MANILA, Philippines – It’s down to two.
Two months after getting President Benigno Aquino III’s endorsement for the 2016 national elections and with a little over two weeks left before the filing of candidacies, the Liberal Party (LP) is set to announce its vice presidential bet on Wednesday, September 30, at Club Filipino.
The LP’s list has been trimmed down to 2: the party’s own Camarines Representative Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo and the Nacionalista Party’s (NP) Senator Alan Peter Cayetano.
Robredo continues to be reluctant to take on the challenge, according to two sources close to her. Cayetano, on the other hand, is all set for a vice presidential run.
This situation puts Aquino and Roxas in a tough situation, because the President prefers Robredo over Cayetano.
Both Robredo and Cayetano have been in meetings with Aquino and Roxas last week.
Since his declaration, Roxas has been consistent with his criteria for a running mate: someone who is “to the bones” a believer in “Daang Matuwid (Straight Path),” the administration’s tagline for its anti-corruption, good governance, and transparency platform.
“Daang Matuwid will always be the measure [when choosing a vice president],” LP executive vice president and Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya told Rappler in a Wednesday, September 23 interview.
“Daang Matuwid” is at the center of Roxas and the LP’s 2016 campaign. The ruling party and its allies, in sorties and various programs, make it a point to highlight the gains of the Aquino administration, supposedly thanks to “Daang Matuwid.”
Roxas is packaged as the only candidate who can best continue the current administration’s gains and programs. At the time Roxas got Aquino’s endorsement, his numbers were not encouraging.
At its lowest, Roxas got 4 percentage points in early presidential preference surveys.
Poe then was leading preference surveys, taking over Vice President Jejomar Binay, who for months has tried to defend himself from corruption allegations. The administration bet’s numbers have since risen in the latest presidential preference surveys, although he still trails Poe and Binay.
As the supposed “underdog” of the 2016 presidential elections, what are the advantages of either Robredo or Cayetano for Roxas?
Robredo is a neophyte legislator representing the 3rd district of Camarines Sur, and is the provincial chairman of the Liberal Party.
The widow of former interior secretary and Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo, the congresswoman has always preferred non-political tasks. “I kept a low profile in my husbands 21 years as a public official. It was the life I chose. It was my decision,” said Robredo of her life before the plane her husband was on crashed off the coast of Masbate in 2012.
In 2013, Robredo ran for the congressional post she holds now, primarily to make sure the district would not be under the control of the politically entrenched Villafuertes.
According to sources privy to discussions, Robredo has always been the top choice of many LP and administration allies, even when Aquino and Roxas were still wooing Poe to run for vice president.
For the LP, Robredo is the “epitome” of “Daang Matuwid.” Her late husband himself was an LP stalwart and is remembered for the reforms be started in Naga and brought into the powerful Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
A Robredo candidacy may also take away Bicol votes from Poe’s running mate, Senator Francis Escudero who hails from Sorsogon. Geopolitics, however, wasn’t a factor at all in picking Robredo, said Abaya.
“If you cite some communications expert [Robredo] is probably is as consistent and as pure as can be [when it comes to Daang Matuwid],” said Abaya of Robredo.
Her numbers – at least for the VP post – aren’t very encouraging either. In the Social Weather Stations (SWS)’s third quarter survey on vice presidential bets, Robredo got 3 percentage points.
Escudero was second with 20 percentage points while Poe led with 27 percentage points.
That doesn’t seem to be a problem for the LP. “We know the reality, you’re up against Chiz [Escudero] – beterano, kilala and all that – pero tingin ko (He’s a veteran, everyone knows him. But I think), you have to be consistent with Daang Matuwid,” said Abaya.
There is one big problem for the LP, though.
‘The answer is no’
Robredo is anything but sold on the idea of running for vice president. Even before the slot was formally offered to her by the LP, she has been vocal about not wanting to run for the second-highest elective post in the country.
“I don’t think I’m prepared for something as big as this one. Over the past few days I was asked to at least just be open to the idea. I was telling everyone if that I would be cerebral about it, the answer is really no,” Robredo said on Saturday, September 26, during a question-and-answer at the Rappler Social Good Summit.
Aside from this, there are a handful of other things holding Robredo back. There’s the district she might leave behind but more importantly, her family of 3.
“Para madali lang sabihin yung ‘Bayan Bago Sarili’ pero nanay kasi ako eh, hindi lang ako nanay, nanay at tatay ako ng mga anak ko. At the end of the day, kailangan ko yung blessings nila. hindi pwede na tatalon lang ako na hindi rin maluwag sa kalooban,” she told Rappler in a chance interview.
(It’s easy to say ‘Country Before Self’ but I’m a mother. I’m not just a mother, but a mother and father to my children. At the end of the day, I need their blessings. I cannot just jump into something when theirs are heavy hearts.)
It’s been a difficult few weeks for Robredo, who says that even “no” would be the easier answer, being Jesse’s widow has its responsibilities.
“Hindi naman natin mapipikit yung mata sa ibang considerations, lalo na kasi asawa ako ng asawa ko (I cannot just close my eyes to other considerations, especially because I’m my husband’s wife),” she said.
Robredo and her two older daughters met with Aquino, Roxas, and Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman last week to “clear the air” after the VP offer. Although they have been mum about the details of the meeting, sources close to Robredo said that she asked for up to September 30 to make the decision.
The LP national executive committee convention, which was originally set on Monday, September 28, was later moved to September 30. Was it to accommodate Robredo’s request?
Those in the Roxas camp – Abaya included – are still hoping the answer is “yes.”
On Sunday evening, September 27, Robredo posted an old photo of her and Jesse Robredo. “Reposting because this I desperately need,” read the post.
The answer should come sooner than later. “Hindi naman pwede na ibitin namin hanggang sa last minute na kung no rin naman yung sagot, mawawalan sila ng options (I can’t make them wait until the last minute if the answer is no because the LP will run out of options),” said Robredo of the decision she has to make.
ALAN PETER CAYETANO
Cayetano has made no secret his plans to run for higher office – for president, if the conditions were right. Early 2014, Cayetano had already formed a team for a possible presidential run.
But the numbers weren’t on his side. Early presidential preference surveys saw him post numbers even lower than Roxas’.
In the latest SWS vice presidential preference survey, Cayetano got 5 percentage points, a distant sixth behind Poe, Escudero, Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., and former president and Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada.
Cayetano bagged his second Senate term in 2013, running under the administration ticket “Team PNoy.” During the mid-term elections, he got 17.4 million votes, placing him 3rd in the list of Senate winners then.
Escudero trailed him, but only by about 100,000 votes.
Cayetano’s biggest backer, according to sources, is a powerful bloc within the Roxas camp that includes businessmen from the mining sector. Those same people are convinced that despite Escudero’s lead in early preference surveys, Cayetano has what it takes to beat him.
The senator’s brand of no-holds-barred “exposes,” the source told Rappler, is also a plus should push-come-to-shove in the campaign.
But it’s that same fire for “exposes” that’s a huge minus for Cayetano.
Sources close to the administration told Rappler a few weeks ago that Aquino has yet to forget Cayetano’s tirades against him during the 2010 elections, when he was supposedly among those who orchestrated the release of a fake psychiatric report which alleged Aquino had mental issues. Cayetano then was supposed NP bet and former Senate President Manuel Villar’s candidacy.
Burying the hatchet?
A lot of things have happened since.
The NP joined a broad coalition led by the LP, and Cayetano was part of the administration’s senatorial slate in 2013. (READ: Cayetano the 2nd option for Roxas?)
“Magkakilala naman kami ni Sen Allan. He was my deputy majority leader noong majority leader ako sa House of Representatives. Magkasama kami sa Senado. In fact, siguro, halos walo sa sampu na ipinaglaban ni Pangulong PNoy, anti-GMA, anti-corruption, etc, kasama naman po si Senator Alan,” Roxas said of Cayetano during a Thursday, September 24 chance interview with reporters.
(Senator Alan and I know each other. He was my deputy majority leader when I was majority leader in the House of Representatives. We worked together in the Senate. In fact, maybe in 8 out of 10 things that President Aquino fought for – anti-GMA, anti-corruption – Senator Allan was with us.)
Aquino’s September 23 meeting with Cayetano, which lasted for over 2 hours, could also mean that the hatchet has been buried.
When asked about the meeting between the President and Cayetano, Roxas was unable to give details. “I don’t know what they talked about but obviously the President’s view is very important in this decision,” he said.
But there’s another issue that’s holding the President back from the thought of a Roxas-Cayetano ticket, sources pointed out to Rappler.
Cayetano is among those who are against the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the result of a long-awaited peace deal signed between the Aquino administration and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Asked about Cayetano’s stand on the controversial BBL, Roxas said “maybe those are the one or two” issues where the administration and Cayetano differed. Pressed on whether this was a deal breaker for a potential tandem, Roxas said: “That’s not for me to say.”
Cayetano had harsh words for the MILF in the aftermath of the deadly Mamasapano clash, figuring in heated and emotional exchanges with Peace Process Adviser Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles and ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman.
The politics of addition also supports a possible Roxas-Cayetano tandem.
Bringing Cayetano in could also help strengthen chances of the NP staying in the LP-led coalition.
But NP has members eyeing highest posts, prompting one of its leaders to say the party should just declare a “free zone” – meaning its members should be free to choose their own presidential bet.
Aside from Cayetano, Senators Ferdinand Marcos Jr and Antonio Trillanes IV have plans of running for higher office. Marcos is being wooed by Binay to be his running mate, while Trillanes said he is running for vice president.
A vice presidential run for Cayetano is relatively risk-free for the senator. Should he lose, he can always return to the Senate since his term does not expire until 2019. – Rappler.com
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