The 2016 presidential race is on!

The 2016 presidential race is on!

Well, folks, the 2016 presidential race is on! And as we get closer to Election Day – that’s four short years away – the battle would intensify and get really nasty… I mean, very nasty! Indeed, no sooner had Mar Roxas been sworn in as the new Secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) than the fireworks started in the camp of Vice President Jejomar “Jojo” Binay.

The untimely demise of the popular DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo created a mad scramble to fill the power vacuum in one of the most – if not the most – powerful Cabinet positions in government. Imagine this: The DILG has administrative supervision over 1,500 local government units (LGUs) or municipalities and jurisdiction over the 148,000-strong Philippine National Police (PNP). Imagine this, too: The DILG Secretary is in an enviable position to build a national political network that would be advantageous should he run for national office, including the presidency. It would not then surprise anyone that presidential wannabes are salivating over the prospect of getting this job.

When Binay won the vice presidency in 2010, he made it known to newly elected President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III that he wanted the DILG top job. Considering Binay’s close political and personal relationship with the Aquino-Cojuangco family, P-Noy could easily have appointed him to the position then. Binay also had the backing of the “Samar” group of Pacquito “Jojo” Ochoa Jr., which supported a cross-party Aquino-Binay ticket known as “Noy-Bi.” But the Liberal Party (LP) stalwarts would not allow that to happen.

P-Noy then settled for one of his LP supporters, former Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo who didn’t have any known ambition to seek a national office. However, to keep Binay close to his chest, P-Noy appointed him Housing Czar. He also gave him the Marcos-era Coconut Palace as his official residence. Not bad, but not good enough to whet his voracious political appetite.

Meanwhile, P-Noy’s erstwhile vice presidential running mate, Mar Roxas, whom Binay defeated in the election had to lay low for a year because of the one-year ban on appointing candidates who lost in an election. A year later, P-Noy appointed Roxas as Secretary of the Department of Transportation and Commerce (DOTC). Not bad, but Roxas preferred the Chief of Staff, which his “Balay” group lobbied P-Noy to create for him.

Binay vs. Roxas
With the unexpected vacancy of the DILG post, the old Samar-Balay rivalry surfaced and they started positioning their forces for the long battle ahead. But Binay played it down when his spokesman, Joey Salgado, tweeted: “VP Binay not interested in DILG post, would rather continue to work in housing and assisting OFWs. Hoping this ends all baseless speculation.” However, my take is that Binay played a gambit hoping that P-Noy would appoint somebody, other than his nemesis, Roxas.

If his gambit worked, Binay would still have an edge over Roxas because his job as Housing Czar connects directly with the people – the voters – while Roxas’ DOTC post doesn’t have too much interaction with the masses.

But P-Noy appointed Roxas. By doing so, P-Noy is playing the classic political game of “divide and rule.” By pitting Roxas and Binay against each other, he would control the two rivals until after the 2013 mid-term elections. Meanwhile, he’d be weighing his options on how to deal with the two when it’s time for them to face off in the 2016 presidential race.

While Binay had made it crystal clear that he is definitely running in 2016, Roxas – who said a year ago that he was not interested in running for president – was reported recently to have resumed his presidential bid.

Word war
This agitated members of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), which was formed by Binay and former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada a few months ago to field a senatorial slate for the 2013 midterm elections. Erap’s son, Rep. JV Ejercito made a lot of noise about Roxas’ appointment saying that it was “obviously” in preparation for the 2013 elections. Ejercito is vying to be included in the UNA senatorial slate in which his brother Sen. Jinggoy Estrada is in a good position to be Binay’s vice presidential running mate.

Sen. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan, who is running for re-election under the UNA banner, warned of the adverse effect of having a “partisan” DILG Secretary. He said that the DILG head has “immense political influence” because of DILG’s jurisdiction over the PNP.

LP leaders were quick to defend Roxas. House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said P-Noy trusted Roxas and would be his “effective bridge” to LGU officials, while Deputy Majority Leader Miro Quimbo said that Roxas is the most qualified candidate because of his knowledge of the “inner workings” of the LGUs.

However, critics say that it is possible for the LP to use “force and intimidation” tactics to ensure a 12-0 victory of administration senatorial candidates. But unless massive election cheating would occur, the outcome would probably be split evenly between the UNA and the LP, which has yet to finalize its coalition with the Nacionalista Party (NP) and the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC).

But regardless of the outcome of the 2013 midterm elections, Binay and Roxas would be facing off in the 2016 presidential election. That’s in the cards. Once again, the Samar and Balay groups would lock horns in combat.

And this would become problematic to P-Noy whose loyalty is divided between Binay and Roxas. Would P-Noy stay above the fray and take a neutral stand? Or, would he support Binay, who served his mother loyally during her presidency? Or, would he support Roxas, his friend and the standard bearer of his own party?
At the end of the day, P-Noy may have no other option but to choose between Binay and Roxas. He can’t run away from an obligation. And there is no Solomonic solution to his dilemma either. Indeed, he can’t have his cake and eat it too.