MANILA - The son of the Philippines' democracy icon Corazon Aquino on Tuesday moved one step closer to running for president when his main rival for their party's nomination stepped aside.
Liberal Party chief Senator Mar Roxas withdrew his candidacy for next year's presidential campaign so that Senator Benigno 'Noynoy' Aquino III could run.
"Noynoy has made it clear to me that he wants to carry the torch of leadership," Roxas, 52, told a crowd of Liberal Party supporters at the Club Filipino in San Juan, as he abandoned his presidential ambitions.
"Today, I am announcing my support for the candidacy of Noynoy as the candidate for 2010," he said.
"Noy has made it clear to me that he wants to carry the torch of leadership. The passing of our beloved former President Aquino has reawakened a passion among us. I acknowledge this as fuel to bring us to the realization of our dream: Good will triumph over evil," he said in his speech.
"Ito na ang pinakamabigat na desisyon sa buhay ko. Maniwala man kayo o hindi, ginagawa ko ito para sa bayan, para sa inyo. I do this for unity in support of change. And if that means that somebody must make the sacrifice, it must be me. Ako na," Roxas said.
Among those present were LP chairman emeritus and former Senate President Jovito Salonga, former Education Secretary Florencio "Butch" Abad, and Aquino.
"Country above self. Bayan bago sarili," he said at the beginning of his speech.
Roxas said that he and Aquino share the same "outrage over the mess we are all in, the same way we share the solution--clean, honest, selfless public service."
"Noynoy and I want to make a difference, but we also know that we need to unite to achieve what we want," he said.
"Over the weekend, Noynoy and I had many long conversations... Masinsinang usapan. We agreed: Let us forget about ourselves for a moment. This is not about us, this is about our people and our country. This is about our common dream. The dream of our parents. But let us not remain a country of dreamers. Tama na ang pangarap. Gawin na natin, ngayon," Roxas said.
Message to Noynoy
Before ending his speech, Roxas gave a message to Aquino.
"To you Noy, I say: I began the campaign to sow the seeds para sa pagbabago at reporma. You must now be the one to grow them in the arena of leadership," Roxas said.
"Hindi kami maghihiwalay ni Noy. I will stand with him," he said.
He also had a message for his supporters, saying he won't be abandoning them.
"At sa aking mga kababayan, sa mga nagtiwala sa akin: Mahal na mahal ko po kayo. Mahal na mahal ko po ang ating bayan. Hindi rin tayo maghihiwalay. Itutuloy natin ang pagbabago sa ating bansa. Itutuloy natin ang laban para sa reporma," he said.
He, however, did not say if he will be Aquino's running mate, or if he would run for re-election in the Senate. Noynoy is expected to make an announcement about his decision for 2010 on Wednesday.
Roxas later warmly embraced Aquino, 49. However Aquino, who in recent days has refused to commit to running for president, made no public statement.
Roxas, who comes from an established political family, had found himself lagging in surveys among roughly one dozen candidates who had said they intended to compete in the May 2010 election.
Impact of Cory's death
Public sentiment for Aquino to run for president soared after the death on August 1 of his mother, former President Corazon Aquino, 76.
Mrs. Aquino had been idolised in this country for leading the "people power" revolution that ended the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, then using her subsequent six-year term as president to consolidate democracy.
Her death prompted many to call for her son to run for her old position to continue her campaign for good government.
Roxas said he was stepping aside to ensure the party's unity in the 2010 elections.
He said he and Noynoy Aquino were united in opposing the "evil" of President Gloria Arroyo, who the opposition has accused of graft and vote fraud.
Arroyo's political adviser, Gabriel Claudio, gave a cautious response.
"It's a very interesting development. It will definitely complicate matters further for the opposition more than it will affect the administration coalition," Claudio said, without elaborating.
Arroyo is barred by the constitution from running for re-election in the 2010 elections, and it is not yet clear who she will back to succeed her.
Logic and statesmanship
Roxas' announcement undid two years of preparation for the presidency.
LP's Butch Abad described Roxas' decision as “defying political logic.”
Last November, Roxas declared his intention to contest the presidency. He is estimated to have already spent millions of pesos in political ads on television and radio.
But his career track, carefully and calculatingly built in the last two years, got waylaid in just a month.
Former Civil Service Commission (CSC) chair Karina David told abs-cbnnews.com/Newsbreak that Roxas’s decision to give way has shown his statesmanship.
“It is refreshing and I doff my hat to him,” David said. Roxas’ move to sacrifice personal ambition over national interest “proved that he should be the man.”
Salonga, who has pushed for a Mar-Noynoy tandem, said Roxas’s move is “liberating.” He said Roxas is now spared from solving the country’s “impossible problems.”
Asked if he thinks Aquino has a chance of winning the race in 2010, Salonga said Aquino “will probably win.”
Popularity surveys show Roxas in fifth place among the aspirants. In an August 2009 Pulse Asia survey, Roxas got 11%, statistically tied with Senator Francis 'Chiz' Escudero.
Survey leader Senator Manuel Villar of the rival Nacionalist Party previously said an Aquino-Roxas tandem would be harder to beat.
Liberal Party roots
Both the Roxas and Aquino families have deep roots in the Liberal Party.
Roxas' grandfather, former President Manuel Roxas, founded the Liberal Party in 1946. The elder Manuel was the first president of the Philippine Republic.
Roxas' father, former Senator Gerardo M. Roxas, was the president of the party from 1969 to 1982. "My father led it during the most difficult times of Martial Law. Sa harap ng peligro, sa kabila ng napakaraming tukso, hindi siya sumuko. (In difficulties and temptations, he did not give up.)"
"He inspired me-to stay the course, to fight the good fight, to pass the test of true character. To believe," Roxas shared about his father.
Aquino's parents were also involved in the Liberal Party. His father, former Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. was the party's most vocal member against the Marcos rule. His mother, former President Cory Aquino, ran as a guest candidate of the party in the 1986 snap election.
In the weeks leading to Roxas' announcement on Tuesday, Filipinos mourned the August 1 death of Cory Aquino and commemorated Ninoy Aquino's death last August 21. — Reports from Newsbreak's Reynaldo Santos, Lilita Balane; Aries Rufo, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak; with Agence France-Presse; ANC; Maricar Bautista, Jing Castañeda, ABS-CBN News