Back to Club Filipino: For LP, it's Leni Robredo for VP

MANILA, Philippines – If the road to Manuel Roxas II’s endorsement and announcement of his 2016 plans was long and winding, the path to finding his running mate is just as storied.

More than a month after nabbing the endorsement of President Benigno Aquino III at Club Filipino, the neophyte senator he had been wooing to be his running mate announced her own presidential campaign.

Roxas’ choices, at least publicly, were trimmed down to two: another congressional newbie, partymate Camarines Sur Third District Representative Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo, and Nacionalista Party (NP) stalwart Senator Alan Peter Cayetano.

The two met had separate meetings with Roxas and Aquino the week before the ruling LP was set to convene its National Directorate and National Executive Council (NECO), and things happened swiftly since. The NECO would make official the ruling party’s slate for 2016 – its bet for president and vice president, as well as its senatorial slate.

The day before the NECO was supposed to meet, Cayetano announced on Tuesday, September 29, that he would be running for vice president, preferably alongside Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.

Robredo, who in the past was quick to dismiss speculation of a planned vice presidential run, was now expressing openness to the idea. The neophyte lawmaker, however, said it was a decision she and her 3 children were not yet ready to make.

The Camarines Sur Representative, the widow of former interior secretary and Liberal Party (LP) stalwart Jesse Robredo, asked Roxas for more time to make a decision. And more time is exactly what Roxas gave to Robredo.

The morning of Cayetano’s announcement, the LP made official what several sources had earlier told Rappler: the ruling party would not be making any announcements on September 30, as previously scheduled. It was the second time the LP has to reset the announcement of its 2016 slate.

On Wednesday, September 30, the LP will still convene its National Directorate and NECO, but only to comply with the Commission on Elections (Comelec)’s calendar which set September 30 as the last day for parties to hold conventions.

The announcement is now set on October 5, Monday, at the historic Club Filipino, where Roxas “accepted” Aquino’s endorsement in July. Come October 5, the LP is supposed to announce its vice presidential bet as well as its senatorial slate.

As far as LP officials are concerned, it's Robredo all the way. "Malamang. Sabihin na lang natin na si Congresswoman Leni na ang kandidato natin sa pagkabise-presidente (Most likely. Let's just say that Congresswoman Leni is our candidate for vice president)," LP vice chairman and Senate President Franklin Drilon said on Wednesday. (READ: Leni Robredo is Mar's VP – Drilon)

‘It was always Leni’

To observers, it would seem as though Robredo is merely the second option in the LP’s 2016 plans. But those close to the Roxas campaign and the administration tell Rappler that Robredo has always been the ruling party’s choice.

Robredo was thrust into politics in 2013, primarily to ensure an LP victory in her district against the politically entrenched Villafuertes, her late husband’s relatives. Robredo beat Nelly Villafuerte in her district in 2013.

Prior to entering Congress, Robredo, a lawyer by profession, kept a mostly private life. While her husband introduced reforms in Naga City, Robredo opted to keep a low profile, working in a non-governmental organization which provided free legal assistance to the poor of Bicol province.

Jesse Robredo is now seen as the epitome of the Aquino’s administration’s “Daang Matuwid,” its catchphrase for its anti-corruption, good governance, and transparency platform. During his term as Naga City mayor, Jesse Robredo introduced new programs that drastically improved the city.

As interior secretary, Robredo brought along with him practices that proved effective in Naga City. Leni Robredo is seen as a continuation of those very same programs and ideals.

Yung pagiging asawa ng asawa ko, meron mga considerations na bigger than ourselves. Klaro 'yun sa amin, so 'yun ang nakakapahirap. Hindi ito yung tipong pwedeng ka lang humindi at tatalikod,” Robredo told Rappler.

(Being my husband’s wife brings along with it considerations that are bigger than ourselves. That’s clear to us so it makes the decision harder. It’s not like I can just say no and turn my back on the offer.)

But the Robredo children – Aika, Tricia, and Jillian – are against a vice presidential run. Robredo compares the process of mulling over the vice president offer to 2012, when the plane bearing Jesse Robredo and several others crashed off the coast of Masbate.

“Being in front of all this is really scary as far as I’m concerned. My children are against it. Parang again, noong pagkamatay ng asawa ko. 'Yung tanong pa rin naming mag-iina: bakit kailangan mangyari ang mangyari? Ngayon, 'yun rin ang tanong namin: Sa dinami-dami, bakit ako? Wala pa ring sagot eh,” she said during Rappler’s Social Good Summit.

(It’s like when my husband died. Our question then and now was why it has to happen. It’s the same question now: Of all the choices out there, why me? I still haven't gotten an answer.)

Aquino met with Robredo and her two older daughters last week, but the family still seems unconvinced. LP stalwarts and those close to the Roxas camp, however, are confident that the answer will eventually be “yes.”

Can ‘Daang Matuwid’ win an election?

Even before Cayetano announced his plans to run for vice president alongside Duterte – or even without the Davao mayor by his side – it was clear that LP stalwarts didn’t have a “plan B” should Robredo turn down the offer.

It didn't help, of course, that Aquino himself was not sold on the idea of Cayetano as the LP's vice presidential bet. The NP senator is believed to have been part of a campaign to discredit Aquino during the 2010 elections. Cayetano is also against the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the product of a peace deal between the Aquino administration and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). 

"Of course, hindi natin makakaila na ang pangulo bilang author at talagang nagsimula ng Daang Matuwid ay talagang nirerespeto natin at matimbang ang kanyang pananaw (We can't deny that the president, as the author and the one who started Daang Matuwid, we respect and value his views)," said Roxas of Aquino's say on the LP's 2016 slate. 

While Poe was the politically astute choice – she was a survey front-runner and would have increased the chances of keeping an LP-led coalition intact – the decision to choose Robredo wasn’t based on anything else save for “consistency” with “Daang Matuwid,” according to LP executive vice president and Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya.

“If you get somebody not consistent with Daang Matuwid, instead of convincing people why Daang Matuwid should continue, you’ll have to explain why your running mate is Daang Matuwid when people are saying: Daang Matuwid ba talaga 'yan (Is he or she really Daang Matuwid)? Nauubos ang oras mo (You waste your time) explaining your VP, instead of pushing your idea,” Abaya told Rappler.

He added: “Imagine if Senator [Francis Escudero] was VP, eh ubos na 'yung oras mo (it will take up all your time). You’ll end up explaining things about your VP.”

Unlike Poe or even Cayetano, Robredo’s survey numbers are anything but promising.

Poe was still top choice for vice president in the latest nationwide preference surveys, getting 24% in a Pulse Asia survey. Her running mate, Escudero, is second with 23%. Cayetano is at fourth with 9%, while Robredo is a distant 10th with 3%. (READ: Poe leads nationwide; Roxas takes Visayas; Duterte, Mindanao)

Some surveys on voters' senatorial preferences have also shown Robredo squeak into the so-called "Magic 12" – the winners' circle – “without even trying,” noted Abaya.

Robredo had publicly said that she and her family are more comfortable with a possible senatorial bid than a vice presidential run.

Should Robredo say yes to running for the second-highest elective position, she’ll be campaigning on the same promise of “Daang Matuwid.”

“If we see [Robredo] running, selected on the basis of the ideology of Daang Matuwid and then she wins, then you see a new angle in Philippine politics,” said Abaya. – Rappler.com