Philippine president endorses interior minister as next leader

President Benigno AquinoPhilippine President Benigno Aquino endorsed long-time ally Manuel Roxas on Friday for the country’s 2016 presidential election, saying the interior minister was the best person to advance anti-corruption reforms.

“We choose the one who is certain to pursue the straight and narrow path,” said Aquino, alluding to his hallmark anti-graft crusade that he says ushered in unprecedented economic growth in the impoverished archipelago nation.

“I believe that person is none other than Mar Roxas,” the president told cheering members of his Liberal Party, using the minister’s nickname.

The Philippines elects a new leader in May 2016. Contenders must register their candidacy ahead of a mid-October deadline.

The interior minister is likely to run against Vice President Jejomar Binay, who is being investigated by a special prosecutor over graft allegations, and the popular Senator Grace Poe, who had also sought Aquino’s endorsement.

Supporters in yellow clapped and chanted “Roxas Now” as the 58-year-old grandson of the Philippines’ first president choked back tears and thanked Aquino.

“I accept the challenge,” said Roxas. “I will never stray from the straight and narrow path.”

Aquino said he interviewed three potential candidates ahead of Friday’s endorsement, but in the end chose Roxas, even though he has been polling poorly.

– Risky move –

However, analysts say Aquino’s pick was laden with risk.

“On paper, he looks like a competent technocrat and successor,” Richard Javad Heydarian, a political science professor at Manila’s De La Salle University, told AFP.

“But he lacks the popular touch,” Heydarian said of the interior minister, whose wealthy family owns one the capital’s largest commercial centres.

According to recent polls, Roxas trails Binay, whose populist policies as mayor of Manila’s financial district won the hearts of the area’s poor.

Heydarian also warned that Roxas and Poe could split Aquino’s support base, giving Binay an edge.

Aquino on Friday downplayed Roxas’ poor polling numbers.

“If something is really important, you must work hard for it, fight for it,” he told an audience of senators, congressmen, mayors and campaign organisers.

Binay said he was looking forward to a rematch with Roxas, after beating him in the 2010 vice presidential election.

“If this were boxing, we fought as lightweights, now we’re welterweights,” Binay told reporters.

Senator Poe, after wishing Roxas well and pledging support for Aquino’s corruption fight, remained coy about her political ambitions.

Aquino is unable to run for another stint in office, thanks to the country’s single-term limit set by a constitution that his late mother, former president and democracy icon Corazon Aquino, endorsed in 1987 to prevent a repeat of the 20-year dictatorship of the late Ferdinand Marcos.

“I do not wish to open the possibility for an individual to stay in power their whole life,” Aquino said, adding that he has rejected calls to rewrite the constitution.

Thousands of dissidents were killed or went missing during the rule of Marcos, who has been accused of plundering billions of dollars from the nation’s coffers.

Aquino’s mother led a bloodless revolt that eventually toppled Marcos in 1986.

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