MANILA, December 11, 2003 (STAR) By Marianne Go and Marichu Villanueva  - Trade and Industry Secretary Manuel Roxas II resigned from the Cabinet yesterday to clear the way for his bid for a Senate seat in next year’s elections.

Roxas, a former congressman and grandson of the late President Manuel Roxas, will be running as part of the administration’s 12-member senatorial ticket in the May 2004 polls.

President Arroyo immediately accepted Roxas’ resignation and designated Trade and Industry Undersecretary Adrian "Che" Cristobal Jr. as officer-in-charge.

However, a businessman, whose name is being withheld for now by Roxas, has reportedly already accepted the President’s offer to become her new trade secretary.

"The President has spoken to a member of the private sector, the business community and that person is presently reviewing possible divestment and contractual limitations that may prevent him from taking the job permanently. And it will be up to the President to announce that person’s name and the results of their dialogue," Roxas told Palace reporters.

"He’s very well-known. He is a very respected member of the business community who has received trust and confidence from a wide swathe of the business sector. He is known to the domestic and foreign business community," Roxas added.

More resignations are likely to follow in the coming weeks as members of Mrs. Arroyo’s Cabinet prepare to run for various public offices in the May 10 elections.

The filing of candidacy with the Commission on Elections (Comelec) starts Dec. 15 and ends Jan. 2.

Roxas, a member of the Liberal Party (LP) which belongs to the ruling People Power Coalition (PPC), said he wanted to make his political aspirations known early to avoid allegations that he may be taking advantage of his public office to further his political ambitions.

Roxas took over the trade and industry portfolio during the administration of former President Joseph Estrada. He resigned shortly before Estrada was ousted in a military-backed popular revolt in January 2001, but was later reinstated by Mrs. Arroyo.

Roxas, along with Senate President Franklin Drilon who is the LP national chairman, were originally nominated by their party to be included in the PPC selection process which will decide on Mrs. Arroyo’s running mate.

"But I have much more modest aspirations. I think by being in the Senate, I will be able to push forward a legislative agenda that will help invigorate, revitalize the palengke (wet market). I say this in both substance and as a metaphor for our entire economy," Roxas pointed out.

Roxas’ frequent trips to the markets to check prices of basic commodities earned him the moniker "Mr. Palengke", which the DTI secretary used in his TV ads.

The palengke reflects the microcosm of the economy, said Roxas, who graduated from the Wharton School of Economics.

Even before his formal announcement, the business community was already aware that he was going to step down.

"We can’t compare the resignation of Secretary Roxas to that of Finance Secretary Jose Isidro Camacho. In Secretary Roxas’ case, it was widely expected because he would be running for the Senate. It was just a matter of time," Makati Business Club executive editor Guillermo Luz told The STAR.

Luz said the Department of Trade and Industry is "in good hands" because Roxas will leave it to equally competent undersecretaries.

Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) president Sergio Ortiz Luis said trade policies are already in place and projects are moving at the department. He added that the secretary might even be able to serve the country better as a senator.

In earlier joint press conferences, the PCCI, the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Philippine Exporters Confederation, the Bankers Association of the Philippines, the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, Port Users Confederation, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce Foundation, and a few other organizations expressed their support for Roxas.

Francis Chua, president of the PCCF, cited the work ethic of Roxas.

"He works from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. He is a treasure to the country. He has the quality to be a good president," Chua enthused. "We need guys like him. We will support him in whatever way."

Noemi Saludo, president of the Port Users Confederation, optimistically foresees Roxas’ win.

"I think he will make it, The business sector is really supporting him," Saludo said.

Vivien Yuchengco of Finex pointed out that "we need people like Mar Roxas. He is a doer, energetic, honest. We don’t find too many people like him."

Roxas’ pet projects at the DTI include Presyong Tama, Gamot Pampamilya, the Sulong Program for small and medium enterprises and PCs for public schools.

Today, his first day as a private citizen, Roxas said that he is going to attend the Christmas play at the school of his 10-year-old son, Paolo Gerardo. — With reports from Nikko Dizon, Reuters, AP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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