Saturday, November 28, 2009

Mar takes another step to the top

By Carmela Fonbuena, | 11/28/2009 9:56 AM

MANILA - You would not expect it from a Wharton graduate, but Senator Manuel "Mar" Roxas II's personal life and political career has turned into a TV drama that continues to draw public attention.

The latest twist was unexpected. In September, he shelved his presidential ambition to give way to Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

Roxas’s story began five years ago, when he rose from relative obscurity to become the top senator in the 2004 elections with nearly 19 million votes. Who can forget the "Mr. Palengke" ads, where he let his hair down before television viewers to solicit votes?

Those ads endeared him to many voters, who were unaware of what Roxas's advertising team had to do just to get him to agree to move to the beat of Parokya ni Edgar's hit single, "Mr. Suave."

"It was basically the Mr. Palengke ad campaign that worked," said marketing expert Greg Garcia, who was previously with the camp of presidential aspirant Senator Manuel Villar.

Mar continues to use the “Mr. Palengke" as a political brand to endear him to the masses.

Hesitant politician

Before politics, Roxas was an investment banker in New York. Politics was far from his mind. That was the territory of his brother, Gerardo "Dinggoy" Roxas Jr. who served as congressman of the 1st district of Capiz province.

But Gerardo's untimely death shortly after the 1992 elections pushed Mar to replace him. A special elections was held, which Mar won.

Roxas served three terms at the House of Representatives, but his last term was cut short when he was appointed by President Joseph Estrada in 2000 as trade secretary. He resigned from the post in the early stages of Estrada's corruption scandal.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) was his stepping stone to national politics. The quiet congressman eventually became a household name because of news of his visits to public markets to monitor the prices of basic commodities. The visits were the right fit for his “Mr. Palengke” marketing campaign.

And then, there was his blossoming romance with ABS-CBN anchor Korina Sanchez, who became his wife last October 27.

Mar has political pedigree and academic credentials. He is the grandson of former president and namesake Manuel Roxas, and son of former Senator Gerardo Roxas. He earned a degree in economics from the Wharton School of Economics at the University of Pennsylvania.

Mixed reactions

Roxas was the presumptive standard-bearer of the Liberal Party since 2007, when he was named party president. In February, party chairman and former Senator Franklin Drilon announced in a press conference that Roxas was going to be the LP's standard bearer. (Read: Mar vows to bring LP to victory in 2010

It seemed then that there would be a battle royale between Roxas and Senator Manuel Villar of the Nacionalista Party. Both of them are known to have the deep pockets to fund their campaigns.

But Roxas’s withdrawal from the 2010 presidential race in September came as a big surprise that changed the 2010 equation. After all, Roxas had spent loads of money for the presidential campaign. A June 2009 report by Nielsen Media Research had spent P140 million—based on published rates—in television advertisements. At that point, it was even higher than Villar’s P80 million spending.

"Para sa akin, di naman pwede na magkawatak-watak, magkahiwa-hiwa ang puwersa para sa reporma," Roxas told Probe in an interview. He said he didn't want the party to get to the point where it had to choose between him and Aquino.

"We cried. A lot of us were sad about his decision because we knew how he worked hard. But that's him. He always puts the country first," a member of Roxas's Senate staff told

Vice-presidential front runner

Roxas's decision to slide down was met with mixed reactions.

On one hand, Roxas was hailed for sacrificing his own ambition and giving way to the growing call for Aquino to run for president.

On the other, cynics said Roxas’s graceful exit from the presidential race was because he had been lagging in the surveys.

Until Aquino declared his presidential bid, Villar was the survey front runner. In the May and June SWS surveys, Villar’s ratings were 29% and 33% respectively. Mar’s were 18% and 20%.

Mar's decision to sacrifice his presidential ambition has somehow endeared him to the voting public. As vice presidential aspirant, Mar led his rivals in the latest October 2009 Pulse Asia survey.

However, that survey had not yet included the ruling party's vice-presidential bet, the popular actor-TV host Edu Manzano, who only recently joined the race.

But analysts said Roxas should not be complacent. Senator Loren Legarda is a more veteran politician who has established ties with local politicians. She has topped the senatorial elections twice, in 1998 and in 2007.

Manzano, on the other hand, is backed by the heavy political machinery of the ruling party.

Mar may have the edge in terms of having a more popular celebrity spouse, But Garcia said Sanchez is a double-bladed sword in Roxas's campaign. "It will work if you're a Korina fan. If you're not, lagot!," he said.

as of 11/28/2009 11:12 AM


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