IT IS going to be Interior Secretary Mar Roxas.

Despite President Noynoy Aquino’s continued meetings with other political leaders in his search for a successor, there is little doubt that he has already chosen his running mate in 2010 as his presidential candidate next year.

That has always been the plan since Roxas agreed to slide down to the vice presidency to give way to Aquino in 2010. As vice president, he was supposed to serve as Aquino’s understudy for six years in preparation for his own ascent to the presidency when Aquino’s term ended.

Jejomar Binay, however, spoiled the plan with some help from Aquino’s relatives led by his uncle Jose “Peping” Cojuangco. Roxas lost to Binay, who promptly declared his own presidential aspirations.

Notwithstanding his loss to Binay, Roxas remained the favorite for the Liberal Party’s (LP’s) nomination and Aquino’s anointment but his lackluster showing in the surveys on voters’ preference for president, somewhat dimmed his chances. Even some of his party mates have urged Aquino to consider other bets who have a good chance of beating the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) candidate.

Among the names mentioned was that of Sen. Grace Poe who is very popular with the voters. And for a while, we thought that Poe was it even if she continued to play coy about her plans.

She is not, it seems obvious now. Aquino’s virtual endorsement of Roxas in Iloilo on Independence Day effectively excluded her in the list of Aquino’s preferred successors. But expect the LP and the president to continue to woo her to run with Roxas.

But where will that place Sen. Francis Escudero? Poe has made it known that she would be more comfortable teaming up with the Bicol senator than with Roxas.

I think both Poe and Escudero are wise enough to realize that while they may be very popular candidates, winning the election without the support of a big political party will be very difficult, if not next to impossible.

Unfortunately for them, there is only one political party, aside from the LP, that can be considered as truly organized up to the precinct level, the UNA of Binay. And right now, only a disaster (or a miracle?) can deter Binay from pursuing his presidential run.

Poe is still young. If she harbors presidential ambition, it can wait until 2022. Chiz Escudero? Let me tell you a personal experience I had with the Escuderos.

Back in the mid eighties, we had a faculty basketball team at the University of the Visayas that played against visiting officials from Manila. One of those that we played against was the team of then Food and Agriculture Minister Salvador Escudero, Chiz’s father.

During a break in our game, I went to the water station for a drink, arriving there almost at the same time with Escudero. I offered to give way but the Marcos Cabinet official would have none of it. You got here ahead, he said, smiling.

Sometime in 2009, the Cebu Citizens-Press Council sponsored a forum featuring presidential wannabes. Among those invited was Chiz Escudero. I acted as moderator.

The son is very much different from his father. While Salvador was humble and courteous, Chiz was arrogant and demanding. He did not know how to say, please; he simply ordered people around. His overwhelming sense of entitlement was repelling. I made a mental note of not voting for him ever.

Anyway, back to Roxas, he may have already won the President’s endorsement, but he’s still very far away from gaining the popular vote. He has a lot of catching up to do, a lot of ground to cover.

He should be grateful to the President for making possible a rematch with Binay. But now comes the hard part: winning it.