The Leader I Want: Mar Roxas’ to-fix list for 2016 

Bea Cupin

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The Leader I Want: Mar Roxas’ to-fix list for 2016 
Rappler #PHvote's 'The Leader I Want' series looks at Mar Roxas' stand on key issues that the next president will have to address

MANILA, Philippines – The presidency was a position Manuel “Mar” Roxas II prepared for as early as 2008, when he got the Liberal Party’s endorsement as its standard-bearer for the 2010 elections. 

He let go of this plan in late 2009 given the popular sentiment then: for Benigno Aquino III, son of EDSA Revolution icons senator Benigno Aquino Jr and Cory Aquino to lead the country instead. (READ: Mar Roxas: The long road to endorsement)

Five years later, Roxas, who was Aquino’s transportation and later, interior  secretary, again gears up for a presidential bid, but the situation is different. He has waited patiently for the endorsement of the President he helped win amid supposed factions in the same coalition they forged together. (READ: Aquino endorses Roxas)

For him, a bid for the presidency “is not about me” but giving Filipinos what is due them – “the kind of service that they should get because they deserve it.”

WATCH: Live: President Aquino endorses Roxas

Roxas comes from a long line of politicians: his grandfather and namesake, former president Manuel Roxas, is the founder of the party he now heads. His father, the late Senator Gerardo Roxas, is touted as among the LP leaders who relentlessly  assailed the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. His younger brother, Gerardo Manuel “Dinggoy” Roxas, Jr, was Capiz representative until he died of colon cancer in 1993. 

His promise is simple: under a Roxas presidency, the Aquino administration’s good governance and anti-corruption programs, tagged “Daang Matuwid (Straight Path),” continues. (READ: Mar Roxas accepts challenge, vows ‘straight path’)

As part of Rappler’s #PHvote “The Leader I Want Series,” we look at Roxas’ stand on issues the next president will have to zoom in on: corruption, social inequality, climate change and disasters, foreign policy, OFWs, and peace in Mindanao. 

What gains from the Aquino administration should Roxas continue and which strategies should be changed? Tell us in the comments section below or tweet using #TheLeaderIWant why or why not Roxas should be the next leader of the country. 

CLICK ON THE MOOD METER: How do you feel about Mar Roxas’ take on issues?

1. Corruption

Roxas’ stand on corruption is no different from the President’s and their allies: they will chase after the corrupt, and put them in jail if need be. Proof of Aquino’s resolve in curbing corruption in government, their supporters would say, is the ongoing trial and continued detention of 3 opposition senators over the so-called “pork barrel scam.”

But the drive goes both ways: Aquino, Roxas, and the administration have been accused of “selective justice” or scrutinizing only those with different political affiliations, and turning a blind eye on their allies. 

Roxas has denied these allegations, particularly those coming from his 2016 nemesis, Vice President Jejomar Binay, the standard-bearer of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance. Binay is at the center of a months-long Senate probe into corruption allegations which the Vice President claims is being orchestrated by Roxas. 

He says accusations of “selective justice” are baseless since members of the Liberal Party have also been suspended by the Ombudsman or convicted by the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan. 

2. Social Inequity

One of the Aquino government’s key programs Roxas is sure to continue is the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), which offers beneficiaries cash grants so long as they meet requirements – family development sessions, pre- and post-natal care for pregnant women, check-ups and vaccines for children, school enrolment, and at least 85% class attendance per month for school-age beneficiaries.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) is among the agencies involved in the program, which is spearheaded by the Department of Social Welfare and Development. 

But the program is not without its critics. Under the Arroyo administration, the conditional cash transfer program was alleged to have been mishandled. The Aquino administration beefed up spending for the program, which is said to be flourishing. 

Aquino, in his last State of the Nation Address, chided critics of the 4Ps, emphasizing that it will take time for the fruits of the flagship program to be felt – again stressing the need for the next president to continue his administration’s “Daang Matuwid.” 

The DILG, under Roxas, also zoomed in on improving the conditions of impoverished Filipino families: the relocation of informal settlers in Metro Manila, a potable water program for far-flung barangays, a grassroots budgeting program for local government units, and a special fund for conflict-torn or vulnerable communities. 

Those projects, however, have also been subject to intense criticism by legislators who claim Roxas, through the DILG, is using government funds to further his political clout. 

During his stint as legislator, Roxas penned the Cheaper Medicines Act – a law  borne out of his own experience: the illness of his younger brother made him realize how expensive it can be to treat a “catastrophic” illness. 

3. Climate change and disaster

As DILG secretary, Roxas is also the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council’s vice chairman for disaster preparedness. Roxas has been on the front line of the Aquino administration’s biggest crises, both man-made and natural. 

He led response efforts in the aftermath of the 2013 Visayas earthquake and was in Zamboanga for more than a month during the 2013 siege by Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fighters allied with Nur Misuari.

Roxas was one of two Cabinet secretaries who were sent to Eastern Visayas ahead of the landfall of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). He eventually led post-disaster operations in the area. 

His involvement in pre- and post-disaster operations is expected to become fodder for his foes come campaign time, as he was criticized for his role in the Zamboanga siege and in Yolanda operations. 

The weaknesses of LGUs’ disaster preparations became apparent in the aftermath of Yolanda, which ravaged numerous towns and cities in Eastern Visayas. Politics and the sense of an unclear leadership on the ground made the situation worse. 

Post-Yolanda, the NDRRMC changed and improved its processes. Weather forecasting was upgraded and the DILG, under Roxas, devised a “checklist” for local government units in preparing for stronger typhoons – the “new normal.” 

4. Foreign policy

The Aquino administration will perhaps be most remembered for its strong stance against China, which is claiming practically the entire West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). In his public statements, Roxas reflected the same position.

Weeks before announcing his presidential bid, Roxas was in Masinloc, Zambales, where the effects of China’s claims are strongly felt by the fishing community. (READ: From Masinloc to The Hague: A question of livelihood)

“Ang para sa Pilipinas ay dapat manatili sa kamay ng Pilipino. Dedepensahan natin ang atin (What’s for the Philippines should remain in the hands of Filipinos. We will defend what is ours),” Roxas told an audience of locals. 

The forum was held the same week top government officials were in The Hague, the Netherlands, over China’s claims. Filipino fishermen had been driven away from Bajo de Masinloc by Chinese boats. Just this week, Chinese-marked buoys were found near Zambales

Roxas said the Philippines is not looking for trouble, as China typically asserts, but is simply taking a stand against China’s claims. 

As DILG chief, Roxas’ focus was mostly on listening and responding to the concerns of locals. The DILG, in coordination with other government agencies, has been working on providing alternative livelihood for fishermen affected by the standoff between the Philippines and China.

5. OFWs

While Roxas is no stranger to life as an overseas Filipino – he was a US-based investment banker before he ran for public office – his experience was different from the millions of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who usually take on blue collar jobs abroad. Roxas’ jobs in the Aquino administration, thus far, have not really exposed him to OFWs, among the pillars of the Philippine economy. 

An issue Roxas will need to address should he be elected president is the plight of OFWs, who find themselves on the losing end of their host country’s justice system. Over 80 OFWs are currently on death row. 

Mary Jane Veloso, who is on Indonesia’s death row for alleged drug smuggling, has become the latest example of this problem. 

Roxas, in a previous conversation with Rappler, says among his goals is to make sure that each Filipino is given enough opportunities: a good education and decent job opportunities. (By Roxas’ count, 6 Filipinos are born every second.)

This echoes the repeated pronouncements of Aquino that the government should strive to provide good jobs at home so that Filipinos would not be compeled to seek greener pastures abroad.

Despite the government’s gains, however, unemployment in the Philippines still ranks highest in Southeast Asia, according to the World Bank.

6. Peace in Mindanao 

Although he is among Aquino’s most trusted, Roxas was kept in the dark in the lead-up to one of the Aquino administration’s biggest crisis, which has also endangered the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

The aftermath of “Oplan Exodus,” a Philippine National Police (PNP) Special Action Force (SAF)-led operation against two top terrorists, threatened to derail the proposed law which will create a new autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao. It is hoped to end decades of armed conflict in the area. 

Although many politicians criticized the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) over the death of 44 PNP SAF troopers, Roxas remained mum of the issue – until, in an uncharacteristic moment, he turned emotional and questioned the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ supposed inaction during the operation. 

Roxas, like all of Aquino’s Cabinet secretaries, is a staunch supporter of the peace process – touted as among the biggest successes of the administration. 

But with limited time in Congress, even the staunchest supporters of the BBL are doubtful that it will be passed before Aquino steps down. The task, then, falls on the next president. 

Binay, in contrast, is not as warm towards the BBL. Another strong presidential candidate, Senator Grace Poe, had expressed reservations over the proposed measure in the aftermath of Mamasapano. – 

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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.