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No consensus reached on common admin bet

The Chief Executive, who is the also the leader of the ruling Liberal Party, had said he would announce his chosen candidate after his last State of the Nation Address on July 27. File photo

Noy closer to picking ‘anointed’  

MANILA, Philippines - After a “cordial and relaxed” meeting over Chinese food that lasted until past midnight, President Aquino and three of his possible choices for successor failed to reach a consensus over who should be the standard bearer of the administration coalition in the 2016 elections.

But the President said the six-hour meeting, held at his official residence called Bahay Pangarap in Malacañang Park, “took him closer” to choosing who among Senators Grace Poe and Francis Escudero and Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II would be his “anointed” one.

He also said he felt glad to realize “there is such a big pool of people” who can succeed him and continue the achievements of his administration.

“I think the result of (Wednesday) night’s dialogue assures me – and I have to reiterate – there are really a lot (of people) who can continue what we are doing and that is what we are happy about,” the President told reporters in an ambush interview after attending the change of command ceremony at the Philippine National Police headquarters at Camp Crame in Quezon City.

The dinner called by the President began at past 7 p.m. Wednesday and lasted until after 1 a.m. Thursday.

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Aquino said the discussion was a “good sign, a good development.”

The Chief Executive, who is the also the leader of the ruling Liberal Party, had said he would announce his chosen candidate after his last State of the Nation Address on July 27.

While Roxas is LP’s presumptive standard-bearer, he has no runningmate yet and LP stalwarts are very vocal about their desire to have Poe as the DILG chief’s vice president.

However, Poe is faring better in surveys and had said she would be more comfortable in tandem with Escudero if ever she decides to run in 2016. Escudero tops surveys among possible vice presidential candidates.

Statements from Poe and Escudero on the meeting were unclear if any one of them had agreed to “sacrifice” or give way to another’s presidential plans. Roxas has not released a statement on the meeting.

“The meeting was cordial and relaxed. We talked about a lot of things other than 2016,” Escudero said. The menu included hot and sour soup, tausi clams, sweet and sour pork, Peking duck and crispy noodles, according to sources.

Escudero said another meeting in the coming days is being arranged.

Poe said the meeting was “maganda at maayos (pleasant and orderly) and that they agreed on the need to listen to the voice of the people to make sure that the reforms initiated under the Aquino administration would be continued by his chosen elected successor.

“All of us share the belief that a good leadership is key to the country’s achieving progress. That’s why we agreed on the importance of listening to and seeking guidance from the people to ensure that good governance is not wasted but rather strengthened in the next six years,” Poe said in Filipino.

Change, no doubt

The President said it was emphasized during the meeting that much has changed for the better under his administration.

“What came out in our discussion: number one, all parties present, all those who were in the meeting, they agree that there has been a big change in our society in the last five years,” Aquino said.

He said there have been concerns over positive changes in the past five years being threatened by one election.

“I’ve always been saying from the beginning that I am just the face of the various sectors of the majority of the people who want what is happening now and it is good that in our leadership, even if I am out of the picture now, tomorrow, there will be a lot of those who will replace me and we will not go back to the old system wherein we move forward then step back,” the President said.

He cited a survey showing higher level of optimism among the people regarding the country’s economic future.

Asked when he would announce his anointed one, Aquino said, “If I had my way, I would have done it yesterday (Wednesday).”

He stressed he would have to unite the different parties as well as various people’s organizations, civil society groups and other sectors. “And from the very beginning, I am not a dictator.”

The President said his meetings with the LP hierarchy and other groups would continue.

“I’ve talked to other (groups) and… I keep on talking to and I will continue to talk to various other groups and other personalities, not just for the top positions but also the senatorial slate and at some point in time even the local slates,” he pointed out.

“We really want to increase the number of allies who will help in keeping the straight path,” the President said.

He also said the mark of true leadership is also about choosing the right successor.

“Success can be measured by your ability to train your successor or to name your successor or to choose your successor,” he said.  

 ‘Setting parameters’  

LP stalwart and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the meeting was more on “setting the parameters” for forming tandems “because this is not going to be the last time that this group is going to meet.”

“I don’t think you can expect decisions to be made right away in the first meeting, but definitely you narrow down the possibilities of choice,” Abad said.

He said the fact that all three officials were at the meeting was in itself a positive development.

“All the officials that need to talk were there. And I think that’s a good signal to show willingness and openness to come to some agreement for 2016,” he said.

“I think the second significant development was the agreement on… what you might say important points that have a lot of bearing in the President’s consideration – who will… continue to play a major role in shepherding this process,” Abad said.

Abad said all the parties recognized the significant gains under the Aquino administration and “the President was happy that they all acknowledge that.”

“They all acknowledge that many things still need to be done and therefore it is important to continue this process of transformation beyond 2016,” Abad noted.

But Abad said everything would come to naught “if we make a mistake in choosing the next leaders of the country.”

He said those present during the meeting would “strive to make sure that we do not have to face those risks and if hard work and sacrifices need to be made, they will be made because the parties want those gains to continue.”

“Those are the important principles on which will stand further discussions that hopefully will lead to a consensus,” Abad said.

Asked if the LP would accept a standard bearer outside of the party, Abad said the party is amenable to whatever “it is that is going to be agreed upon there as mediated by the President.”

“But on specific configuration, I don’t think we can speculate,” he said, adding that whatever is agreed upon in a meeting with the President would definitely get the “respect and support” of members of the party and the coalition.

Abad said Aquino does not want to preempt Roxas, Poe and Escudero and “knowing the President,” the latter would allow the parties to reach an agreement and if they can do it without him having to interfere, that would be “a good lift because as much as possible I think that is really the best way to manage a very delicate situation like this.”

Ratings count but…

Asked about ratings, Abad said “they will be factored in but it will not be the only basis for making important decisions.”

He said surveys reflect sentiments of the people at a certain time and “we are almost a year before the election.”

“You know the President emphasized it repeatedly, that what is important is that these transformations have brought unprecedented benefit to our people and while we have not done everything, we need to continue them beyond 2016,” he said.

“The fact that all of them agreed to that position, I think the next question that comes to mind then is... who is in the best position really to lead the process of transformation in the second round,” Abad said.

Asked if the President has not really chosen anyone yet, Abad said he can’t speak for the Chief Executive.

“In fairness to him, I don’t think he wants to preempt this discussion by coming out with his preference even if he has one, because then you know that will unduly undermine the process,” he said.

He added that while the President has set a time frame for making an announcement on the matter, it was not carved in stone and that he would respect the decision of the group.

“If they all come together and work as one, he said ‘I don’t see how you cannot prevail,’” Abad said.

“What he is saying is it is from this group that the next leadership is going to come out. That’s why he feels secure that if they in fact agree, then more or less the concern will be addressed,” he said.

“Then the President will stake his leadership and say this is a stand that I believe and trust will continue and he will present this to LP and LP will respect his decision,” Abad said.

Abad stressed there would still be other processes aside from the meetings. “It’s not final yet,” he said.

Abad said those from LP have “great trust and confidence in the President” and the “context is first and foremost national interest and to achieve” progress.

Abad said he would need to validate information regarding Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.’s supposed bloc that is against Roxas.

He said it was not surprising that the meeting went on smoothly as “these people are friends, they are cordial and friendly… no stiffness.”

Abad said “the atmosphere was conducive to deeper and more explicit discussions in the next round.” 

P-Noy’s mind made up

Meanwhile, Vice President Jejomar Binay expressed belief President Aquino has made up his mind on his choice of successor.

In a press conference in Bacolod City, Binay said he believes LP is just “weighing in” public opinion on the matter.

“I think there was already a decision. They’re just dribbling the issue, weighing in public opinion,” the Vice President said in Filipino.

“They want affirmation that their decision was right, acceptable and they will all be happy,” he added.

Asked if he remains confident of winning the presidency, Binay said, “I still believe that in clean and honest elections, I will win.”

He said Filipinos are likely to vote for the presidential candidate who has “the competence, vast experience and genuine empathy to the people.”

Binay admitted it had been a mistake to declare his presidential ambition early as such move had left him open to mudslinging.

Binay said he announced his presidential bid almost immediately after the 2010 elections because he did not want to be seen as a hypocrite. – Christina Mendez, Helen Flores

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