Manuel Roxas II, the establishment choice for Philippine president

By: David Hutt - Posted on: December 2, 2015 | Current Affairs

Manuel Roxas II is the presidential preference of both the Philippines’ current leader and the country’s ruling party, but recent slipups may have dented his chances of landing the top job

Illustration by Victor Blanco

With only six months until the Philippines’ presidential election, three frontrunners have emerged from the 20-plus candidates. There is the plucky outsider and political rookie, Grace Poe; the rags-to-riches former human rights lawyer, Jejomar Binay; and there is the establishment candidate, Manuel ‘Mar’ Roxas II. The latter comes from a long line of politicians, including his grandfather, Manuel Roxas, the Philippines’ fifth president, who took office after World War II.

roxas, philippines. election
Illustration by Victor Blanco

In 1993, the younger Roxas, a successful investment banker, made a triumphant bid to become a congressman. He went on to serve as secretary of trade and industry in the administrations of former presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Currently, he is the secretary of the interior and local government under President Benigno Aquino III. In July, the president announced his backing of Roxas, who will be running for the governing Liberal Party.

His established political career, however, could be a double-edged sword for Roxas. His influence over the Liberal Party could secure enough votes to tip the balance in his favour, but the perception of Roxas hanging onto the coattails of the Aquino administration – which, despite having some successes, has earned itself a number of critics and detractors – might serve to work against him.

“Roxas promises to continue what has been started by Aquino. Those dissatisfied will definitely take this against Roxas,” said Jan Robert Go, assistant professor of political science at the University of the Philippines Diliman.     

Aside from his political connections, Roxas seems to be suffering from a PR problem. According to Go, not only is he perceived by the Filipino public as an “elite” and distant from the people, his efforts to appear concerned about the lives of the electorate are seen as “for show, and not necessarily sincere”.

Eric Batalla, an associate professor in the political science department at De La Salle University, Manila, added that Roxas’ publicity campaigns have backfired massively, garnering him the nickname ‘Mr Photo Opps’.

One example came during the ceremony at which President Aquino announced his endorsement of Roxas. The candidate appeared to be visibly holding back his tears, an act that was mocked by many Filipinos on social media.

Batalla added that Roxas’ handling of the post-Typhoon Haiyan relief and rescue operations has left “a profound negative impression of his capabilities as a national leader”. Many in the country felt the government’s response was sorely lacking.

Roxas’ ability was also seriously called into question following the Mamasapano clash in January, a disastrous police operation against Islamic militants that left 44 members of the Philippine National Police’s Special Action Force dead.  

“Crime continues to be a major problem and his uncertain role in the operation points to problems of authority and trust,” said Batalla.

It appears that Roxas’ political connections may not be enough to secure the presidency. The latest opinion poll by PulseAsia puts him six points behind frontrunner Grace Poe and only one point ahead of third-placed Jejomar Binay.

“There is a long way to go between now and May 2016,” Go said. “But, in my opinion, his chances of winning are rather slim.”

Batalla thinks that Roxas could make a good president, but his “dismal administrative and political performance in recent years puts a big question mark on his capability”. And while Roxas hasn’t personally been involved in corruption scandals, his network of “corrupt and self-serving politicians could weigh down on the integrity and legitimacy of his administration”. 

Keep reading:
Portrait: Grace Poe” – Despite her status as a relative outsider and political newcomer, Grace Poe is hoping to beat a pair of heavyweights to win the presidency of the Philippines