her. This could pave the way for parties to challenge her citizenship and residency status. Indeed, there are now reports that a disqualification case will soon be filed against her as a senator. She however, has been able to assemble a battery of legal luminaries reportedly led by two former Chief Justices of the Supreme Court to defend her.
According to another source, part of the strategy is to make her so popular and ahead of everybody that the people will simply turn against anyone wanting to derail her candidacy. It is hard to see how this particular strategy can gain traction because as lawyers would love to say, the law is the law. Except for Senator Escudero who already said that he is willing to be the vice president of Senator Poe, VP Binay and Secretary Roxas are still scouting for prospective running mates who can strengthen their teams.
As of this time, we do not see any of those who have plans to seek higher office jockeying to be chosen by the two declared aspirants. It seems that they would rather be courted. Secretary Roxas is still hoping Senator Poe would change her mind and join him as his vice presidential running mate. This is wishful thinking. Secretary Roxas is better off looking for someone else. Maybe Senator Alan Cayetano or Senator Antonio Trillanes who jumped the gun on everyone by declaring that he would run for vice president no matter what. Governor Vilma Santos has also ruled out a run for higher office.
Part of the reason why no presidential team has already been formed is that Senator Poe is delaying her decision whether to run or not. It is putting everyone in suspense. Pundits, candidates and contributors are waiting before they make their final moves. It seems that no one wants to make a hasty move and regret it later. Many things can still therefore happen.