THE PEN| Continuity

WITH LESS than five months remaining in his term, President Aquino’s is facing a dilemma, as he tries his best to convince the Filipino people that the nation is not only better off since the start of his term, but more importantly, to sell them the idea that the reforms undertaken during his watch needs to be sustained at all costs.

And herein lies the rub, as there is an important precondition to the President’s plea: In order to ensure the momentum of the current administration’s initiatives, the country must elect the candidate which the Chief Executive thinks is the best person, or politician, for the job – Mar Roxas.

There is something presumptuous in the President’s argument, as it is seems to be predicated on the premise that in order for the country to move forward,  as it has truly been for the past six years, its citizens must elect a leader which has received the blessings of Malacañang.

If we would follow this line of reasoning, it akin to being made to believe that it is only the candidate of the Aquino Administration which holds the key to the nation’s continued economic progress. Simply put, the future of the nation rests on the shoulders of the President’s anointed one.

It’s either Roxas or all the Aquino Government’s accomplishments go down the drain.

At first glance, there is nothing wrong with this strategy, and that is, to associate Roxas with the inroads of the Aquino Administration and package him as the rightful heir apparent of the President. Perhaps, this is the only way that Malacañang can present the former interior secretary in a more realistic, positive light. As they say, in Philippine politics, image is everything. 

By and large, Roxas’ image needs a major make-over. Since last year, he has languished near the bottom rung of the Presidential surveys of the Social Weather Station and Pulse Asia.  Currently, there are no signs that this trend is reversing in his favor.

Observers say that Roxas’ dilemma – his inability to present himself as a man of the “masses” – is his greatest weakness. His lineage may have inadvertently played a part in creating this perception. Though in recent months, he has tried his best to project himself as more engaging and accessible, this tact doesn’t seem to be gaining traction.

The manner in which Roxas handled the relief and rehabilitation efforts during Typhoon Yolanda, particularly how he dealt with the battered province’s local officials in the storm’s aftermath, also created a major political backlash which up till this day he is still smarting from.

His unflattering conversation with Mayor Romualdez, which was captured live on video and uploaded on YouTube, presented to the public an official who not only lacked good judgment, but one who was also insensitive, and only acted upon the behest of political expediency.

Malacañang was quick to defend Roxas’ actions, explaining that the video didn’t present a clear picture of the events which unfolded that day. There may in fact be truth in this assertion. But the damage had already been done and Roxas has paid dearly for this ever since.

Roxas’ handling of the Mamasapano incident may also have exposed his ability – or lack thereof – of managing explosive, high-pressure situations.  As DILG secretary, he was made responsible for the massacre, as he was supposed  to be on top of the crisis as it unfolded. However, the former legislator appeared to be ill-informed and out of the loop, as it turned out during the Senate investigations that the former the PNP director general was reportedly calling the shots all along.

By officially passing on the torch to Roxas, President Aquino therefore hopes to boost Roxas’ weak political standing, and provide him a much-needed advantage over the other presidential candidates. And as a former cabinet official and a trusted member of the Chief Executives’s policy team, he can, if he so wishes, claim some amount of credit for the inroads that the national government has achieved over the years.

Having held the DILG and DOTC portfolios, there is no question that Roxas has had his share of accomplishments. Although these appointive posts didn’t exactly give him the chance to showcase his skills as an economic manager in which he is best known for, his stint as interior secretary was an opportunity to strengthen existing political alliances and build new ones, while bringing himself closer to local governments and communities in the countryside.   

However, the results of the recent nationwide opinion surveys indicate that Roxas still hasn’t managed to bridge the gap between himself and the majority of the Filipino people who will cast their votes four months from now. Despite the President’s unequivocal support, his presidential run has become an uphill climb, which has also been punctuated by verbal tussles with other aspirants who are turning out to be more outspoken, deliberate and have a clearer game plan than him.

This has put Roxas and President Aquino in a bind, with their political careers hanging in the balance, and in a way, dependent upon each other.  While the Chief Executive is nearing the end of his term, he still feels that his work is still unfinished, with no guarantee that the next occupant of Malacañang will continue to implemented the policies he and his team have painstakingly crafted and put in place. Unless, of course, Roxas wins.

On the other hand, Roxas has to carry the full weight of the President and the ruling party’s expectations on his shoulders, hoping against hope that fate, the administration’s machinery, and hopefully, the support of the Filipino people, will carry him to victory. To do this, he must not solely rely on the President’s endorsement, but step up to the plate, so to speak, and demonstrate that he has one of the most impressive resumes among the prevailing lot of contenders.

By this time, he must not be content in giving out generic statements, which are mere variations of the national government’s oft-repeated theme. Promising to continue what the Aquino Administration has started, while vowing to fight graft and corruption is good and may help his cause, but Roxas must know better than this and start speaking his mind without necessarily extolling the virtues of the administration.    

He doesn’t have to do a Duterte by dishing out interesting bits and pieces of his personal life. But he must be able to clearly present to the nation his platform of government, without the need to anchor it on the accomplishments of the Aquino government. This may be re-assuring to foreign investors who are most worried about transitions in political leadership.

Roxas must also present himself not as a clone or an alter-ego of the President, but as an honest, competent and forward-looking leader which the country needs in light of the ever-growing domestic and foreign challenges it confronts.

Sure enough, the President wants the programs implemented under his “Daang Matuwid” battlecry to last well beyond 2016. And it is a legacy that he should be proud of. A legacy that all Filipinos must be part of. 

The reforms initiated under the Aquino administration have enabled the Philippines not only to finally shed its image as the “sick man of Asia,” but also to demonstrate that the nation was capable of carrying out deep and cross-cutting economic, political and social reforms which hopefully will be felt by generations to come.

But in the final analysis, we must remember that the country’s fate doesn’t lie in the hands of Roxas or any of the other presidential candidates. It lies in the hearts and minds of the Filipino people.  

Posted in Opinion