MANILA, Philippines – Vice President Jejomar Binay’s United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) will be part of the political opposition, though a “constructive” one, according to former President Joseph Estrada.
But Estrada, one of the three senior leaders of the alliance, said President Benigno Aquino III should not take it against senators identified with UNA if they would vote against the removal of Chief Justice Renato Corona in the impeachment trial.
“That will not destroy our relationship with [the President’s] LP [Liberal Party],” Estrada told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in an interview at his residence in San Juan last Friday.
But what if the President did not feel the same way? Estrada replied: “So what? We’re not Liberals.”
The former president was asked about the fact Mr. Aquino had been openly campaigning for Corona’s removal. While the impeachment trial was in recess, news about UNA mobilizing its forces broke out, apparently in preparation for Binay’s presidential run in 2016.
Estrada said among candidates being considered to be part of UNA’s senatorial ticket in next year’s elections were Senators Gregorio Honasan and Francis Escudero. Both senators serve as judges in the Corona trial.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, the presiding officer of the trial, is part of the UNA executive committee, along with Estrada and Binay. Another UNA stalwart is Estrada’s son Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, the Senate president pro tempore.
Enrile, Honasan, and the younger Estrada form the so-called “macho bloc” in the Senate. With them is Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III.
At a meeting of the UNA executive committee earlier this week, Estrada said Enrile told the group that senators would vote solely according to the evidence. Estrada said even his son was unsure about the general “temperament” on whether to acquit or convict Corona.
“This involves the future of the country so party [affiliation] is only secondary,” Estrada said. “As I could see, the Senate president wants to leave a legacy. This is his last term. He is no longer running.”
Estrada said UNA would not interfere with the way senators affiliated with the alliance would vote in the impeachment trial.
“We will not take it against any member of the party,” he said.
In beefing up UNA’s roster, Estrada did not appear keen on getting the Nacionalista Party into the coalition. The LP is said to be eyeing its own alliance with the NP, the oldest political party in the country.
Estrada belittled the impact the NP could have on the chances of UNA bets winning in the mid-term elections.
“Nakita mo kung saan pinulot yung mga Nacionalista in the last election?” he asked, referring in particular to Sen. Manuel Villar, who landed third in the 2010 presidential race “despite spending billions.”
Estrada, who was second to Mr. Aquino, noted that he got more votes than Villar despite supposedly spending “only P600 million.”
The former president was confident that his endorsement and that of Binay were enough to catapult UNA candidates to victory. He referred to a recent Pulse Asia survey that showed Binay as the top endorser. Mr. Aquino was second while Estrada came in third.
“We have a big advantage over all,” Estrada said.