THE PEN| Pragmatism

IT LOOKS like the Aquino Administration may be forced into playing a gambit, as it makes the pragmatic – and difficult – decision on who to field as its standard bearer come 2016. There are strong indications that President Aquino is seriously considering Senator Grace Poe as his successor, as the chief executive has dropped several hints that the lady legislator would be able to “continue what he has started.”

This development does not in any way augur well for Mar Roxas who has been anxiously waiting in the wings for President Aquino’s anointment. After all, the DILG secretary remains the Liberal Party’s presumptive candidate, which was confirmed by no less Senator Franklin Drilon a few weeks ago. But based on the President’s recent pronouncements, Sec. Roxas’ chances of securing the administration party’s endorsement are becoming slimmer by the day.

If this happens, it will be the second time that Sec. Roxas’ presidential aspirations will have to take a backseat. The first time was when he agreed to scuttle his presidential run, which paved the way for then Senator Aquino to become the LP’s standard-bearer in the 2010 presidential elections. This was considered by many as a selfless – and logical – act on the veteran senator’s part, as it led to President Aquino’s imminent rise to Malacañang.

But Philippine politics, as they say, is based more on expediency than moral principles. And this holds especially true for the Aquino Administration, which up till this time, has not solved the riddle that is called Jojo Binay. Despite the raging controversy surrounding the vice-president’s supposedly ill-gotten wealth, he has remained on top of the SWS and Pulse Asia surveys. The embattled VP’s credibility may have taken a serious beating in light of the ongoing Senate investigations but he still remains ahead of the pack.

We know that a political party’s main criteria in selecting its standard-bearer is his or her “winnability.” One’s performance or qualifications may be important factors, but unfortunately, these don’t translate into votes. And going by the results of the recent SWS and Pulse Asia survey results, Sec. Roxas’s chances of winning is diminishing in the run up the elections, as he is currently tied with Davao City Mayor at third place at 15%, down from 19% last December 2014. Binay remains on top with 37%, while Sen. Poe is a close second with 31%.

The tide may have turned in Sec. Roxas favor if President Aquino endorsed the former’s candidacy early on. In fact, many were expecting the chief executive to push for a Roxas candidacy at the start of the year after the latter categorically declared his intent on gunning for the country’s highest position. But apparently, this did not materialize. The DILG secretary may have the confidence of the chief executive in administrative and operational matters, but it seems that this trust has its limitations. It must be heartbreaking for the Sec. Roxas to realize this.

But with the Aquino Administration’s serious intent on taking Sen. Poe into its fold, this sends a strong message to both allies and foes alike that the President is considering every available option in order preserve the social, economic and political inroads the country has achieved during his term – and ensure his legacy.

This is not to say that Sec. Roxas is not of presidential caliber. In fact, this writer thinks that the DILG secretary is among the most qualified in taking over the reins of Malacañang. As a senator and cabinet secretary for almost two decades, Sec. Roxas has pushed for programs and policies that have largely benefited the local business community and made the Philippines a leading player in the global economic stage.

And on numerous occasions, he was literally in the “eye of the storm,” as he presided over the difficult and tumultuous relief operations in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda. And early this year, he was tasked by the President to do heavy damage control, as the Philippine National Police faced a serious attack on its credibility after the Mamasapano incident.

Senator Poe, on the other hand, though only in her first term as a member of the Upper House, has been a beacon of light in the theatre called Philippine politics. Her objective and above-the-board manner in which she handled the Senate’s investigation on the Mamasapano encounter displayed her level-headed character, and, no pun intended, grace under pressure. This was no mean feat, considering that she is a neophyte senator and did not occupy any other high-level position in the government like Sec. Roxas.

The lady senator has certainly charmed her way into the hearts and minds of the Filipino people during her brief term as a public servant. Though she and her father – the late Fernando Poe Jr. – may be poles apart in terms of personality and perspectives regarding governance, many believe that the senator carries with her the same principles and “masa” appeal that endeared her father to Filipinos. We believe that it is these traits which the Aquino Administration hopes to capitalize on this coming elections.

By this time, Sec. Roxas may have read the writing on the wall. Sadly, his unquestioned loyalty and dedication to President Aquino has not given the latter enough reason to declare him as the man who will carry the administration’s torch. Roxas must however learn to deal with this reality and start to weigh in his options. If the ruling Liberal Party finally decides to adopt Poe and declare her as its official candidate, Sec. Roxas can still run as an independent if he doesn’t want to rock the party’s boat.

But at this crucial juncture, this may be unfeasible and counterproductive. Roxas doing a “go it alone” may just further sow divisiveness within the ruling party and consequently, pave the way for a Binay presidency.

President Aquino must be losing a lot sleep just thinking of this eventuality. Unless, Roxas, once again, makes the ultimate sacrifice.

Posted in Opinion