Aquino upstages Roxas, Robredo at Comele

Aquino upstages Roxas, Robredo at Comele
Philippine President Benigno Aquino.
PHOTO: Reuters

PRESIDENT Aquino stole the limelight from former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo as he accompanied the administration's standard-bearer and vice presidential candidate to the doorsteps of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for the filing of the pair's certificates of candidacy (COCs) on Thursday.

"I'm excited!" the President said when asked how he felt, as the group stayed in a tent at the park right across from Palacio del Gobernador, waiting for the Comelec headquarters to open.

Asked if he had any last-minute advice for his chosen ticket, Mr. Aquino, who has vowed to campaign vigorously for the victory of the duo in the 2016 national elections, replied: "I try not to give too much advice."

The President accompanied the candidates at Manila Cathedral before going to the Comelec offices "to demonstrate his solidarity with them, in his capacity as chair of the Liberal Party (LP) and as titular head of the 'daang matuwid' coalition," Communication Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said at a press briefing in Malacañang.

Mr. Aquino's popularity remains high, enjoying a 37-per cent satisfaction rating even as he continues to deal with controversies hounding his administration, like the Disbursement Acceleration Program, the killing of journalists, his lukewarm support for the freedom of information bill, and the kidnapping sprees in Mindanao.

He has won praise for the improving economy and only two days ago, American business leader Steve Forbes expressed admiration for his leadership.

Selfies with President

On the steps of Manila Cathedral, people gravitated toward the President and took selfies with him.

While the group was in one of the tents, an elderly woman pleaded with the Presidential Security Group (PSG). "Please, I want to see my President!" she said. At least four tents with dozens of chairs were set up for the gathering.

The day for Mr. Aquino, Roxas, Robredo and their Team Daang Matuwid began early with a 7:30 a.m. Mass at the cathedral.

The President's official schedule indicated that he was going to attend only the Mass. But minutes after it ended at 8 a.m., his convoy remained on a side street beside the cathedral.

Moments later, Mr. Aquino and Roxas emerged from the church, walked past the convoy and headed straight to the cathedral steps.

It came as a surprise to the yellow-clad Roxas-Robredo supporters, not to mention a security nightmare for the PSG, as journalists jostled for space while the President and Roxas made the short walk to the front of the church. It was Roxas who invited the President at the last minute to join the team after the Mass, the Inquirer learned.

Also present were other LP officials and supporters, like Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Transportation Secretary Joseph E.A. Abaya, former Civil Service Commission Chair Karina Constantino-David, Palawan Gov. Pepito Alvarez, the President's sisters Viel Aquino-Dee and Ballsy Aquino-Cruz, and Representatives Miro Quimbo, Carol Lopez, Cesar Sarmiento and Christopher "Kit" Belmonte.

Wearing his trademark yellow and black shirt, Mr. Aquino interacted with the administration coalition supporters and LP members, obliged them all with photos and stayed with them for almost half an hour. Later, he and his entourage proceeded to the tent, surrounded again by the PSG members, supporters and spectators.

Organizers bought out the merchandise of taho (soft tofu) vendors and gave the fare for free to people in the area. A food truck stayed at the corner of the park where rice porridge, puto and sandwiches were prepared for the crowd and the VIPs.

While the others ate congee, the President, as usual, had his glass of cold regular Coke.

After 20 minutes, the group had another photo. They all flashed the Laban sign for the photojournalists before walking to the Comelec offices at Palacio del Gobernador.

Standing a few meters from the main door, the President saw off Roxas and Robredo who, he believed, would continue his reforms and the gains his administration had achieved over the past six years.

As he walked to his vehicle, the President was asked what he prayed for during the Mass. "So many things," he said smiling, mentioning the low-pressure area that might develop into a storm.

In front of the building was a big crowd of supporters in yellow, chanting "Roxas na, Robredo pa" as directed by Roxas' sister, Maria Lourdes "Ria" Roxas-Ojeda.

It turned out that Roxas and Robredo were the first election hopefuls vying for the two highest posts in the land to submit their applications on the fourth day of the filing of COCs. Roxas was the 58th filer for the presidency, while Robredo was the 12th individual seeking the vice presidency, Comelec records showed.

76 presidential aspirants

A total of 76 people have submitted their COCs for President, 15 for Vice President, and 83 for senator.

In his speech at the Comelec, Roxas said Team Daang Matuwid was hoping that the public would pick the right leaders who would promote the best interest of the Filipino people.

"What we are fighting for is not just the interest of one person, one tandem or one party. This is about the dream of all Filipino families-their dream to live with dignity, to live knowing that if they work harder their lives will get better and that they have a future filled with opportunities," he said.

Roxas said the COC filing marked the beginning of Team Daang Matuwid's all-out fight. "We will give our all in this fight. This is a battle worth fighting for."

He said he and Robredo were thankful for the opportunity to carry on with the "straight path" governance.

He expressed gratitude to other aspirants who had formalized their bids for next year's elections for trusting the democratic process and the people's capability to choose the right leaders.

Robredo vowed to continue, improve and elevate the significant changes that, she said, Mr. Aquino had started. "We believe that the straight path will continue the clean and good governance and will provide services to Filipinos, especially the poor, so that progress will be experienced in every corner of the country," she said.

Police, dragon dance

Hours before the Comelec opened its doors, scores of policemen were already guarding the entrance in anticipation of Roxas' and Robredo's arrival.

Supporters in yellow shirts were in a festive mood, amplified by a dragon dance for good fortune, courtesy of a certain Antony Roxas from Ronda 117, a Manila-based volunteers group. Yellow ribbons bedecked the fences in front of the Comelec office.

Roxas' mother, Judy Araneta-Roxas, came 30 minutes early at the Comelec project management office, where all the COCs were being filed. She was engaged in a brief chat by Comelec Chair Andres Bautista, who supervised the situation during the brief stopover by the celebrated tandem.

It took less than 15 minutes for Roxas and Robredo to formally file their COCs. Roxas' document was stamped by the Comelec at 9:03 a.m. and Robredo's, four minutes later.

Roxas came with his wife, Korina Sanchez-Roxas while Robredo arrived with her three children-Aika, Patricia and Jillian-all in bright yellow shirts.

A crowd toting mobile phones had also gathered at the lobby to press flesh with and take pictures of the two LP candidates.

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