CITY OF SAN FERNANDO -- The presidency of the influential League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP) will most likely go to this city's mayor as three other popular bets have backed-out.

Mayor Oscar Rodriguez confirmed to Sun.Star Pampanga that Mandaluyong City Mayor Benjamin De Castro Abalos Jr., Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama, and Caloocan City Mayor Enrico Echiverri, who have been reported eyeing the LCP post, have withdrawn from the race.

Updates on President Benigno Aquino III's presidency

"Benhur (Abalos) was persuaded not to run anymore while Recom (Echiverri) was asked to run for chairman instead. As I see it I have no one else to contend for the position. I hope it would stay as such until July 17, the day of the election," Rodriguez said.

The Liberal Party’s (LP) "informal anointment" came as a result of Monday's dinner meeting with other city mayors in Malacañang.

Rodriguez organized the event that was attended by a majority of the 122 member-cities represented by their mayors.

President Benigno Aquino III, who praised Rodriguez for his "sound management, wise decision in governance, and good governance practices" for this city, also attended the event.

Rodriguez, for his part, said that he is elated by the support being shown to him by other city mayors in urging him to run for the post. Most observers point out that Rodriguez has become a "beacon" of unity for city local chief executives in bringing concerns to the ears of Malacañang.

"I am honored by the perception and will not fail those who believe in our capacity to lead," Rodriguez said, stressing that the LCP is an influential organization that can make crucial political decisions for or against the current government.

Rodriguez said that the LCP has proven its worth when 10 members of the Cabinet of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo instigated a mass resignation and called for the President’s resignation.

The LCP's support for Arroyo during the incident fended off a possible involvement of the military, he said.

"The LCP is very important for the President. If I am given the mandate to lead, the LCP will be supportive of the good governance programs of President Aquino," Rodriguez said, stressing that the LCP presidency would also be an honor for Fernandinos and Kapampangans in general.

Asked if there is a possibility of opposition from non-LP mayors, Rodriguez said that he has yet to hear anyone willing to wrestle the post against him.

Aquino’s endorsement

Aquino has personally endorsed Rodriguez as president of the league of cities ahead of the group's election on July 17.

The President gave Rodriguez the full backing as he spoke to some 100 city mayors in Malacañang on Monday.

"Sa ilang pagkakataon, napatunayan na ng ating kasamang si Mayor Oca Rodriguez ang kahalagahan ng aktibong pinunong lokal sa pambansang pag-unlad. Ito ang nagagawa ng kasipagan niya nuong siya ay working student pa lamang at hindi kalaunan ay nakapagtapos ng abogasya. Natupad niya ang kanyang pangarap (On several occasions, Mayor Oca Rodriguez proved the importance of active local leadership in national development. He achieved this through hard work that he cultivated since he was a working student and later as a law graduate)," Aquino said midway in his short speech.

"Sana mapagsilbihan din niya ang mas marami pang Pilipino na nangangarap din sa loob at labas ng Pampanga (I hope he can also serve more Filipinos, they who try to make their dreams come true, within and outside Pampanga)," the President added.

During the program, Rodriguez was seated between the President and Budget Secretary Butch Abad. Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo and LP chair Manuel Roxas II were also in the same table.

Rodriguez figured out again at the close of the President's speech.

"(Rodriguez) stood up against martial rule. He defended human rights...When I see him and Manong Fred (Manila Mayor Fred Lim) and many of you, I know that in the many problems we have, there are always accompanying solutions," said Aquino.

Local governments, according to the President, are his administration's partners in regaining the trust of the people in their government.

Former finance secretary Jesus Estanislao, founder of the Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA), said the election of Rodriguez as LCP president will open up opportunities for the expansion of the public governance system (PGS) in the country.

PGS, as advocated by ISA, is a management system developed at the Harvard University's School of Business. The PGS uses scorecards to identify objectives and measures success. PGS also engages private sector leaders in public governance.

Rodriguez has trailblazed several new ways of making the City Government efficient in its delivery of services and as an enabler of change.

He worked as a provincial administrator and representative of Pampanga's third district in the 8th, 10th, 11th, and 12th Congress.

He authored bills on agriculture, agrarian reform, labor and employment, health, infrastructure, justice and human rights. He was the principal author of the Birthday Law, Dual Citizenship Law, Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003 and Republic Act 9173 which strengthens the nursing profession in the Philippines. He was a coauthor of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law and the Clean Air Act.

Rodriguez was also one of the 11 prosecutors in the impeachment trial of former President Joseph Estrada. (Ian Ocampo Flora/Abie Sarmiento/Pampu/Sun.Star Pampanga)