Mar: Eye on the prize




Mar: Eye on the prize
SKETCHES By Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star)
August 12, 2009 12:00 AM

In a sprawling compound within the Araneta Center, Judy Araneta-Roxas lives in the house closest to the main gate.

The house, with an unimposing fa├žade, has her stamp all over it, from the family photographs to paintings of herself and her late husband, Sen. Gerardo Roxas. Priceless paintings by Juan Luna and Vicente Manansala adorn the living room, which opens out into a spacious garden.

It’s the kind of house, reeking of old money, that you usually find in Forbes Park. But this is right in the heart of Cubao, Quezon City. The only one who can have this kind of spacious accommodations in the heart of Araneta Center, which includes Farmers’ Market and several shopping malls, is the family that owns the commercial center.

This is the favorite joke of former President Joseph Estrada about Judy’s son, Manuel “Mar” Araneta Roxas II, who lives with mom Judy. How can the grandson and namesake of a Philippine president, Erap likes to ask, be “Mr. Palengke” when he owns the palengke?

We don’t know if such comments persuaded Sen. Mar Roxas to replace the Mr. Palengke image with his “padyak” or pedicab ads.

Someone with his pedigree is expected to have a hard time convincing pedicab drivers that he feels their pain. Yet the new imagery seems to be working. Mar’s ratings are dramatically up, although he probably owes this in part to his very public romance with broadcaster-on-leave Korina Sanchez.

Korina is still an X factor in the Roxas presidential campaign. If Mar officially becomes the standard bearer of the Liberal Party (LP), one of the country’s two oldest political blocs, Korina will be subjected to minute public scrutiny, as will the other spouses or soul mates of the other candidates. Will Korina be like Imelda Marcos, Ming Ramos or Loi Ejercito? Will she be like Mar’s grandmother Trinidad or First Gentleman Mike Arroyo?

Or will the real first lady in a Mar Roxas presidency be the queen of the Roxas manor, Judy Araneta-Roxas?

In her L-shaped home, one wing is the territory of her son, although the two zones can function interchangeably. On a recent Saturday afternoon Judy was interviewed by Cheche Lazaro in Mar’s part of the house while Mar entertained guests in Judy’s area.

The idea of a 52-year-old still living with his mom in the family home is one of the issues raised against Roxas — although in the Philippine extended family system, this is hardly unusual, especially for bachelors. Mar in fact lived on his own for years as a student at the Wharton School of Economics in the University of Pennsylvania, and then as an investment banker in New York until December 1985, when he returned home to help in the presidential campaign of Corazon Aquino.

The other prominent LP member, 49-year-old Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, also a bachelor, lived with mom Cory till her death, and has now inherited the family home.

Mar will probably get the votes of many mothers, who wish they could have all their children stay with them forever.

Though attached to his mother, Mar is no conservative in his personal life. He dotes on a teenage son out of wedlock and can probably identify with Julio Iglesias’ song, “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before.” Korina has moved in with him and is handling preparations for their wedding, where the details are being doled out like news teasers.

Mar is relaxed around new acquaintances. As a bachelor in the US, he said, he learned that he could get through any date by being ready to whip up quickly a pasta, a risotto and a roast. He gave his guests a sample of his cooking — his recipes, but prepared by the family cook.

He was pleasantly surprised that during a recent visit to The STAR in Manila’s Port Area, he was mobbed by bystanders and received a warm reception from employees.

Was it the flood of ads? Sen. Loren Legarda recently told us that she had to accept the reality that her ratings were going down. “I don’t have P500 million for ads,” she told us with a smile.

“Neither do I,” Mar said, chuckling, when I told him about Loren’s remark.

He gives the impression that he will still be able to genuinely relax even if he fails to win the presidency. More than any of the likely presidential candidates in 2010, Mar Roxas looks like he wants the prize not just for power’s sake.

Call him a mama’s boy, indecisive in marriage, a rich boy who can’t connect with the poor, though it’s not for lack of trying. The top vote getter in the 2004 Senate race, his current efforts to boost his national profile are now making him come off like a traditional politician.

But among all the potential candidates, Mar Roxas is the only one not hounded by scandal. Among the candidates, he and Sen. Manny Villar have the best grasp of economic matters, though Villar’s blueprint for accomplishing his objectives is more detailed and viable.

Mar Roxas offers hope of good governance if he becomes president.

His one big problem right now is that the torch of decency and integrity has become inextricably identified with the late President Corazon Aquino. And there are people who believe that torch has now been passed on to her only son, Mar’s party mate Noynoy Aquino.

* * *

If Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo stays true to form until May 2010, public dismay over her presidency will translate into votes for the candidate deemed to be the most different from her.

Right now, that person is starting to look like Noynoy.

Since his mother’s burial, Noynoy has said he is too green and has no plans of seeking higher office in 2010. A reliable source told us that this was what President Cory, in her sickbed, wanted for her son.

Even if there is a strong public clamor? Although Cory Aquino herself gave in to that clamor in 1985, the source said she did not want it for Noynoy.

Amid intense public speculation about Noynoy’s political plans, the best scenario at this point for Mar Roxas is to have Cory Aquino’s only son as his running mate.

So far, Mar is making the right noises about openness to a tandem with Noynoy, whoever is chosen by the party as the standard bearer.

With Cory Aquino’s life revived in everyone’s memory, the presidency in 2010 could go to the candidate who looks least interested in it.

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