Roxas, Duterte in 2nd ‘casual’ meeting

MANILA — Just a casual meeting between “longtime friends.”

That was how Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, the presumptive presidential candidate of the ruling Liberal Party, described his dinner with Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte on Friday night.

Roxas stayed overnight in Davao City after distributing 33 brand new police patrol vehicles in four provinces in the Davao region over the weekend.

In a later text message, Roxas said he and Duterte “just saw each other like what we normally do whenever he is in Manila or if I am in Davao.”

“Chika lang (We just talked),” he said.

It was apparently the second meeting between Roxas and Duterte in as many weeks. They reportedly met when the interior secretary visited Davao City two weeks ago.

Speaking with reporters on Saturday in Tagum, Davao del Norte, Roxas sought to play down his one-on-one with the tough-talking local executive, whose uncompromising anticrime policies transformed Davao into one of the safest cities in the world.

If they did not discuss politics, what did they talk about?

Golf, Duterte’s kids Roxas said he and Duterte —whom he referred to by his nickname “Digong”—talked about golf and the mayor’s children.

He said they also discussed the situation in Davao and the issue of federalism, which Duterte has been pushing as an alternative to the contentious Bangsamoro Basic Law.

“We also spoke about other things and other topics,” Roxas said in the interview, a transcript of which was provided by his office.

When asked who initiated the meeting, he replied: “There was no need to initiate the meeting because Mayor Digong and I are friends. I meet with him whenever I go to Davao. We also see each other when he’s in Manila.”

“There’s nothing more to it. Two longtime friends seeing each other,” Roxas added.

But he declined to categorically say if they talked about their political plans for 2016.

The meeting occurred a day after Duterte told a gathering of businessmen in Makati City that he had already shelved the idea of running for President.

In Digos, Davao del Sur, which he visited earlier on Friday, Roxas was asked if Duterte’s decision not to seek the presidency had to do with a meeting the two of them had in Davao City two weeks ago.

“We did not talk about politics during my visit to his city,” Roxas said.

He said there should be no speculation that Duterte’s decision was an offshoot of that meeting.

As to Duterte’s decision not to run for President, Roxas said he respected it.

“Duterte is my close friend and I respect whatever decision he makes,” he added.

Roxas, who spoke before a huge crowd gathered at Rizal Park in Digos for the Dugso Sandawa Festival on Friday—one of the highlights of the 48th Araw ng Davao del Sur celebrations—offered a glimpse of what his presidency would be like if he won.

“The straight path is partial to no one. Whichever political party you belong to or whatever color your vest is, we provide you with service,” he said in Filipino.

Davao del Sur Gov. Claude Bautista introduced Roxas as “the incoming president of the Republic of the Philippines.”

Roxas declined reporters’ requests to comment on Bautista’s endorsement, saying the elections were still months away and everyone should be working instead of talking politics.

Davao del Sur is the bailiwick of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) of businessman Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. Some NPC leaders are now openly supporting the candidacy of Vice President Jejomar Binay, Roxas’ potential rival in 2016.

Sought for comment on Binay’s resignation from the Cabinet, Roxas said it was obviously the Vice President’s reaction after failing to get President Aquino’s endorsement as the administration presidential candidate in 2016.

“He made it after learning that he will not be endorsed by President Aquino,” Roxas said.

He also dismissed Binay’s call for Cabinet members running in 2016 to resign.

Roxas said Binay’s allegations that the Aquino administration had been selective in the disbursement of funds and release of projects had no basis.

He said the distribution of patrol cars even in areas not supportive of the Aquino administration such as Davao del Sur was proof that politics had never been an issue in the Aquino administration.

But in his talk with reporters in Tagum on Saturday, Roxas did not pull any punches when asked about his nemesis who defeated him in the vice presidential contest in 2010.

He criticized Binay for stonewalling the Senate and the media and refusing to answer the string of corruption allegations against him.

“Vice President Binay, instead of twisting my statements, it’s better for you to answer the piles of evidence presented in the Senate and other forums about the anomalies when you were the mayor of Makati,” Roxas said.

“I think that directly answering the allegations is more important than trying to fool the people and divert the issues,” he added.