'Unscathed' Roxas 'impresses' NPC

MANILA, Philippines – Administation standard-bearer and Liberal Party (LP) president-on-leave Manuel Roxas II continued wooing the country’s second-largest political party at a “closed door” meeting with the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) that stretched for nearly 4 hours on Tuesday, September 8.

NPC spokesman and Quezon Representative Mark Enverga said party members were “impressed” by the outgoing interior secretary’s knowledge of the issues he was asked about during the meeting, which began past 6:30 pm and ended a little before 10 pm.

Siguro mabanggit ko 'yung natuwa kami, na-impress kami doon sa kanyang kaalaman, partikular doon sa mga issues na tinanong ng bawat isang miyembro…. Marami siyang mga innovative ideas na ibinigay ano, kaya medyo naging mahaba ang diskusyon kanina. Nakita naman ng mga miyembro na gustong-gusto nila 'yung mga proposals ni Secretary Mar Roxas,” Enverga told reporters after the meeting at the party’s headquarters in Quezon City.

(I should mention that we’re happy, we were impressed by his knowledge, especially on the issues that each member asked….He has many innovative ideas, so the discussion got pretty long. The members of the NPC really liked the proposals of Secretar Mar Roxas.)

“I’m smiling, I remain unscathed,” Roxas would later tell reporters after the meeting.

Some 33 NPC members, including those who had earlier expressed their support for survey front runner Senator Grace Poe, were present at the party’s second meeting with Roxas.

Nabanggit ni Secretary Roxas na siya ay namamanhikan kanina. Subalit hindi kami makakapagbigay ng desisyon sa araw na ito (Secretary Roxas said he’s trying to woo us. But we will not be making a decision today),” said Enverga.

The NPC is set to support only one candidate in 2016, but its members – including prominent party leaders – are divided in their 2016 bets. Senator Vicente Sotto III and  Isabela Representative Giorgidi Aggabao, the NPC president, who attended the Tuesday meeting, are vocal supporters of a Poe candidacy.

Pangasinan party chairman Mark Cojuangco, meanwhile, is the most vocal supporter of United Nationalist Alliance chairman and Vice President Jejomar Binay’s candidacy. Cojuangco is the son of  the NPC founder and chairman, businessman emeritus Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco Jr.

Enverga said the party is “hopeful” it will come out with a consensus “in the next 3 weeks,” but added it might take more time since “there are members who are being swayed on a day-to-day basis.”

The NPC wants to meet another presumptive presidential bet, Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, even if he has already announced that he has no plans to run for president in 2016.

The party will then convene its members to reach a consensus.

From energy to education

The meeting with Roxas, his second with the NPC, was among the longest the party has had in its meetings with presidential hopefuls. Roxas had previously met with a smaller group of NPC politicians at the LP headquarters in Cubao, Quezon City.

The NPC has been meeting presumptive presidential candidates over the past few weeks, in the lead-up to its eventual endorsement come 2016. The Tuesday meeting, according to sources privy to past meetings with Poe and opposition leader Vice President Jejomar Binay, was a study in contrast.

NPC legislators who attended meetings with all 3 candidates said that during the party’s first meeting with Poe, it was her close friend and political ally Senator Francis Escudero who did most of the talking. Binay’s meeting was more straightforward: at the get go, the Vice President supposedly asked the NPC what the party wanted from him come 2016.

A range of issues were tackled during the dinner meeting with Roxas: energy, agriculture, empowerment of local government units, the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, telecommunications, education, and other “current events and issues,” Roxas told reporters.

Unlike Poe and Binay, Roxas did not bring LP allies along with him to the NPC meeting. “Minungkahi ng NPC kung kaya ko ba talaga na sagutin lahat ng mungkahi nila ng solo (The NPC suggested, if I could really answer their queries on my own),” said Roxas, laughing.

Media covering the meet were only allowed a quick glimpse of the “closed door” gathering. In the few minutes camera men and reporters were allowed inside, Sotto was overheard asking Roxas about his plans to curb the issue of illegal drugs in the country. Sotto, former Dangerous Drugs Board chief, lamented that it was not mentioned in President Benigno Aquino III’s final State of the Nation Address, nor was it part of Binay’s “true” SONA.

The issue of illegal drugs has always been a concern for Sotto, particularly during Senate hearings.

“Seventy percent of detainees in provincial jails are drug-related cases,” Sotto said, asking Roxas if he could “assure” the party of a clearer plan to address “peace and order” in the Philippines.

“Absolutely There’s no family – mine included – that has not been touched by the scourge of illegal drugs,” said Roxas. He told the NPC that the relationship between the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Philippine National Police should be improved because of perceived overlaps in their duties.

Roxas also mentioned the need to expand jails in the countries, noting that the current set-up does not allow for the “reform” of those arrested for drug-related crimes.

The outgoing interior secretary, whose portfolio includes the PNP, said there was also a need to “reform” the National Bilibid Prison since the illicit business is still being done inside the penitientiary. He also stressed the need to amend the  Anti-Money Laundering Act to better track the money trail of suspected drug lords.

Enverga said the party could arrange another meeting with Roxas in the coming days or weeks, should some of its members who did not attend the Tuesday meeting want to meet Roxas themselves.

Roxas hopes to secure the NPC’s nod for 2016, in a bid to preserve a broad LP-led coalition which also includes the Nacionalista Party and the National Unity Party. – Rappler.com