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With Koko Pimentel out, Legarda gets top UNA senatorial spot

Senator Loren Legarda INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—Senator Loren Legarda is poised to get the top position in the United Nationalist Alliance’s senatorial slate, replacing Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III who formally abandoned the coalition’s 2013 senatorial ticket last Thursday.

Legarda will be elevated from the No. 2 spot even if she is not a member of any of the two political parties that coalesced to form UNA, former president Joseph Estrada said Saturday.

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“She will become No. 1,” Estrada told the Inquirer in a phone interview.

Asked why an “outsider” would be the leading candidate of UNA, he said: “But she will not run under any other party.”

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Legarda belongs to the Nationalist People’s Coalition, which is not officially part of UNA. The coalition consists of Estrada’s Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) and Vice President Jejomar Binay’s Partido Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban).

“Thank you for that,” Legarda texted when informed about UNA’s decision to elevate her as its No. 1 senatorial bet. She said she had been invited both by Estrada and Binay to join the ticket.

“I welcome the invitation to be a guest candidate. I think they will make their announcement in due time. But it is not to replace anyone because the invitation was made last year.”

Legarda ranked second to fellow reelectionist Senator Francis Escudero in the most recent Pulse Asia survey on voters’ top senatorial preferences. Escudero got 65.1 percent while she received 63.6 percent.

Pimentel also landed in the Top 10 of the same survey, but at a much lower spot. Nearly 39 percent of the respondents said they would vote for him if the election were held at the time of the survey.

Legarda had been included on the UNA list even before Pimentel decided to leave the coalition slate over a dispute with former Representative Juan Miguel Zubiri.

Pimentel said he could not “in conscience” run under the same ticket with Zubiri, who was erroneously declared winner of the 12th and final slot in the 2007 senatorial election. As a result, Pimentel missed four years of his six-year term.

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UNA leaders had made Pimentel the top candidate on the coalition ticket as a symbolic gesture intended partly to convince him to stay and bury the hatchet with Zubiri.

The Inquirer learned that the NPC had ongoing talks with President Benigno Aquino’s Liberal Party, which would make both Legarda and Escudero official candidates of the administration ticket.

Like Legarda, Escudero is also being considered to join UNA, but Estrada said his group was yet to secure Escudero’s commitment. Escudero earlier said he would remain  an independent but would be open to running as a guest candidate on separate tickets.

Legarda said she would meet with the NPC this week to know from the party under which ticket she would end up running.

It remains to be seen how Legarda’s or Escudero’s possible inclusion on the LP slate would affect their standing with UNA. Estrada said part of the PMP and the PDP-Laban’s “covenant” was not to accept guest candidates.

In UNA, Legarda will join a traditional ally in Binay, the campaign manager when she ran for vice president in 2004. Legarda was the running mate of the late actor Fernando Poe Jr.

Besides Legarda, Estrada said, the UNA ticket would include Sen. Gregorio Honasan, Zubiri, and Representatives Jose Victor Ejercito, Jack Enrile, and Milagros Magsaysay.

Estrada said Valenzuela Mayor Sherwin Gatchalian was also being considered to join the lineup. But he said Gatchalian’s inclusion would depend on whether he would improve in surveys by October.

Gatchalian is the son of businessman William Gatchalian, a close friend of Estrada.

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TAGS: Elections, Political Parties, Politics, Senatorial Election, UNA
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