Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad and former Surigao del Norte Governor Robert Ace Barbers confirmed to the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Thursday that the talks for a coalition of the Liberal Party (LP) and the Nacionalista Party (NP) in 2013 were in the works.
“We are open to coalition with everyone based on principles, shared advocacies and policy direction of the country in uplifting the lives of the Filipino people,” Barbers said.
In fact, the NP of outgoing Senator Manuel Villar, for instance, has two ardent suitors—the LP of President Aquino and the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) of Vice President Jejomar Binay and former President Joseph Estrada.
LP spokesperson Lorenzo “Erin” Tañada III said Thursday that the LP was willing to mend fences with the NP to come up with a common senatorial slate in 2013.
Tañada, a Quezon representative, said NP members were welcome to join the LP coalition although the two parties went through an acrimonious presidential campaign in 2010.
Mr. Aquino’s “tuwid na daan” (straight path) campaign slogan was derived from the Daang Hari and C-5 road extension controversies, in which Villar was accused of using his pork barrel to build roads that went straight to his real estate projects.
In the middle of the campaign, Villar challenged then presidential candidate Aquino to take a mental-fitness test. But it was Villar who was the first presidential candidate to concede defeat to Mr. Aquino.
“That was 2010. We are looking beyond 2013,” said Tañada.
Tañada said the LP was keen on getting the wife of Senator Villar, former Las Piñas Representative Cynthia Villar, and three reelectionists—Senators Francis Escudero, Aquilino Pimentel III and Alan Peter Cayetano—for the administration coalition’s senatorial slate.
Tañada, a probable LP senatorial candidate himself, said the LP was also looking to add Barbers, an NP member, to its senatorial slate.
Tañada said the LP was looking at “candidates who believe in the President’s reform agenda and who are willing to push it in his last three years in office.”
Barbers, however, said that UNA, particularly the Partido Demokratikong Pilipino-Laban, which is chaired by Binay, had been sending “feelers” to the NP after the latter announced in February that it was open to an election alliance for 2013.
For a coalition to happen, Barbers underscored the importance of the other party “aligning closely with the programs of NP.”
Asked if the LP was willing to accommodate the senatorial candidates of the NP, Abad, without elaborating, said: “Not a done deal yet.”
The LP is saddled with the usual political baggage that goes with being the leader of the ruling coalition, which includes having to accommodate candidates of political parties with which it has an existing alliance in both the House of Representatives and the local government level.
So the bone of contention is the inclusion in the LP-led administration senatorial slate of Barbers, Cayetano and Cynthia Villar. All three are running on the NP ticket for 2013.
“The NP knows this political reality when it started talking with the LP,” said Barbers, who has been named by Senator Villar, the NP president, as the new spokesperson to lend a fresh face to the oldest political party in the land.
Tañada said the LP was open to drafting candidates from other parties except the Lakas-Kampi of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez, an Arroyo ally, said the goal of LP’s coalition building was to get at least 16 senators to kick out impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona. The Chief Justice’s trial at the Senate impeachment court is set to resume on May 7.
“These moves are in the realm of pragmatic politics. I am hopeful they will not use a slot in the LP coalition just to influence the voting in the Corona trial,” Suarez said in a phone interview.
He said it would be a pity if the trial would not be judged on the merits of the case.
The NP has four votes in the Senate—Villar, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and the Cayetano siblings, Alan Peter and Pia.
Escudero is an independent while Pimentel is a member of the PDP-Laban, which has formed UNA with Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino of Estrada.
LP leaders Abad and Cavite Representative Joseph E.A. Abaya earlier raised doubts about Binay’s stand on the President’s reform agenda, including his position on the Corona trial.
Tañada said LP had no intention of “politicizing” the Corona impeachment by using the LP coalition senatorial slate as a bargaining chip.
LP leadership meeting
The LP leadership has yet to meet at the end of June to decide whether it would form a coalition slate.
Tañada said LP would then decide which parties it would coalesce with and the potential candidates it would accept into its fold.
“We think the Corona trial will be over by June so I don’t think it will have any bearing on our coalition plans,” he said in a phone interview.
Asked about the progress of the talks, Barbers said that he was not privy to the nitty-gritty of the talks since they were being pursued among the “top guns” of both parties, referring to Abad, top officials of the LP and Senator Villar.
“There were private talks in late February, but these have yet to be followed up and finalized as we come closer to the deadline for the filing of certificates of candidacy in October,” said Barbers.
Barbers served for three terms in the House of Representatives. He was among the so-called “Spice Boys,” along with then Representatives Juan Miguel Zubiri, Michael Defensor, Hernani Braganza (now Mayor of Alaminos, Pangasinan province) Rolando Andaya Jr. and Ricky Sandoval. (Andaya has returned to the House after serving as budget secretary of Arroyo.)
But Barbers parted ways with the group in 2005, when he was among the first lawmakers to question the victory of Arroyo in the fraud-tainted 2004 presidential election.
Barbers said the NP was looking for sincerity on the part of the LP which could come in the form of a “concrete basis for the (election) merger of both parties.”
The former governor said he would be the first to block any attempt to coalesce with parties solely on the basis of personalities. “It’s high time that we reform the way politics is done in this country,” he said.