‘Iloilo has Senate President Drilon, Negros has President Roxas’

Bea Cupin
‘Iloilo has Senate President Drilon, Negros has President Roxas’
Mar Roxas' visit to Bacolod City comes after Malacañang issued an order creating the new Negros Island Region

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – If the province of Iloilo has a Senate President Franklin Drilon, then the province of Negros Occidental has a “President” Manuel Roxas II to champion its interests, officials said.

It was difficult to ignore politics when Roxas, who is currently Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary, visited the provincial capital on Monday, June 8, days after President Benigno Aquino III signed Executive Order 183, which created the new Negros Island Region (NIR).

After Roxas transmitted the new EO to Negros Occidental Governor Alfredo Marañon, a businessman also thanked Roxas for his role in the lifting of Value-Added Tax on raw sugar. (FAST FACTS: The Negros Island Region)

NEGROS' SON. Roxas receives a copy of a resolution penned by the UNIFED to thank him for his role in the reduction of EVAT on raw sugar. Rappler photo

“If Iloilo has a Senate President Frank Drilon, we in Negros Occidental have a President Mar Roxas II,” United Sugar Producers’ Federation of the Philippines (UNIFED) president Manuel Lamata III said in a mix of English and Ilonggo, the local language.

Roxas, who has been playing coy about his plans for the coming 2016 elections, was beaming when he received a resolution from UNIFED to thank him for his work.

In an interview with reporters after the short program, Roxas stuck to his usual lines when asked about his plans come 2016 and the endorsement of government officials from Negros Occidental.

“I thank and accept [their endorsement] but you have to remember that this is not just for me but for everyone else who is part of Daang Matuwid (Straight Path). This is not just Mar Roxas,” said the interior secretary, who reiterated that he was “ready” to continue the gains and reforms of the current administration.

On Monday, Drilon, Roxas’ ally in the ruling Liberal Party (LP), said Roxas is still their “putative candidate” for president.

“Mar [Roxas] right now is engaged in presenting himself without making the formal announcement. He is beginning to strengthen the party in the grassroots, and certainly, he has his eyes on the presidency, and we believe he is the most qualified,” Drilon, who is also chairman of the LP, said in an interview on ANC’s Headstart.

Roxas, who ran but lost as vice president in 2010, is presumed to be the LP’s standard-bearer in the 2016 polls. But his numbers in early elections surveys have been disappointing – a dismal 8% according to a recent nationwide poll.

Leading the pack are Vice President Jejomar Binay and neophyte Senator Grace Poe, who also has Negrense roots.

Negros Occidental also happens to be one of the country’s most vote-rich provinces. Most of the LP’s bets in the 2013 senatorial polls won in the province.

Negros and Mar, the ‘middle child’

Speaking before a crowd of Negros Occidental locals and government officials, Roxas turned personal and said he knew how the Negros island felt, as it was overshadowed by more famous, bigger provinces.

“When I was growing up, I was a middle child… I have my older sister, Ria and she is the favorite because she is the eldest and she’s a girl. My younger brother Dingoy was also the favorite because he was the youngest, he was cute, and he was fairer. And I, as the middle child, always felt like I was forgotten,” said Roxas in a mix of English and Ilonggo, the native dialect.

“I understand the feeling of Negros. There’s Iloilo, they have a Senate President. There’s Aklan, they have white sand. There’s Capiz, they have a Secretary of Interior and Local Government… what about Negros?” he added.

The EO pulls out Negros Occidental and neighboring Negros Oriental from their respective regions, and put them together in the new NIR. It’s a move long awaited by many local officials from both provinces, given its supposed economic, development, and security advantages. (READ: Top Negrense execs upbeat on prospects of new region)

It was Roxas whom Aquino tasked to spearhead the study of the proposed new region. Roxas eventually endorsed the creation of the NIR to Aquino mid-April this year.

Marañon credits the creation of the new region to Roxas, who traces his roots to the province, through his mother who grew up in Bago, Negros Occidental.

Nakita ni Secretary Mar ang [Secretary Roxas saw the] advantage for the people. Before NEDA was the one one who objected. But they did not compute the social cost. We estimated also in our own way that the cost [to transition to the new region] is minimal,” he told reporters.

Roxas downplayed any resistance to the new region, saying “we have nearly 100% support.” He added: “Of the 19 towns, there are 3 mayors how have expressed reservation but not opposition.”

The technical working group tasked to plan for the new region is set to meet in Manila next week, initially to discuss the logistical set-up for new regional government offices.

Roxas said the new region will “probably” be operational in an “ad hoc basis” by the end of 2016. – Rappler.com

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.