This forms part of Gulf News' Philippine Election 2016 series
Manuel “Mar” Roxas II is the Liberal Party's standard bearer in the May 9 vote.
He is the one annointed by President Benigno "PNoy" Aquino III as his successor. Aquino's team, of which Roxas is an integral part, is credited for bringing back integrity to public service and delivering an annual growth rate averaging 6.2% in the last five years (2010-2015) — the longest high-growth period in four decades — allowing the Philippines to escape the "sick man of Asia" tag.
In those years, the Philippines defied the global economic downtrend and even saw at least nine credit rating upgrades, on the back of governance reforms, a spike ininfrastructure spending and social support for the poorest-of-the-poor sectors.
Roxas vows to continue on this path. In the five-way presidential race, Roxas is the only who has no disqualification or health issue. Overseas Filipinos start voting on April 9, one month before the general elections.
The presidency, however, appears to be a long shot for Roxas, according to a series of opinion polls.
Following are 20 reasons why his party believes Roxas is the country’s best hope to take the Philippines forward.
1. Single-minded drive to curb corruption
Under President PNoy Aquino, a chief justice of the Philippine Supreme Court, Renato Corona, was badly disgraced in a televised impeachment trial that exposed a web of dishonesty and lies at the top echelons of the judiciary. The trial, and Corona's impeachment, shook down the Philippines’ derelict justice system.
Shockingly, Aquino did not stop there.
In another very public Senate trial, the once-powerful Juan Ponce Enrile, a Marcos henchman, was at the receiving end of an expose on misuse of "pork barrel" funds. This is significant as Enrile, 92, was seen as the architect of the Martial Law, a power grab designed to keep the Marcoses in power beyond constitutional term limits. This dark episode kept the Philippines backward while its neighbours zoomed past. Enrile, the president of the Senate that tried Corona, had re-engineered himself as a reformist in the late 1980s, by turning his back on the ailing dictator Marcos.
But old habits die hard. Enrile has proven to be father of grand political scheming, nepotism, patronage politics, theft of public funds and philandering -- all of these were exposed in a drawn-out public trial that has also involved one of his 30-plus concubines. That number came from Enrile's own wife, Cristina.
That these two powerful men had their taste of justice is something totally unthinkable in the past. Their downfall through legal means, without blood on the streets or even a revolution — is unprecedented.
Tax cheats, too, are now scared of being prosecuted or even exposed, due to the much efficient collection scheme and a name-and-shame campaign, allowing the Bureau of Internal Revenue to possibly hit the Php2-trillion collection target this election year.
These demonstrated PNoy’s single-minded determination to bring his “Tuwid na Daan” (“straight path”) mantra to kill old habits that kept his country backward. Roxas vows to continue on this path.
2. LP is the most viable Philippine political party
Filipino voters are fickle, star-struck and awed by action heroes. Vote buying, especially in remote provinces, is rampant. In an immature political culture, tribal allegiances run thicker than loftier ideals. The ambitious Ferdinand Marcos, from the vote-rich northern Luzon, switched from LP to Nacionalista Party when he failed to get the LP nomination in 1966.
Marcos cemented the ruinous culture of vicious cycle of political turn-coatism that robbed Philippine politics of pedigree, especially when faced with great odds.
On the face of it, LP looks like any other traditional political party that reinforces a dynastic, wattered-down democracy. Scratch the surface and you'll see party ideologues, led by Aquino, who had proven to have the staying power to live out "Bayan bago sarili" (nation before self).
His most virulent critics agree that Aquino had not enriched himself in power.
By curbing corruption, boosting growth and trimming the budget deficit, Aquino has in six years turned Asia’s “sick man” into what World Bank said as the continent’s “rising tiger” in 2013.
He's surrounded with people, including Roxas, whose work ethic and credibility as public servants are unassailable. Not all of Aquino's cabinet men are great; some are real laggards and may be the reason why Roxas is not doing well in the polls.
But Aquino, nevertheless, has endorsed Roxas — ignoring his family's own wishes and the public opinion polls that show Roxas is trailing his peers. There are moves in congress to keep turn-coatism in check, initially by allowing political parties to be funded by tax-payers.
3. Mar Roxas is not afraid of the mob
Like PNoy, Roxas does not care much about public opinion or popular sentiment. If they wanted their entire LP slate to sweep the May 2016 polls, Aquino shouldn't have vetoed the proposed legislation in January – five months prior to the presidential vote – authorizing a Php2,000 increase in the monthly pension of Social Security System (SSS) beneficiaries. Aquino reasoned that that by signing off the bill, however, SSS would be bankrupt by 2029.
As Interior Secretary, Roxas made moves that drew the ire of a powerful block-voting religious sect with a long record of voting for crooks in exchange for juicy posts for their members and a lock on key government agencies like the Light Rail Transit Authority and the Bureau of Customs.
Moreover, any attack on the urban poor is massively unpopular. But Philippine courts, upon the complaint filed by the executive, signed off orders to clear the waterways in Manila of informal settlers that clog up the river around the city, worsen the flooding and expose the settlers to greater risk of being swept away by floods.
4. The police fraternity does not cower Roxas
In 2014, Roxas fired four out of five of Metro Manila's police district heads. The reason: they failed in key performance indicators in fighting crime. This meant risking an assassination, given the record of crooks among the ranks of police officers.
But Roxas risked it anyway. Crime is a big issue in the May 9, 2016 general elections.
Davao City, the bailiwick of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, is touted as one of the world's "safest" cities. Statistically, this safest city tag is wrong, based on Davao's own police records (39 index crimes per 100,000 inhabitants per month in 2014). Sorsogon City is much safer, with a 22 index crimes per month per 100,000.
5. Good governance puts money in people's pockets
Greater business confidence and higher ratings from every credit agency under the LP’s “Daang Matuwid” leadership meant lowest interest rates — and more money in the people's pockets. The rates in any state’s economy are dictated by its central bank, through Treasury bill auctions. The BSP right now is awash with cash. It doesn’t need to borrow. In fact it is lending its international reserves to other states (Greece + several European countries).
The lower rates are a major pay-off from good governance. It means people can borrow money from banks to fund small businesses, acquire machinery to make production more efficient, for example, without not end up blowing a hole in their pockets. Gross international reserves of the Philippines stood at some $80b as of January 2016, bigger than many of the developed economies' reserves.
That’s more than enough to cover the forex needs of Philippine-based importers for three months (the standard measure of GIR sufficiency). The Philippines’ GIR position places the Asian tiger at No. 26 in the world.
The Philippines' current foreign exchange reserves are bigger than Canada, Australia, Spain or even Norway.
In 2015, market data provider Bloomberg ranked the Philippines as the world's second-fastest growing economy — a massive feat for a country deemed an under-performer for decades.
Here's how ordinary people benefit from low rates: for a Php3 million home mortgage, for example, lower rates translate to Php1,000 in savings per month (if lender charges floating interest rates, like BDO does).
That's a total savings of Php72,000 in six years or lower home mortgage rates alone.
Now, due to more competition and private firms investing billions in the country (highways, port projects, energy, etc), most Philippine banks only now charge 4% for car mortgage.
The result: mid-level Filipino military, police officers or teachers are now starting to have the capacity to buy a brand-new vehicle. Car sales in the Philippines have spiked more than three-fold in the last five years.
Lower interest rates put money in people's pockets.
6. Healing process with Filipino Muslims must continue
The biggest massacre in the Philippines took place in the 1970s when government soldiers under strongman Marcos attacked a mosque, killing about 1,000 Muslim worshipers. The clash between Christian Filipinos and the so-called Moros — Muslims — is a centuries-old one. But it’s political, not religious. The healing process is not, and will never be, an easy one. It would entail a bold give-and-take.
The Aquino administration that took the biggest gamble in bridging the gap, and came close to having the Basic Bangsamoro Law (BBL) passed by Congress, if not for the Mamasapano tragedy in January 2015 (16 months away from the presidential elections).
This tragedy, however, shows how complicated the peace process is and demonstrates how unknown hands are at work, possibly in the Philippine military, could ruin good intentions on both sides.
Aquino's team, however, demonstrated their seriousness in pushing for a lasting peace through negotiations, not by decimating and continuously marginalising the 5 million Filipino Muslims.
Any community, when shown respect and driven in the right direction, has great potential. Aquino's party believes a progressive multi-cultural, multi-ethic Philippines is possible — that in diversity, the Philippines can still be one. The Mamasapano tragedy is a sad episode, but by ignoring the root of the problem — marginalisation of the Moros — leads to more of the same, a path to nowhere.
Roxas and his party vow to pursue the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). It has stalled in Congress due to the SAF44 tragedy, which though smaller in scale compared to the bigger tragedy of disunity, has been blown up disproportionately, quite understandably, by those who stand to benefit from the current administration's downfall.
7. Roxas is unafraid to disagree with his boss
Like Aquino, Roxas is not a typical politician. Roxas had heated arguments with Aquino in February, following the Mamasapano fiasco in which 44 members of the police special forces unit were massacred by Moro rebels during operations to arrest suspected terrorists hiding in the rebels' lair.
Mar wanted Aquino to suspend police Chief Alan Purisima and Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa. Aquino rejected Roxas' recommendation. Roxas reportedly walked out of that meeting. Aquino, who instructed Purisima to inform Roxas about the operation, (which Purisima defied), took the flak for that fiasco. Roxas is now at the receiving end of the public wrath, possibly taking the electorate's chastisement, for something he never got to know about, until it was done.
8. Roxas is 'snobbish'
This is partly true. Roxas had no friends in the police force he headed as local government (DILG) secretary. He had no qualms in firing senior police officers who failed to meet crime reduction targets. Roxas, who briefly headed the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC), is also at the receiving end of attacks not only on the MRT issue but also the traffic mess in Manila and on every issue raised against the administration.
Latest polls show his support in Manila is failing. Never mind if the cause of traffic in Manila is the tripling of car sales due to lower interest rates and that the billions poured by government for massive infrastructure projects in Manila (for example, the Php26.5 billion SLEX-NLEX bypass freeway connecting North and South superhighways, funded by a private consortium) won't be completed before the May 2016 elections.
His presidential rival, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, snobbed Roxas' overtures for a meeting as the mayor suspects Roxas as being behind the rumour about Duterte as a cancer-sufferer.
9. Unfazed by family's divided loyalties
PNoy Aquino endorsed Mar Roxas despite the fact that his family supports rival candidates. The Aquino king-makers include former Congressman Jose “Peping” Cojuangco Jr., the brother of President Aquino’s mother Corazon, who vowed in 2015 to support Vice President Binay in the 2016 elections. Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) head and Aquino’s other uncle, Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, was reportedly supporting Grace Poe. Aquino's own sister, popular actress Kris Aquino, said she will support either Binay or Poe, not Roxas. Aquino endorsed Roxas anyway.
10. Healthier, better fed generation of Filipinos
With record savings, record spending and record gross international reserves: these are some of the hallmarks of PNoy’s team. Through efficient budgeting and getting rid of price-fixing syndicates via online bids especially in public works, the administration had spent less than actually budgeted but completed target projects on time.
This boosted savings to record levels — for example, Php303 billion ($6.8 billion) in savings from the 2014 national budget. Critics assail the Aquino government for "underspending".
Aquino said the savings come from bottom-up budgetting, efficiency and doing away with the hole of corruption through rigged bids, in which big contractors conspire to corner juicy government contracts.
It also means the government is awash with cash. As a result, the Philippine no longers needs to borrow money from outside to fund projects. But the government did not scrimp on spending money where it's needed: the 180,000 classrooms built in the last five years are more than all the previous administrations combined since 1987.
Aquino also scaled up the conditional cash transfer (called "4Ps") to the poorest of the poor from 321,000 households in 2010 under former president Arroyo to 4.1 million households as of 2015. That's a more 12-fold increase.
4Ps is outright dole that not only enables poor families to buy food, but also keeps their children in school. More importantly, it boosts preventive medicine, as the cash transfer is conditional on the beneficiary's children from age zero to 14 being sent by parent to government clinics for immunisation shots and preventive health checks.
Eligibility for "poorest of the poor" is based on 2003 survey of National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB). The World Bank is now touting 4Ps as one of the world's most successful programs in breaking the back of generational poverty. It is raising a healthier, well-fed generation of Filipinos by the millions.
11. Cleaning up Customs
Decades of institutionalised corruption at the Bureau of Customs (BoC) has turned the institution into a sort of fortress. The problem has become so inscrutable that people have suggested a "reset" of the institution — meaning, turning the house upside down to get the most deep-seated dirt out. But that would also mean ripping out the book of the Civil Service Commission, since many of the suspected corrupt officers are protected by the Civil Service law, making their dismissal difficult, if not impossible.
A parade of valiant men who attempted to clean it up — at least three BoC commissioners appointed by Aquino, including a former coup-plot leader, Brig Gen Danilo Lim — quit their post in frustration. Lim said it was easier to stage a coup, presumably to change the country's top leaders, than to clean up Customs.
The biggest interest groups that have a lock on BoC's management are known, but a block-voting religious cult is also known to have a lock on some of its juiciest posts. It's a quid-pro-quo. Moreover, BoC staff blocked attempts through the courts to computerise its operations that would have made it operations more transparent.
If trade is an enabler of development, BoC is the biggest dis-enabler for the Philippines. There are reams of circumstantial evidence about the extent of theft of public funds at BoC. If you've heard stories about how an overseas Filipino worker brought his American car home and paid Php400,000 in taxes but was given a receipt by a Land Bank staff (working with the BoC crooks) amounting to Php150,000, chances are that it's true.
The notoriously corrupt customs bureau is the biggest argument for its reset and devolution of governance and federalisation.
Cleaning it up is the biggest challenge for any administration. Incremental progress in cleaning up BoC will be good for business and job creation as a whole. Tidying it up would mean a giant leap in Filipinos' appetite for going into manufacturing.
Why? Most of machinery and equipment used in production are imported, which means every equipment must pass through Customs: subject to discretion of inspectors, and subject to corruption.
12. Biggest military spending
For a president shot five times by military men during a coup attempt, PNoy knows the difference between what hurt him personally and what his job as chief executive demands.
Despite being a victim of military adventurism — a coup against his mother former president Cory Aquino left some of his bodyguards dead and a bullet lodged in his spine — Aquino knows the value of a stronger military and credible deterrence against the state's enemies. This record spending is aimed to build the Asian country's military power enought to protect its territorial integrity.
Aquino's father, opposition leader Benigno Sr., was felled allegedly by a military officer’s bullet in 1983. Ironically, it was under PNoy's watch that the Armed Forces of the Philippines saw the biggest spike in military asset acquisitions — 35%, compared to Singapore's 21.4% and Malaysia's 27%.
Total Philippine defence spending in 2014 stood at $3.3 billion, 9 per cent of Asean's total. After years of neglect, the AFP is undergoing a massive modernisation.
In the 2016 national budget, the Philippines raised its military budget by another 25 per cent, the biggest jump in decades, a huge chunk of which had been earmarked for buying navy frigates and patrol aircraft.
The 2016 defense budget is part of a five-year, Php75-billion modernisation program approved by Aquino in 2013. The country's budget is miniscule compared to China's $132-billion military budget in 2014.
But the country has started to build credible deterrence. The Philippine military got the respect — and money — it deserves under LP leadership.
13. International lender
Under Marcos or any other subsequent leader, the Philippines was a net borrower. That stopped under PNoy, when the Philippines became a lender -- $1 billion to Greece as part of the IMF bailout deal, in 2012. In 2015, 9 European nations (including Greece, Portugal, Cyprus and Ukraine) borrowed nearly $440 million from the Philippines' IMF fund. Even in the provinces, ask any contractor who does not have a project with the government. There's virtually none. There's so much infrastructure project both in the government and private sectors that many Filipino engineers in the Middle East are now going home.
14. Roxas: a finance man, accidental politician
Politics wasn’t originally part of Mar's plan. His path to politics is a tale shared by many politicians, including his running mate Camarines Sur Representative Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo. Roxas is an accidental politician. After graduating from the Ateneo de Manila in 1974, he studied economics and graduated from the Wharton School of Economics at the University of Pennsylvania.
He joined New York-based investment bank Allen & Co. and was promoted to assistant vice president “mobilising venture capital funds for small and medium enterprises." At age 36, from a New York-based investment banker, Mar started his political career by being elected to Congress, after his brother, Capiz Congressman Dinggoy Roxas, died of colon cancer and vacated the post. Mar Roxas made his mark early, from his stint as lawmaker.
After serving as Congressman during which he passed landmark trade-related laws, Roxas became trade secretary of presidents Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Joseph Estrada. While he was Transportation Secretary and later, Interior Secretary of Aquino, Roxas was also among Aquino's top economic advisers. He has been 'adopted' by the Philippine Military Academy.
15. 'Bayan bago sarili' (nation before self) in practice
Today's generation of Filipinos fail to understand how Martial Law was nothing but a naked and brutal power grab that left the Philippines in ruins -- its sons and daughters used their energies to either fight the dictatorship or flee for greener pastures. For decades, the creativity and energy of young Filipinos were underutilised.
Aquino showed Filipinos they have a chance of redemption for . When the leadership takes on the right mindset, "Bayan bago sarili" (selfless service) makes people really happy. A happy worker is more productive, creative, motivated and dignified, Most of all, his humanity is fully alive. Self-sacrifice, patiently borne out of love of country, has redemptive power. Great countries come from great sacrifices
16. Roxas trailing in polls?
Roxas is not doing well in the opinion polls. He's not good at delivering bombastic or entertaining speeches. He’s a poor campaigner. His acceptability in Manila only hovers at about 10%, while his opponents are between 20-30%. In the current state of the campaign, mudslinging buries real issues.
Most Filipinos look for entertainment and spin during elections more than track record. Filipinos love candidates who use big, shocking words and flash-bang antics. Roxas does not believe he needs to resort to these to win the May 2016 race. He's the first to admit that this is so.
But public sentiment polls taken months prior to the actual vote are notoriously erratic when it comes to predicting the outcome of Philippine elections.
17. Roxas and Aquino come from the same rib
In terms of mindset, both PNoy and Mar come from the same mould. Their fathers were both anti-dictatorship fighters who were neither cowered by naked power nor sold their principles for convenience. But Mar's father, Gerry Roxas, died a year ahead of Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr, PNoy's father.
In his short eulogy for Gerry, Ninoy said:
Long time ago, a poet read, and I quote:
"God give us a man a time like this demands
A strong mind, a great heart,
True faith and ready hands
A man whom the lust of office does not kill.
A man whom the spoils of office cannot buy.
A man who possesses a principle and a will
A man who cannot lie.
Dear God, if you really love and care for the Filipino people, give us anothe Gerry."
18. Not drawn to power for its own sake
In 2009, Roxas agreed to step down as VP of PNoy, even if he was first anointed by the LP as presidential candidate. He's a man whom "the lust of office does not kill, whom the spoils of office cannot buy. A man who possesses a principle and a will... a man who cannot lie." His loss to former Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay in the 2010 VP race by about 700,000 votes (?) was contested in Philippine courts but it had been overtaken by the May 2016 elections. As frontliner of the Aquino administration’s biggest crises, Mar has been misunderstood and lambasted for doing nothing during the Haiyan tragedy. His comments made to Governor Romualdes had been played out in the social media, taken completely out of context. Romualdez later apologised over what happened (see below).
19. Roxas is 'boring'
His main issues -- strengthening agriculture, empowering local communities, help businesses by fighting graft -- are deemed boring. Even his credentials are dismissed as "uneventful". Despite 23 years in public service, he has not been linked to any major corruption case.
Early in his political career, the Singaporean government has awarded Roxas as the 16th Lee Kuan Yew fellow (1996). This is significant as Lee is seen as one of the world's most incorruptible leaders. Lee had very unsavoury words towards the Philippines, especially under Marcos, whom he considered a "friend". Mr Lee’s biography, The Singapore Story, portrayed the ailing Ferdinand Marcos as a ruthless dictator who bled his country dry and who went around the world borrowing millions of dollars to prop up his regime whose ability to pay debts is questionable (Lee said he refused to lend to Marcos).
In 1999, Roxas was recognised by the World Economic Forum as "one of the Global Leaders of Tomorrow who are expected to shape the future." That same year, Asiaweek named Roxas as "Political Leader of the New Millennium." On February 16, 2007, the E-Services Philippines awarded Roxas with the E-Champion Award recognising his pioneering efforts and leadership in making the Philippines a popular outsourcing destination of choice.
On September 18, 2007, Roxas was conferred with the Palanca Awards "Gawad Dangal ng Lahi" for serving as an exemplary leader and role model to the Filipino.
Twenty-three years in politics, more than the years Marcos stayed in power, and not a single charge or story of corruption had been thrown at his face. Some people are asking Roxas about where the billions of pesos in post-Yolanda rehabilitation funds went. That line suggests Roxas pocketed the money -- or worse, now using it in his campaign -- leaving the victims to fend fo themselves.
The Aquino government has put online an accounting of the amount pledged against the amount handed over by foreign donors for the Yolanda victims -- and through which government agency. It also shows a yawning gap between what was pledge and what was received.
Roxas, however, believes being 'boring' can make him win the May 2016 vote.
20. Roxas was an OFW
Being an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) exposes one to what works in others parts of the world and what doesn’t. A migrant worker, too, must work harder to avoid going home broke. It also exposes one to all sorts of indignities. Mar Roxas was an expatriate worker himself, having once worked as a US investment banker. His work ethics are borne by that experience. Most importantly, he knows that the most cherished wish of every overseas Filipino is: to find dignified life and opportunity back home. Only a party with a vision and leaders with guts to make it happen, combined with the hard work of our people, can make that happen.
'You are a Romualdez, and the President is an Aquino'
Sadly, these words had been twisted so badly it continues to create a ripple till now. The biggest victims are not the Taclobanons but the truth. Two days after the supertyphoon Yolanda (international codename: Haiyan) unleashed its wrath on Leyte in November 2013, a spliced video clip showed former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas at Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez in a conversation.
It appears the video was cut – to just 18 seconds – which takes it out of context. The video made the rounds on social media that backfired on Roxas. This "spliced" video continues to weigh down Roxas’ ratings till now.
The full video runs for more than 42 minutes.
Supporters, however, say the 18-second viral video was twisted against Roxas’ favour. Here's a bit of background: Due to the massive destruction of Yolanda in Leyte, Romualdez asked for help from the national government – equipment, vehicles, and soldiers to keep the peace and order at conduct ng rescue at relief operations.
In the video, Roxas told Romualdez everything should be clear, that the hand-over must be in black-and-white. Since a local executive has no command over a national army, Roxas said: "You need to write a letter, a legal piece of paper that’s needed for the national government to essentially take over your territory (Tacloban)”.
Roxas insisted the handover must be formal and documented, so it won’t appear as if the Aquino had fired Romualdez (Aquinos and the Romualdezes belong to opposing political sides as President Aquino father, Ninoy, was the nemesis of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, whose wife is Imelda Romualdez).
It took two years after Yolanda's devastation for Romualdez to come clean. On November 8, 2015, he apologised to Aquino for putting him and his government (particularly Roxas) in a bad light.
Full quote from Afred Romualdez (November 8, 2015) sa Tacloban:
“Nais ko lang sabihin sa lahat minsan po (I want to tell everyone that sometimes) when we are in our most desperate times and moments we do not bring out the best in us but, I salute Taclobanons for doing their best,” he said even as he thanked President Aquino and the national government for extending assistance to the Yolanda survivors.
“Minsan po nakakapagsalita kami ng mga maaanghang na salita pero (Sometimes, we utter harsh words but) at no given time are we ungrateful for all the help that was given to us. Pasensya na lang po kung nakakapagsalita kami ng maaanghang dahil kami ay tao lamang at kami po ay nasaktan dahil napakasakit talaga ng nangyari sa amin (We apologise if we stated harsh words, because we’re only human and because of the terrible pain we went through),” he said.
Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, the Yolanda’s rehabilitation czar, who is running as an independent senator, says he supports Mar Roxas.