LP leaders still pinning 2016 hopes on Roxas
MANILA, Philippines–Never say die.
Despite Interior Secretary Mar Roxas’ abysmal performance in voter-preference polls, some members of the Liberal Party (LP) are still clinging to their hope that he will be the party’s presidential candidate in 2016.
“Of course, he is,” House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. replied when asked if Roxas was still in the running for the coveted party endorsement despite falling to sixth place and trailing 20 percentage points behind the leading presidential choice, Vice President Jejomar Binay, in the latest Pulse Asia survey.
“The elections are still far off. There will be a lot of ups and downs. Anything can still happen,” said Belmonte, a vice chair of the LP.
He denied speculation that the LP had given Roxas until the November survey of Pulse Asia, its last for this year, to prove that he had good odds of winning, which would justify a party decision to pour its funds and put its machinery behind his ambition.
Other party members insist this is not yet the time to talk about 2016.
Iloilo Rep. Jerry Treñas, head of the LP’s Visayas bloc, said it was too early for the party to make a decision based on the surveys.
Besides, Roxas has not even said he will run for president.
“At the moment, he (Roxas) has not declared that he is running [unlike Binay who has been open about his 2016 plans]. The President is going to choose his candidate for the Liberal Party. It is still too early to tell,” Treñas said.
Still other party members are not yet looking at the polls as guides to choosing a candidate, at least for now.
“We believe that the LP and President Aquino will be able to come up with a very strong Team P-Noy in 2016. We will think of the country and the party first before individual interests,” Erice said.
Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. of the National Unity Party said he believed Roxas would make a strong showing when the election came closer.
“I’m still for Mar Roxas because the issue in the coming elections will still be good governance and graft and corruption. This is the reason why Poe is high in the surveys, because they believe she is for [the straight path],” Barzaga said.
Roxas’ unpopularity among voters has led to suggestions that the Liberals look outside their party for candidate with strong chances of winning.
On that, President Aquino has the final say, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said.
A possible candidate is Sen. Grace Poe, whose rating surged in the latest Pulse Asia survey to put her in second place.
But Poe, who attended the LP’s Christmas party in Malacañang on Wednesday last week, remains undecided about running for president.
“You have to ask the President,” Abad, an LP stalwart, told reporters in the Senate when asked if the administration was now looking at Poe as a possible presidential candidate.
At the Christmas party last week, LP members were “not shy” to shake Poe’s hands even in the presence of Roxas, a party member said.
“It doesn’t follow. We’ve always engaged in coalition politics,” Abad said when asked if Poe or Sen. Francis Escudero, who also attended the Christmas party, had to join the LP if either of them would be considered for the 2016 election.
For Abad, Roxas still “has an advantage.”
“Because he has always been there. He’s a party man. And he’s loyal; he gave way,” he said.
“Is he it? Well, it’s still 17 months to go,” he added.
In 2010, Roxas gave way to then Sen. Benigno Aquino III in the race for Malacañang because of a strong public clamor that followed the death of his mother, former President Cory Aquino.
Roxas instead ran for Vice President, but lost to Binay, who had strong local support.
For the 2016 presidential election, Binay continues to lead the pack in the polls, although his rating plunged by 5 percentage points to 26 percent in the last Pulse Asia survey.
Poe, who topped the 2013 senatorial election, surged to 18 percent, dislodging Roxas in second place.
But despite her surge in popularity among voters, Poe does not want to make a commitment.
“While 2016 is within sight, it can’t compare with the problems we’re facing now. Besides, I have sworn to a job in the Senate. And it’s unfair if I keep peeking into the other side, and then won’t be able to do my job here,” she told Senate reporters.
“My answer remains the same: I’m not preparing for that. But I’m thankful for the continued trust in me,” she added.
“Actually, I’m more worried. [The presidency] is not for the unprepared. I’m more comfortable with the opportunity [to be in the Senate]. I can’t say I’m more encouraged. On the contrary, I’m more bothered. I have a lot to learn,” she said.
Sen. Francis Escudero said Poe’s surge in the polls was not a surprise given her No. 1 ranking in the 2013 senatorial election.
But they have not discussed their political plans for 2016, said Escudero, who is believed to be also angling for Malacañang.
“I have no plan to run for President. I wonder why I’m included there (the Pulse Asia survey), and now ranked fifth,” Escudero told reporters, adding in jest: “I have no plan to run. My only plan is to walk.”
He said it was too early for anyone to talk about their presidential plans.
Behind Binay and Poe in the November Pulse Asia survey were Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago at 12 percent; former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, 10 percent; Escudero, 7 percent; Roxas, 6 percent; Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., 4 percent; Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, 3 percent; former Sen. Panfilo Lacson and Senate President Franklin Drilon, 2 percent.
Binay’s “downslide” in the surveys wasn’t lost on Abad.
“All the others are erratic; sometimes like Mar goes 13, and Poe goes down. It’s no basis for any firm decision. But what is clear is the rating of the Vice President; it’s consistently going down,” he said.
If Binay’s downslide continues, it becomes an “open race,” Abad said.
“Is it going to be open race circa 1992, where 23 percent can win?” he said of the victory of Fidel V. Ramos over several prominent politicians by a slim margin in the 1992 presidential vote.
“In an open race, President Aquino is a huge factor,” he added.
No talk of 2016
Poe and Escudero confirmed being invited to the LP Christmas party, but said 2016 was not part of the talk.
Abad said the affair at the Palace was “purely a Christmas party.”
Of Poe, an LP member said: “People were not shy to shake her hand, notwithstanding the fact that the party’s presumptive candidate was there. Normally, you would be very careful. She was a very welcome surprise to the party, for many of us.”
The LP member, who asked not to be named, said there had been “a lot of talk within the party to look for a [candidate with chances of winning].”
“Many LP members share in my aspiration that there is a deeper concern for us that the programs of President Aquino are continued for six more years. That concern far outweighs our concern that the next president be an LP member,” the party member said.
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