Strangest bedfellows on Aquino Senate slateBy Christian V. Esguerra
Philippine Daily Inquirer
President Benigno Aquino’s senatorial candidates in next year’s midterm elections will enjoy support from politicians identified with his predecessor, former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Mr. Aquino’s Liberal Party (LP) will conclude on Friday a partnership agreement with the National Unity Party (NUP) to build more support for the senatorial ticket it is forming together with the Nacionalista Party (NP) and the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC).
Composed mostly of former Arroyo allies, the NUP, a somewhat recycled Kampi, Arroyo’s own political vehicle, on Wednesday staged a show of force during its party convention at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza Hotel in Pasay City.
The gathering had unusual guests, Sen. Gregorio Honasan and Rep. Jose Victor Ejercito, who are both running as UNA senatorial candidates.
The LP slate is one candidate short of complete, but the slot may be filled Thursday with Sen. Loren Legarda accepting an invitation from Mr. Aquino to a meeting in Malacañang for talks about her running as a common candidate of both the Liberal Party and its rival, the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).
Malacañang had been calling Legarda since Tuesday, but reached her only Wednesday. She was in Pangasinan inspecting her projects supporting corn production in 15 towns in the province.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer reached Legarda as she was leaving Villasis town for a trip to Manaoag.
OK with Binay
Legarda said Vice President Jejomar Binay, who shares UNA’s leadership with former President Joseph Estrada, knew about her meeting with President Aquino and he approves of it.
The UNA announced on Monday that Legarda was one of its three common candidates with other parties. The two others are Sen. Francis Escudero and Grace Poe-Llamanzares, chairperson of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board.
Legarda said her meeting with Mr. Aquino wouldn’t change things, that is, she would still be an UNA candidate even if she agreed to run with the LP.
She said that unlike the UNA, she had yet to meet with a top LP official even amid reports that she was being offered a slot on the LP slate.
“No one from the LP has talked to me yet,” Legarda said. “The President will be the first LP official I will talk to.”
Room for a friend
Ejercito, a staunch critic of Arroyo, appealed for support from the gathering of more than 300 NUP members. “Maybe you have room for a friend,” he told the group.
But Rep. Rodolfo Antonino, NUP president, said his party would back only the full senatorial slate of the administration, meaning the likes of Honasan and Ejercito would be excluded.
“They are friends. They were invited to this convention on the basis of relationships,” he said, referring to the two UNA candidates.
“However, we are on a political mode and with the coalition partnership that will be signed on Friday, we are committed to support the entire lineup of the coalition with the Liberal Party, the NPC and the NP.”
Antonino, however, did not rule out the possibility that some NUP members may support candidates other than those on the administration ticket.
“Individually, perhaps the party stand may not be 100 percent because there are relationships [between some NUP members and some candidates],” he said.
Honasan said he showed up at the NUP gathering, also attended by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, “to honor the invitation of personal friends,” not necessarily to court support from the party.
“It doesn’t matter to me [even if the NUP won’t support me],” he said. “This is beyond politics.”
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, an LP leader, said the NUP would bring to the coalition its “prestige and influence.”
The NUP, he said, “has a lot of very strong people actually occupying positions in the provinces, in Congress.”
The NUP membership includes more than 30 congressmen and 19 governors.
Don’t single out NUP
Antonino brushed aside a reported impression that the NUP and the administration were strange bedfellows.
He said the NUP was not the only party that has members previously identified with Arroyo but are now supporting Mr. Aquino.
“It is not fair to single out the NUP, because even in the LP itself… you will see that there are members there [who] were once identified with the former President. And the same goes with the NPC, the same goes with the NP,” he said.
LP president Manuel Roxas said on Tuesday that the party would announce its complete senatorial ticket later this week.
Two of the President’s allies, Customs Commissioner Rozzano Rufino Biazon and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) Director General Joel Villanueva have been dropped from the Liberal slate.
Already on the slate, besides Escudero and Llamanzares, are Senators Alan Peter Cayetano, Antonio Trillanes IV, Aquilino Pimentel III, former Las Piñas Rep. Cynthia Villar, Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara, former Senators Jun Magsaysay and Jamby Madrigal, former Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel and Bam Aquino. With a report from Michael Lim Ubac