Why Mar Roxas has an image problem
By Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News
MANILA - Long-time presidential aspirant, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, finally got his wish Thursday morning -- an unequivocal endorsement from President Aquino.
With the endorsement, it seems the so-called "sacrifice" made by Roxas in 2009 has finally paid off.
Not only will he benefit from Aquino’s popularity and whatever’s left of his political capital; he will also enjoy the political machinery of the ruling Liberal Party.
Roxas was supposed to run for President in 2010, but the death of Aquino’s well-loved mother, former President Corazon Aquino, convinced supporters that the son should shoot for the position.
Roxas gave in, a move he claimed was a “supreme sacrifice” on his part, as though the presidency is something given.
And riding mainly on the popularity of his late mother, and that of his father, former Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., the younger Aquino won in 2010.
Now, the President talks about the need to continue what he had started the last five year. And his pick is Roxas.
But Roxas remains largely unpopular despite opportunities and exposure he has been getting under the Aquino administration.
He lagged behind Sen. Grace Poe and Vice President Jejomar Binay in the last Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations surveys for possible winners in next year’s presidential election.
The question now is: can Roxas actually win?
“Of course he can win,” Budget Secretary Florencio Abad of the Liberal Party insisted in an interview with ABS-CBN News.
MAR ‘ARTIFICIAL, FAKE’
Ramon Casiple of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform said Roxas is suffering from an “image problem” -- the impression that he doesn’t really connect with the poor owing to his elitism.
“He comes off as artificial, he comes off as fake,” he said.
“He doesn’t carry sacks every day. People know that he did it only for PR [public relations],” he added, referring to one warehouse inspection when Roxas was seen carrying a sack of feeds for the cameras.
“People don’t see that as natural to him, that he can do it even without the camera.”
Abad said this supposed image problem was merely cooked up by critics of Roxas.
“That’s what people who don’t play politics are accused of, that they’re a snob, that they’re not approachable,” he said, claiming also people would realize that that opposite was true whenever they got to see him more closely.
Aquino also came to Roxas’ defense in his speech endorsing the Interior Secretary at Club Filipino.
“I wonder: Is this part of the job description of a good leader? That, even when you exert all effort to do good, those in opposition will only ever see the bad?” he said.
The overriding impression that Roxas is an elitist is derived partly from his pedigree.
He comes from the wealthy and powerful Roxas and Araneta clans. His grandfather is former President Manuel Roxas. His father is the late Sen. Gerry Roxas, a former LP president who fought alongside Ninoy Aquino during Martial Law.
Roxas is a graduate of the Wharton School of Economics at the University of Pennsylvania in the United States.
His supporters insist his vast experience in government makes him more than qualified to be President. He’s been a member of both houses of Congress and a Cabinet secretary during the Estrada and Aquino administrations.
Casiple said no candidate, not even Binay, could really claim to “already know the job.”
“The presidency is a one-time job,” he said. “What a vice president, senator, congressman, or Cabinet secretary does is far from what is required of a President.”
More than his image problem, Roxas will be confronted by his shortcomings as a member of Aquino’s Cabinet, according to Casiple.
Casiple cited Roxas’ failure to fix or at least improve conditions at the Metro Rail Transit system when he was still transportation secretary.
Casiple also raised questions over Roxas’ handling of the government’s relief efforts after supertyphoon Yolanda hit in 2013.
At the height of the Mamasapano fiasco, he said Roxas should have quit the Cabinet if only to show his independence and “integrity.”
Aquino bypassed Roxas as interior secretary and instead allowed then Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima, who was suspended at that time, to run the operation to capture two high-profile terrorists.
The operation cost the lives of 44 members of the elite Special Action Force. Their families still cry out for justice.
“What he did was the opposite of what would be expected of a person with integrity,” Casiple said, referring to Roxas’ decision to stay on.
“He defended the President and in so doing, he was also at the receiving end of all the anger over the incident.”
Abad said a typical politician would have been swayed by public opinion and severed his ties with the President.
“But Mar Roxas is not just a politician,” he said. “He understood that at that point, the President needed him.”
That Roxas was behind in the surveys meant that his supporters needed to introduce him more to the public, Aquino said.
If he were Roxas’ campaign strategist, Abad said he would organize “intimate” sessions between him and such groups as farmers or parents.
Abad said these would give the public an idea of who the “real” Mar Roxas is.