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All roads to Club Filipino: Aquino to endorse Roxas

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – It has been a long journey full of meetings, consultations, and vague answers to clear-cut questions but within the week, all roads will lead to Club Filipino in San Juan City, where President Benigno Aquino III will finally endorse his bet for the 2016 presidential elections.

Several sources privy to the plans of Malacañang and the ruling Liberal Party (LP) have confirmed to Rappler that Aquino is set to endorse Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II as his bet for the 2016 elections at the Club Filipino on Friday, July 31 at 9 am.

Roxas is not expected to announce his running mate during the declaration. 

The same personalities – allies of the ruling LP, particularly those who have remained loyal to Roxas – are expected to crowd Club Filipino when the endorsement happens.

It will be a flashback to 2009, when Roxas, then set to be the LP’s standard-bearer for the 2010 presidential polls, slid down at the last minute for Aquino, whose popularity surged after the death of his mother, democracy icon and former president Cory Aquino.

Aquino earlier said he would announce his choice for the standard-bearer of the LP-led coalition after his last State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 27. Although he hinted in mid-July that he might make an earlier announcement, it now appears that things will still go according to plan.

Meetings with Poe, Escudero

The road that led to Club Filipino was long and winding.

Aquino, explaining that he was not merely the leader of the LP but of the groups it coalesced with, has been in hours-long conversations with political allies.

Aquino met with neophyte Senator Grace Poe, currently the leader in presidential preference polls, at least 4 times in the past few months.

For a while, it seemed as though Aquino was having a hard time picking between Roxas and Poe. The senator and her close friend, Senator Francis Escudero, had said as much in interviews with the media.

But in late July, Poe, in a statement to media, hinted that talks between herself and the LP, as represented by the President, had either faltered or hit a road block.

The President’s impending endorsement of Roxas became clearer in his final SONA, where he heaped praises on Roxas.

But not all of the Aquino administration’s allies are sold on Roxas. There are some who have been pushing for Poe because of her survey numbers.

Unlike Poe, Roxas has been lagging behind in early preference surveys, placing 3rd or 4th. Trailing Poe is opposition leader Vice President Jejomar Binay, who continues to be hounded by allegations of corruption.

Some LP allies, however, insist that popularity should not be the end-all-be-all in picking a standard-bearer.

“Winnability is important. But popularity and winnability aren’t the only ingredients needed. We need to take into consideration integrity, competence, and experience,” Quezon City Representative Jorge Banal told reporters in a previous interview.

For Banal and a lot of LP members, a Roxas-Poe tandem would have been – or still is – a dream ticket.

Of ghost months and superstitions

Aquino’s plan of announcing his bet only after the SONA made some pro-Roxas politicians anxious. The schedule meant they only had 4 days before July ended, and the dreaded “ghost month” of August would begin.

The month of August is considered unlucky by the more superstitious Filipinos, and people are cautioned against starting new things during the ghost month – a presidential bid included. Aquino, according to those close to him, is a fervent believer in the inauspicious nature of August.

Both of Aquino’s parents died in August – his father, martyred Senator Benigno Aquino Jr, died on August 21, 1983; his mother Cory died on August 1, 2009. The young Aquino nearly lost his life on August 28, 1987, during a coup attempt against his mother.

His former Cabinet official, interior secretary Jesse Robredo, also died in a plane crash on August 18, 2012. 

Had Aquino remained undecided by the time August rolled in, that meant the LP and its allies would have to wait until September for an endorsement of a standard-bearer.

Sources told Rappler that Roxas’ team blocked off July 29, 30, and 31 for a possible endorsement date. July 28 was ruled out because Aquino would be exhausted from the July 27 SONA; the President himself said on Monday he was not feeling well.

Thursday, July 30, was an unlikely choice because of the scheduled Metro Manila-wide earthquake drill

People close to Roxas, his wife and broadcast Korina Sanchez included, also happen to be believers in the bad tidings of announcements and decisions made during the ghost month.

“If we wait until after August, that would be advantageous to Poe,” conceded one LP ally.

The month of August will be another crucial period for presidential aspirants. Polling firms are set to conduct surveys towards the end of the month, and are set to release the results by September.

2016-2022

Courting Poe to be Roxas’ running mate isn’t just about eliminating a threat or riding on her popularity come 2016.

For LP members, it’s also about making sure the administration’s “Daang Matuwid (Straight Path)” – its tagline for its transparency, anti-corruption and good governance platform – is in place for 12 more years.

The continuation of reforms has been a recurring theme in many of Aquino’s speeches. After touting his administration’s accomplishments during his last SONA, the President again emphasized the importance of choosing Daang Matuwid and shunning the country’s so-called old ways.

The idea is for Roxas to continue and build on existing reforms and programs from 2016 until 2022, followed by a Poe administration until 2028.

An extra 6 years, members of the LP argue, would do well for Poe, who has barely reached the 3rd year of her 6-year term as senator.

But Poe, in previous interviews, dismissed that notion. She claimed that experience did not help past vice presidents who became presidents to do well in office – an apparent reference to former presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Poe is said to be gearing for her own presidential bid, with campaign headquarters to boot. Roxas’ campaign team, meanwhile, has been quietly fixing up “Balay," the LP’s headquarters, for the interior secretary’s 2016 campaign.

Should Poe push through with a presidential bid even without the President's endorsement, even those allied with the administration are doubtful that the LP-led coalition will remain intact. 

With an endorsement in the bag and only a final date left hanging, the journey to 2016 – and to Malacañang – begins for Roxas and the Liberal Party.

Will the road be as bumpy as 2010? – Rappler.com