Aquino backs interior minister Roxas to be next president

Philippine leader sees his choice as a certainty to continue his 'straight path' agenda

President Benigno Aquino (left) shaking hands with Mr Mar Roxas at a political party gathering in San Juan city, eastern Manila, yesterday. Mr Aquino has singled out Mr Roxas for the latter's "integrity, mettle and readiness for the job".
President Benigno Aquino (left) shaking hands with Mr Mar Roxas at a political party gathering in San Juan city, eastern Manila, yesterday. Mr Aquino has singled out Mr Roxas for the latter's "integrity, mettle and readiness for the job".PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

President Benigno Aquino yesterday endorsed Interior Minister Mar Roxas, a long-time ally and key figure of the centre-left Liberal Party, as his choice of successor in a bid to push his agenda beyond his term, which ends next year.

In backing Mr Roxas, Mr Aquino said: "The stakes are too high to just leave everything to chance.

"Why take a chance on 'maybes' when we have a certainty, one we can be certain is capable, has no other boss but the people, owes no debt of gratitude to any other, has no other interest except the people's? That person is Mar Roxas," he told hundreds of Liberal Party supporters.

Choking back tears, Mr Roxas told Mr Aquino: "I will never stray from the straight and narrow path… I will never taint your name."

The endorsement has been widely expected, after Mr Aquino failed to draft Senator Grace Poe, 46, who leads polls on who voters prefer to succeed Mr Aquino, 55.

  • Political family

  • Mr Mar Roxas comes from a long line of politicians. He is the grandson of the nation's fifth president Manuel Roxas. His father is former senator Gerardo Roxas.

    Mr Roxas, 58, had not planned on being in politics. A 1979 graduate of the Wharton School of Economics, he was an investment banker in New York for 14 years.

    His younger brother Dinggoy was the politician. But as fate would have it, Dinggoy died of cancer at the age of 33 in 1993.

    Dinggoy's seat in Congress passed on to Mr Roxas, and he held it until then President Joseph Estrada appointed him trade minister in 2000.

    In 2002, he was named the 16th Lee Kuan Yew Exchange Fellow. Two years later, he became a senator, getting more than 19.3 million votes, the third-highest tally in Philippine history.

    In 2010, he ran for vice-president alongside his former university classmate and long-time ally Benigno Aquino. Although he led the pack for most of the campaign, he lost narrowly to Mr Jejomar Binay, a former city mayor.

    A year after his loss, Mr Roxas was appointed as Mr Aquino's transport minister. Two years later, he was named interior minister.

    Mr Roxas has had to struggle with criticism that, having come from a wealthy family, he is aloof, even arrogant, and that he lacks a connection with the masses.

    "On paper, he looks like a competent technocrat and successor. But he lacks the popular touch," political science professor Richard Javad Heydarian, of De La Salle University, told Agence France-Presse.

    Mr Roxas' wealth is estimated at over 200 million pesos (S$6 million).

    He is married to television journalist Korina Sanchez, and he has a son from a previous relationship.

    Raul Dancel

In a survey conducted by polling firm Social Weather Stations in June, 42 per cent of respondents said they would vote for Ms Poe.

Mr Roxas, 58, trails Ms Poe and Vice-President Jejomar Binay in these surveys, but his numbers have improved from 15 per cent in March this year to 21 per cent in June, landing him in third.

Still, political analysts say Mr Aquino's endorsement is unlikely to improve Mr Roxas' chances dramatically. Mr Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said Mr Aquino's backing "has no decisive impact on the outcome of the presidential race".

Mr Prospero de Vera, vice-president for public affairs of the University of the Philippines, said Mr Roxas would have to "brand himself independent of (Mr Aquino)".

"He needs to project himself as someone who will not only pursue the agenda (of Mr Aquino), but also that he has something new to offer," he said.

Reacting to Mr Aquino's endorsement of Mr Roxas, Ms Poe wished Mr Roxas well. Mr Binay, meanwhile, said he is hoping to pull another upset victory over Mr Roxas.

The two ran for vice-president in 2010. Mr Roxas was ahead through most of the campaign. But on election day, Mr Binay enjoyed a surge that saw him winning by just under 700,000 votes.

In his last State of the Nation address on Monday, Mr Aquino hammered on the theme of continuity. He urged voters to rally behind a candidate who would continue his "straight path" agenda that he said led to a strong economy and dealt a blow to corruption.

He then singled out Mr Roxas for his "integrity, mettle and readiness for the job". Mr Roxas has taken as his own Mr Aquino's campaign slogan "on to a straight path".

Mr Aquino endorsed Mr Roxas at the historic Club Filipino in Manila.

It was there that Mr Aquino's mother Cory Aquino was sworn in as the Philippines' 11th president in 1986 after ousting strongman Ferdinand Marcos, and also where Mr Roxas announced in 2009 that he was dropping his own bid to become president to give way to Mr Aquino.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2015, with the headline 'Aquino backs interior minister Roxas to be next president'. Subscribe