President asks Roxas, Poe to join forces vs Duterte
Saying that democracy in the Philippines is under threat, President Benigno Aquino III called on presidential candidates Mar Roxas and Grace Poe to unite and work together to prevent a victory in Monday’s election of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte, who is showing signs of becoming a dictator.
“There are both known and unknown efforts [toward a coalition] these days when our democracy is threatened,” President Aquino told Inquirer editors and reporters in an interview in Malacañang.
Without giving details, the President said there were encouraging signs for a possible last-minute coalition among the other presidential candidates trailing Duterte, who remains holding a huge lead in the polls despite accusations of corruption and hidden wealth.
“Compared to 48 hours ago, I think there are better signs now,” Mr. Aquino said.
Asked if he was urging the supporters of all other presidential candidates to initiate the call for unity, the President said: “Yes, yes… That all supporters talk to your principals and say we need to see a demonstration of country before self.”
The only son of Ninoy and Cory Aquino, the country’s democracy icons, the President is banking on the people’s collective voice.
“What if more voices who have never spoken starts thinking now and say ‘I really am part of the group that was quiet, and I need all of your commitment to unify us,’” Mr. Aquino said.
The President said Duterte’s having 30 percent voter support in the polls meant there was a majority opposing his candidacy.
For democracy’s sake
All it needs is for the others to unite for the sake of democracy, Mr. Aquino said.
In another media interview, the President said: “It behooves everybody to try and get together and ensure that instead of thinking about what shall we do if everything he says is exactly what he intends to do, why don’t we remove that problem or that threat or that insecurity by uniting the 70 and defeating the 30?”
Aside from Roxas and Poe, Vice President Jejomar Binay and Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago are still in the presidential race, although trailing in the polls.
Mr. Aquino said that even if only Roxas and Poe would decide to unite, that would be 40 percent voter support and it would defeat Duterte’s 30 percent.
“I’m trying to get all these different voices from so many sectors together and in that sense, perhaps help our candidates get together and have that united front,” the President said.
On Friday night, hours after the Inquirer interview, President Aquino said at a campaign rally in Parañaque City that he had spoken to Roxas over the phone and had exchanged text messages with Poe on the idea of joining forces against Duterte.
But nothing was “conclusive” yet, Mr. Aquino said.
Earlier last night, Poe, who remains in second place in the latest Social Weather Stations poll but is statistically tied with Roxas, refused talks with Roxas, saying she was not giving up her presidential candidacy.
Binay’s camp rejected Mr. Aquino’s call for unity, citing how the President had been hitting Roxas’ rivals on the campaign trail.
“With two days to go before the people choose their next President, Vice President Binay believes the President should just ensure that the election is free from cheating, violence and intimidation,” Joey Salgado, spokesperson for Binay, said.
Salgado said whoever wins a clean election should be respected.
“As long as [the new leaders] were elected in clean elections, the people’s verdict must be respected because that is the spirit of democracy,” he said.
Duterte’s vice presidential running mate, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, criticized Malacañang for its latest move to stave off Duterte’s victory.
Cayetano said that after the people refused to believe the corruption and hidden wealth allegations against Duterte, the Palace was now trying to get either Roxas or Poe to quit the race. But since the two are statistically tied for second place, they could not decide which of them should withdraw, Cayetano said.
He said Duterte’s impending victory, heralded in all the polls, had caused unrest among the “ruling oligarchs.”
“It’s the fear of the unknown,” he said.
Asked if it was still possible for any presidential candidate to withdraw on the eve of the election, Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chair Andres Bautista said the candidate would have to file a formal withdrawal in the Comelec.
But the votes of the withdrawing candidate will not be credited to another candidate, Bautista said.
“So if I am withdrawing from the race, I will have to tell my supporters, ‘Don’t vote for me anymore, vote for [another] candidate,’” he said.
Bautista said the withdrawing candidate’s name would remain on the ballot and his or her votes would still be counted because these had been programmed in the automated voting system.
“The votes would still be physically counted, but you cannot be proclaimed if you have withdrawn,” he said.
To the question whether he would exercise moral suasion over Roxas and Poe, President Aquino said: “I have been doing that from the start, but (she) did not join us.”
Mr. Aquino met with Poe at least five times last year, with overtures for her to be Roxas’ running mate.
But Poe decided to seek the presidency, encouraged by her high poll ratings, which steadily declined during the election campaign until she was overtaken by Duterte.
Told about calls for a team-up between Poe and administration vice presidential candidate Leni Robredo, President Aquino said: “That would be more divisive.”
“It’s just making the situation more chaotic,” he said.
Duterte has gained support across all sectors of society midway into the campaign by portraying himself as an antiestablishment politician who can achieve quick fixes to deep-rooted problems, such as crime and poverty.
Despite the lack of concrete foreign affairs, economic and security polices, not to mention controversial statements, Duterte’s support base appears to be gaining more strength as the campaign moves into the homestretch.
President Aquino admitted that Duterte’s rise had worried him in the past days because of the likelihood that the country would end up wasting its hard-fought freedom from two decades of martial rule under the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Mr. Aquino said that he himself could not understand how many people appeared to accept the statements of Duterte.
“The closest analysis [of his promises] is ‘I will give the moon and the stars and all of that.’ We know that cannot be done but it seems acceptable [to many people],” Mr. Aquino said.
The President added that what’s worrisome was Duterte making good all the things he said he would do, referring to the mayor’s threat of putting up a revolutionary government, killing criminals outside the judicial system, and severing ties with Philippine allies like the United States and Australia.
“If he starts doing all of these, then really there is a threat to what we have established especially after [the] Edsa [People Power Revolution] and por la patria [to fight for one’s country],” he said. With reports from Juliet Labog-Javellana, chief, Inquirer Central Desk;
Tarra Quismundo, Estrella Torres and AFP
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