Early campaigning in Cebu? 'We're not hiding that,' says Roxas

CEBU CITY, Philippines – There were speeches delivered, promises made, and even singing by no less than the justice secretary.

Administration standard-bearer Manuel Roxas II did not deny that an event dubbed “A Gathering of Friends” in this city was a form of early campaigning for the 2016 elections, but said there was nothing wrong about it.

Hindi naman natin itinatago iyon. Hindi naman bayad ng gobyerno ito. Bayad ng mga supporters natin ito dito, pribado ang University of Cebu gymnasium at inanyayaan nila ang mga nagnanais na ipagpatuloy ang pagbabago dito. Imbitado rin nila ang pangulo kaya ang sipuntahan rin kami dito,” Roxas told reporters on Monday, August 24, on the sidelines of the event, which saw politicians, local leaders, and beneficiaries of various government service from several provinces in the Visayas gather at the Cebu Coliseum.

(We’re not hiding that fact. The government isn’t paying for this. This is being paid for by our supporters. The University of Cebu gymnasium is a private place. We were invited by those who want to continue the current administration’s reform agenda. They invited the President so we came here as well.)

The Cebu leg of the “Gathering of Friends” was reminiscent of a similarly dubbed July 31 event at the Club Filipino in San Juan City, where Roxas was first endorsed by President Benigno Aquino III and where the interior chief first announced his plans for 2016.

The August 24 event in Cebu was the first big gathering of Roxas supporters outside of Metro Manila. Allies of the ruling Liberal Party (LP) and supporters of Roxas – legislators, governors, and city mayors – also staged their own show-of-force event for Roxas at a posh restaurant in Metro Manila days after the Club Filipino event.

Cebu has proven to be a reliable voter’s base for Roxas and the LP. In 2010, when Roxas ran but lost as vice president, he garnered more than 1 million votes in the province, which hosts the biggest voting population outside of the National Capital Region. In 2013, the administration’s senate slate also won big in the province, with 10 of their bets landing in the top 12.

Nakakataba ng puso at talagang nakakatouch dahil ang Cebu ay isa sa pinaka solid na sumusuporta sa pagbabago (It’s heartwarming and touching because Cebu is really solid when it comes to supporting reform and change),” said Roxas of the province.

Cebu Governor Hilario Davide III, who is allied with the ruling LP, promised the same kind of support for Roxas come 2016. “We will ensure Sec Mar’s victory [in the province],” he said.

The province of Cebu had over 2.5 million registered voters in 2013.

Senate bets too

No less than Aquino graced the Cebu event, which followed the same format as that of the earlier “Gathering of Friends” – testimonies from people who benefited from the so-called “Daang Matuwid.”

But an addition to the Cebu leg were speeches by government officials believed to be eyeing Senate posts in 2016: Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Francis Tolentino, and newly-installed PhilHealth director Risa Hontiveros.

All 3 were given a chance to speak before the crowd, with De Lima even giving an impromptu rendition of the song “That’s What Friends Are For.”

Roxas confirmed that the 3 were being “considered” for the administration's Senate slate because “they have always been part of the Daang Matuwid,” the administration’s catchphrase for its transparency, good governance and anti-corruption drive.

Marami po silang naiambag so sa ganoong paraan ay tama lamang na ipakilala rin sila sa ating mga kasama dito (They have contributed a lot so it’s only right that we introduce them to our supporters here),” Roxas later told reporters.

Of the 3, only De Lima is within the “Magic 12” range in the latest preference surveys at 7th to 14th. Tolentino ranks 22nd to 26th as of the latest Pulse Asia survey while Hontiveros is at the 15-21 range.

Hontiveros, who was once a representative of the party list Akbayan, ran as senator under the broad LP-led coalition in 2010 and 2013. She lost in both times.

De Lima, who tagged along with Roxas in his two Cebu events on Monday, highlighted the Aquino administration’s gains in pursuing “truth” in justice – specifically, the impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona over wealth misdeclarations and the jailing of 3 senators over their supposed involvement in the pork barrel scam.

Echoing words from previous speeches, both Aquino and Roxas cautioned against those who want to go against the current administration’s reforms. The President also had a not-so-subtle hit at opposition standard-bearer Vice President Jejomar Binay, who was also in Cebu province on Monday. – Rappler.com