MANILA -- President Benigno Aquino's Liberal Party formally endorsed Manuel Roxas, the interior and local government secretary, as its candidate in next year's presidential elections.
"We will go with someone who is certain to continue the 'straight path'," said Aquino. "And I believe that person is none other than Mar Roxas."
Aquino was speaking to a rally at the historic Club Filipino in central Metro Manila on July 31, the place where the Aquino-Roxas presidential tandem was announced in 2009 and where former President Corazon Aquino took her oath in 1986, restoring democracy to the Philippines.
In his speech, a teary Roxas, 58, promised to continue reforms championed by Aquino: "I am Mar Roxas and I accept this challenge. I will continue, expand, and fight for the straight path."
The straight path is Aquino's crusade for righteous, graft-free government.
Aquino's choice of Roxas had been widely expected, but party officials are still in need of a candidate for vice president.
A former investment banker in New York, Roxas is a grandson of Manuel Roxas, the fifth president of the Philippines who died in 1948 after two years in office.
Roxas entered congress in 1993 representing the first district of Capiz, a central province. He served as trade secretary in the Estrada and Arroyo administrations, and was credited for building the business process outsourcing industry, now a major pillar of the Philippine economy.
Roxas's pro-consumer campaigns as trade minister propelled him into the senate in 2004 with 20 million votes, the largest number garnered. He had been considered as a presidential candidate in 2010, but the death of Corazon Aquino the previous year sparked calls for her son, then a senator, to lead the country. There were major corruption allegations against the outgoing administration.
Roxas stood aside for Aquino but lost the vice presidential race to the opposition incumbent, Jejomar Binay. Aquino made Roxas his transportation secretary, but a one-year stint in the post did little to improve matters.
Aquino has remained popular into the final year of his administration. Roxas has meanwhile performed poorly in pre-election surveys, where he has been eclipsed by Binay and Grace Poe, a younger senator.
Binay has confirmed he will run for president next year. Poe was invited by Aquino to be Roxas's running mate, but has yet to confirm her political plans.
If he wins, Roxas is expected to continue Aquino's key economic initiatives, notably the $20-billion plus public-private partnership program. A government official who has worked closely with Roxas said he would probably maintain most of Aquino's foreign policies.
However, his stance on a maritime territorial dispute with China might be softer than Aquino's. "Roxas has the tendency to explore other options, including, maybe, backchannel negotiations," said the official, who declined to be identified.
Aquino has acknowledged Roxas's lackluster performance in surveys, and said the party will step up efforts to boost his popularity.