President Aquino has taken a breather from his busy campaign, shelving all but one previously scheduled appearance at sorties of the Team PNoy senatorial slate this week—the homestretch of the 90-day campaign.
Aquino no longer attended a rally in Tacloban City on Tuesday, giving himself enough time to repair perceived cracks in the administration coalition, besides nursing a cold and flu, the Inquirer learned.
The President, chairman of the ruling Liberal Party (LP), has taken a hands-on approach to contain the fire stoked by a feud between the camps of reelectionist Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Loren Legarda.
Aquino issued a statement late Monday in which he made it clear that he was not letting go of Legarda, who has consistently topped surveys on senatorial preferences but has found herself at the receiving end of a vicious demolition job.
The President was supposed to campaign for his senatorial slate and local candidates in Tacloban City last Monday, but this had been reset for Tuesday.
But at press time on Tuesday, the Inquirer learned that Aquino was no longer attending the rally.
The advance party to Tacloban, composed of members of the Media Affairs Relations Office, Presidential Security Group and Presidential Management Staff, was on their way back to Malacañang on Tuesday.
No official reason was given by Palace officials for the President’s absence from the Tacloban rally that had been organized by An-Waray Rep. Bem Noel, who is running for mayor of Tacloban.
To make up for this, the Inquirer learned from a Palace official, who was not authorized to speak to reporters about the issue, that Aquino instead prepared a taped message of endorsement for Noel at the Palace on Tuesday.
The President will preside over the rally of Team PNoy this Friday, when the whole slate is expected to come together for a “miting de avance” at Amoranto Stadium in Quezon City.
There was no word yet whether Legarda or Cayetano will be showing up at the last rally of the slate.
The attacks against Legarda through text messages, mainstream media and social media escalated on May 1, after a self-styled public-interest advocate called a press conference where he questioned the accurateness of Legarda’s financial disclosures.
Legarda called a news conference on the same day to say that all her properties—including an apartment in New York bought by her former husband—had been declared in her statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) since 2007.
On May 6, Legarda was charged in the Office of the Ombudsman with five counts each of graft and nondeclaration of the property in the United States in her SALN from 2007 to 2012 as required by law.
She said the attacks on her were “all part of black propaganda” to dislodge her from the top spot in surveys, and that a fellow senatorial candidate was behind the latest attack on her.
Although she did not identify who it was, she said her detractor was a male reelectionist senator who spread wild rumors about Aquino’s mental health during the 2010 presidential election. Cayetano was the spokesman of Aquino’s presidential rival, Sen. Manuel Villar, in the 2010 elections.
Rest from campaign
According to the official, Aquino had been advised to take a rest after catching a cold last week. “Honestly, he’s more active in campaigning for his candidates compared with the senatorial candidates themselves,” said the official.
He did not respond when asked if Aquino had already spoken to Cayetano, but said: “Alan should stop (his attacks) since Boss had already spoken (on the issue).”
The official said the presidential election in 2016 could be behind the political mudslinging. The Inquirer tried but failed to contact Cayetano for his comment.
Valenzuela Rep. Rex Gatchalian, the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) spokesman, said the “incident” would not prevent the party from continuing with its “full support (for) and cooperation with the Liberal Party and the leadership of President Benigno Aquino III.”
In his statement sent out to the media on Monday, Aquino said: “I am confident that she (Legarda) is not only prepared, but will do her utmost best, to answer any and all allegations raised against her.”
He underscored the values being shared by all members of Team PNoy—commitment to honesty, transparency and accountability in public service.
Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, LP president-on-leave, on Tuesday urged candidates of Team PNoy “to work together” even as he downplayed charges against Legarda as “end-of-campaign intrigues.”
“We urge them to work together. It’s six days to go before Election Day,” Roxas said by phone.
He said he had phoned Legarda to tell her that the party was “working for her” and advised her not to pay attention to the “last two-minute intrigues.”
Legarda, for her part, promised to continue being a “team player,” Roxas said. He said he did not call the other Team PNoy candidate, who Legarda insinuated was behind the black propaganda against her, because he or she was not identified.
“These are all veteran senators and politicians. They know that these intrigues ought not to be given credit,” he said.
Otherwise, “Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano and the rest of Team PNoy candidates, on various occasions, promised to continue being team players,” he added. “All’s well.”
It’s not surprising that Team PNoy had shown cracks days before the vote, given some candidates’ presidential ambitions, political analyst Ramon Casiple said.
“It’s not surprising because it’s a hodgepodge of candidates. It’s not bound by any issue. The negotiations are between families. The reform agenda of Team PNoy is lip service more than anything else,” Casiple said by phone.
Besides, at this crucial stage of the campaign, survey front-runners would gun for No. 1, a good launching pad for the presidency and more important, a good position to negotiate with financiers, Casiple said. “Everyone for himself or herself.”
Aquino assembled Team PNoy from his own LP, once rival Nacionalista Party, Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino, NPC, Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino-Laban and Akbayan party-list group.
Legarda, who ran for vice president in 2010 but lost, and Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero, who backed out of the 2010 presidential race, have been seen as presidential contenders.
Of the front-runners, Cayetano is emerging as another personality to watch in the 2016 presidential elections, Casiple said. “He’s a new face among presidential contenders. He wants to portray himself as a rising contender. I heard he has consultants from Obama’s team. He’s really serious; he’s got high ambitions,” he said.