Mar Roxas sets eyes on presidency

by ROSEMARIE FRANCISCO and MANNY MOGATO, Reuters | 01/21/2009 7:04 PM

A former investment banker-turned-politician and one of Manila's most eligible bachelors has set his eyes on the Philippines' presidency, attempting to follow in the footsteps of his namesake grandfather in the 2010 elections.

But Sen. Manuel "Mar" Roxas II says he is aware that political and social pedigree will not be enough to propel him to the country's highest office. Opinion polls show him somewhere in the middle of a pack of about half a dozen potential presidents.

"This is not going to be a walk in the park," the 51-year-old, Wharton-educated economist told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.

"Nobody is going to hand it to you. You'll have to go out and communicate with the people our vision and our desire and commitment to be able to make changes happen."

Although elections are about 16 months away, many politicians in the Philippines are readying their campaigns. Along with Roxas, Vice-President Manuel "Noli" de Castro and Senators Manuel Villar and Loren Legarda are also likely to be in the fray.

A former assistant vice president at New York-based Allen and Company Inc., Roxas said he believes he has the ability to attack the pervasive corruption in the country, repair its tattered law and order apparatus and prepare for the impact of the global financial crisis.

Roxas has been a member of the House of Representatives and Trade Secretary in two administrations.

He shrugged off his poor ratings in surveys, dismissing them as "irrelevant" and insisted his small, cohesive Liberal Party was capable of helping him win elections in May 2010.

Roxas entered politics earlier than planned in the early 1990s when his younger brother, Gerardo Jr, a congressman, died of a rare type of liver cancer. He returned to the Philippines to carry on the family's political tradition, taking his brother's seat.

Roxas' grandfather, also called Manuel, was named the president of the Philippines, then a U.S. colony, at the end of World War Two and was also the first elected president of Asia's first republic in 1946.

Roxas's father was a former congressman and later senator. He was planning to run for president in the 1970s but his plans were aborted when martial law was imposed by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Many in the Philippines believe supporters of current President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will try to amend the constitution to do away with a law that does not allow her to remain in the presidency after 2010.

Roxas said he would fight any such attempt tooth and nail.

"I will certainly make sure that there will be elections in 2010," he said. "This is something that is a real threat to our democracy. It is something that we must vigorously oppose and that I will vigorously oppose."

Once a member of Arroyo's cabinet, he has turned against her.

"The people are not happy, they do not trust her," Roxas said.

Roxas still lives with his mother, who is descended from the wealthy Araneta clan, which owns large swathes of Manila. He has never married but has a teenage son from a relationship with a former beauty queen.

Roxas is frequently seen in public with Korina Sanchez, a hugely popular television personality, and rumors are thick in Manila's social circles that they plan to marry late this year in time to boost his presidential campaign.

Asked about marriage plans, Roxas said: "I'll just send you the invitation."

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