I watched with great interest and sympathy the anointment ceremony yesterday at the Club Filipino, where President Benigno BS Aquino 3rd formally endorsed local government secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II as the Liberal Party standard bearer in the presidential election next year.
This was must viewing for me, for I have been planning to write a column on Mar’s tortuous quest for the presidency as part of my series of columns on the politics of 2016.
I have also felt sympathy for Mar, because of the seemingly endless obstacles that he has had to contend with to secure this shot at the presidency, despite the sacrifices that he has had to make, like the subordination of his ambition to others and the hollowing of his public persona in deference to others.
Now that he has been officially endorsed by President Aquino, Roxas is free at last to campaign for the presidency, and do all within the bounds of law and reason to win office.
He can chart his own course, shape his own policy agenda, and constitute his own circle of advisers and cronies.
Politicians like Mar, who are scions of distinguished political forebears, contend with both the burden and the glory of their names. A burden because there is an implicit burden to carry on a family legacy and seek public office. A glory also because you are gifted at the starting line with an advantage of prestige, money, maybe even a political base.
Mar Roxas’ grandfather, Manuel Roxas I, filled presidential office not just once but twice, first as the third president of the Philippine Commonwealth government, and second, as the first elected president of the third Philippine Republic under the 1935 constitution. He delivered his inaugural addresses in the same year, 1946. And Mar’s father, Sen. Gerardo Roxas, served as senator, as candidate for vice-president of the Philippines, and as president of the Liberal Party.
This background marks him out as patrician, and separates him from the masses of our countrymen. This has been the root of his oftentimes erratic and funny attempts to become populist in image and appeal.
Continuity, succession, and hand-me-downs
The anointment yesterday was permeated by the theme of continuity and succession.
Roxas will not only run for president, he must carry on the Daang Matuwid (Straight Path) program of the Aquino administration, its policies, its slogan, perhaps even the ribbon sign which Aquino used in lieu of the Philippine flag pin.
Aquino laid it on thickly in his endorsement remarks, when he declared that Roxas was picked as standard bearer and designated successor because he considers him the one most likely to carry forward the Straight Path program. He hinted that it was because he wanted to make sure of Mar’s worthiness that the anointment process took many detours and dinners with other presidential aspirants.
This passing of the torch would make sense, if President Aquino and the administration had a coherent set of ideas, principles and programs that can be readily adopted by a new administration. But five years on, no one in government can really explain what the Straight Path really is, or what its vaunted reforms are.
The torch would not be a burden if it did not also mean that it now falls on Mar Roxas to defend President Aquino during the campaign, and to rebut public suspicion that a Roxas presidency would automatically pardon Aquino if he is charged in court.
Identity and authenticity
All this is to say that for Mar Roxas to make a credible run for the presidency, he needs to quickly develop (1) a clear identity as a leader with his own vision and policy agenda and (2) an authentic image that people will perceive as real, not phony.
He needs identity and authenticity, more than the hand-me-downs that President Aquino has passed on to him in exchange for the presidential endorsement.
While he needs, of course, the President’s support, because it also means access to the largesse of government, he will go nowhere unless he is his own man.
Roxas lost time and traction in his quest for the presidency because he did not turn to his strengths as a public official. He has deferred to politicians with slimmer credentials.
First of all, like Grace Poe, he topped the senatorial elections when he successfully ran for the Senate; there were no protests about 60-30-10 then.
As senator, he successfully sponsored and fought for the Affordable Medicines Act. In billing himself as Mr. Palengke, he made a campaign for lower, affordable prices for commodities synomous with his name.
Voters will want to know who Mar Roxas is before they will vote for him, let alone campaign for him.
This sense of self-identity is closely allied with the quality of authenticity, of being real.
In the Total Leadership program taught at Wharton, where Roxas studied, they list “acting with authenticity” as one of the essential qualities of leadership.
An authentic candidate and leader knows clearly his purposes and objectives. He knows his values and aspirations, and he can align them with the political objective of winning office and serving in public life.
Finally, Roxas needs to articulate a clear vision of where he wants to take our country and our people during the next six years.
A leader should have a vision for our country that is clear, attractive and attainable. The more inspiring the vision, the better. People trust leaders who create inspiring visions.
A vision, I emphasize, is not a mere slogan.
Up to a point, Aquino’s shared path seemed like a vision of the future, but then it was turned into a slogan, and it quickly dissipated its energy.
It will be suicidal for Roxas to accept it as the vision of his own would-be presidency.
The man and the moment
The “Roxas Na” chant has a nice ring to it because it suggests both urgency and timeliness – hinting that perhaps there is a meeting here of the man and the moment.
Roxas’ acceptance speech was bland, low-key and too conscious of the presence of
I did not hear one note that said Mar experienced a sense of liberation that he could at last run for president at full speed, and that he no longer has to worry about others poaching on his territory.
He still must find his voice in the emerging campaign
It better happen soon.