Palace bares LP-NP-NPC Senate betsBy Christian V. Esguerra, Michael Lim Ubac, Norman Bordadora
Philippine Daily Inquirer
President Aquino on Thursday bared a powerhouse bloc in the works that could give Vice President Jejomar Binay’s alliance a grand competition in the midterm elections next year.
Aquino said negotiations were under way between the ruling Liberal Party (LP) and the Nacionalista Party (NP) and the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) to form a 12-member Senate slate.
“I think the talks were very, very successful. But I will leave it up to our party president, Mar Roxas, to make the appropriate announcements,” he told reporters.
Before Binay and his then standard-bearer, former President Joseph Estrada, went up in the preelection surveys toward the end of the 2010 presidential campaign, the LP ticket of Aquino and Roxas tangled with the NP tandem of Senators Manuel Villar and Loren Legarda.
Legarda was at the time, and to this day, an NPC member. She has been mentioned as a candidate of Binay’s United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).
Villar, who is on his last term as senator, is likely to field his wife, Las Piñas Representative Cynthia Villar, to run for his Senate seat as an NP candidate. Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, also an NP member, is running for a second term.
Independent Sen. Francis Escudero also is running for reelection. He is a former member of NPC, founded by Aquino’s uncle, businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco.
Likely LP candidates
Already, the President has indicated his support for several personalities outside his own party, including Aurora Representative Juan Edgardo Angara of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino, former Rep. Risa Hontiveros of Akbayan Citizens’ Party, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority Director General Joel Villanueva of Cibac, and Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV.
Presidential political adviser Ronald Llamas indicated that reelectionist Sen. Koko Pimentel, president of PDP-Laban, would be welcome on the administration slate.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said that talks would soon start with Pimentel after his decision to leave UNA, a coalition between Binay and Pimentel’s PDP-Laban and Estrada’s Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino.
Binay and Estrada earlier hit the headlines after their parties merged and announced the possible inclusion in their lineup stalwarts of the Arroyo administration—Zambales Rep. Milagros Magsaysay, Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia and former Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri.
Pimentel decided to leave UNA but remain as president of PDP-Laban after the coalition drafted Zubiri in its Senate slate.
Zubiri, now a PMP member, is blamed by Pimentel for the electoral fraud that kept him out of the Senate for four years, until Zubiri resigned.
The only LP member that Aquino recently mentioned as a senatorial hopeful was Customs Commissioner Ruffino Rozzano Biazon. Biazon and Hontiveros both ran under the LP senatorial slate in 2010 but lost.
Talks with NP
Abad said the negotiations with the NP involved the number of senatorial candidates. Aside from Cynthia Villar and Cayetano, potential NP senatorial candidates could include Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, an independent who wants to join the NP, and former Surigao del Norte Gov. Robert Ace Barbers.
“They are proposing four, including Senator Trillanes. But we’ll have to see. That is subject to negotiations,” Abad said.
The NP also has about 200 members in the local government units.
“It is a manifestation of the President’s political maturity that we have reached an advanced stage in the talks. As we always say, our party is open to coalitions, especially if these would align with the party’s programs, actions and principles,” said Barbers, the NP spokesperson.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, a senior NPC member, said Thursday the talks with the LP still have to “iron out” such issues as the possibility that some of NPC’s prospective senatorial candidates might also be part of another coalition.
Sotto was referring to reelectionist Senators Gregorio Honasan, Legarda and Escudero, who all had been previously mentioned as UNA candidates. Estrada earlier categorically said that Legarda had already committed to running under his coalition.
“In principle, the coalition is OK already. It’s just the details,” he told the Inquirer in a phone interview. “It’s an advantage to the candidate (of two slates), but a disadvantage to other candidates,” he said. “In my personal opinion, there’s no problem with that.”
Estrada earlier insisted that the coalition would not accept guest candidates.
Sotto said the LP-NPC alliance “might have to choose” among certain candidates if the consensus would be that it, too, would not be amenable to sharing senatorial aspirants with UNA.
Like Sotto, Honasan is a close ally of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who forms UNA’s “Big 3” with Estrada and Binay. Sotto described Honasan as an “adopted” member of the NPC.
Escudero quit the NPC before the 2010 elections and went on to support the candidacies of then Senator Aquino and Binay. But Sotto said Escudero had kept his “close ties” with the party.
Legarda, an NPC member, was earlier elevated to the No. 1 spot in UNA’s senatorial lineup following Pimentel’s departure. She ranked second to Escudero in the latest Pulse Asia survey of leading senatorial candidates.
Sotto said the NPC remained uncertain whether it would field another candidate other than Legarda, Escudero and Honasan. He said the party was also looking into the possibility of including outgoing Valenzuela Mayor Sherwin Gatchalian in the lineup.
But he said Gatchalian’s decision would be based partly on his performance in surveys.