MANILA, Philippines—Businessmen and government officials from the six provinces of the Bicol region met recently to set in motion what they called a “no-nonsense effort” to draft a Bicolano for the 2016 presidential race.
The candidate they are eyeing: Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who told the Inquirer the presidency was the farthest thing from her mind at the moment.
“We sent her our letter on Wednesday. Hopefully she’ll agree and reply,” former senator Eddie Ilarde, who organized and presided over the meeting, told the Inquirer in a telephone interview.
In the letter, the group, which calls itself the “Bicol Express Coalition,” cited De Lima’s track record as a public servant.
“Your honest and distinguished service in the government has enshrined you in the hearts of the Filipino people who look forward to a worthy successor of President Aquino in 2016,” the letter said.
Contacted for a reaction, De Lima replied in a text message to the Inquirer that running for presidency was the last thing on her mind at present.
“Oh! I actually do not know how to react except to say that it’s humbling and flattering for me to realize that there are people or there’s a group with such aspirations. But I’m right now simply focused on my multifarious tasks and challenges. Running for any political post is not at all in my consciousness,” she said.
Ilarde said that this early, the group was calling to De Lima to accept the “patriotic challenge” of running for the highest political office in the country.
“It is never too early to set eyes on the presidency of a country. Presidents Ferdinand Marcos, Diosdado Macapagal, Manuel Quezon, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada and even Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, all had their plans to be president drawn up early—and they all succeeded in their quest,” Ilarde said.
Ilarde said even United States President Abraham Lincoln made preparations from 1832 to 1860 to become chief executive, eventually getting elected in 1861.
De Lima, 53, is a native of Iriga City in Sorsogon. She was an election lawyer before being appointed chair of the Commission on Human Rights in May 2008. She joined President Benigno Aquino’s Cabinet as justice secretary in June 2010.
The media-savvy secretary was offered a slot on the ruling Liberal Party’s Senatorial slate in the last elections but her candidacy did not push through.
The participants in the meeting said it was time that Bicol produced a president since the region was home to heroes and statesmen such as Jose Ma. Panganiban, Gen. Simeon Ola, Wenceslao Vinzons, Raul Roco and Jesse Robredo as well as prominent families such as the Fuentebellas, Villafuertes, Lagmans, Imperials and Escuderos.
“Secretary De Lima may not be obsessed with it, but many Filipinos believe that Divine Providence has chosen her to be the first President of the Philippines from Bicolandia, and the time to rev up the engines of the ‘Bicol Express’ is now,” Ilarde said, referring to the railway service that remains a major link between the region and Manila.
The last Bicolano to seek the presidency was the late Raul Roco, a native of Naga City, a lawyer, former education secretary and senator. He ran in the 1998 and 2004 elections.