MANILA - Philippine 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.
"In short, 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 is set to elect a new leader in May 2016, with contenders required to register their candidacy ahead of a mid-October deadline.
The interior minister is likely to run against populist 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 the president.
"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.
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 succeeded in winning the hearts of the area's poor.
Heydarian also warned that Roxas and Poe could split Aquino's support base, giving Binay an additional edge.
Aquino on Friday downplayed Roxas' poor polling numbers, saying the Liberal Party needs to do more to promote the presidential hopeful.