‘Aquino not key to running’
KORONADAL, South Cotabato—While the President’s endorsement would be welcome, it would not be the main factor in their decision whether to run in next year’s elections, Senators Grace Poe and Francis Escudero said on Saturday.
Running is a personal decision, said Poe and Escudero, still insisting they had yet to firm up any plans for 2016.
The two senators appeared together in public for the first time after the dinner meeting with President Benigno Aquino III in Malacañang last Wednesday to discuss the 2016 presidential election.
Poe said another meeting among her, the President and Escudero would be held sometime next week.
They joined the T’nalak Festival celebration on the invitation of officials of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), which may adopt them if they decide to run for President and Vice President.
The Malacañang meeting failed to reach a consensus on a presidential candidate to be endorsed by Mr. Aquino. Liberal Party members want Poe to be the running mate of Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, the party’s presumptive standard-bearer.
Poe said it would be good to have the President’s support, but she had not decided whether to run.
“When it comes to making a decision, while it is an honor to get the endorsement of a President like him, it is still a personal journey, a personal decision. Because even with an endorsement from anyone, what is important is your commitment or what you can do for it,” Poe said in a press conference.
“It’s a privilege to talk to the President and I respect him,” she said.
But the President did not ask her about her plans for 2016, she said.
“What he repeatedly said was he was looking forward to a strengthened alliance and that it was also important to know what the people wanted,” she said.
She added that Mr. Aquino did not ask her to give way to Roxas.
“There had been no attempts. You know, even if the President is a friend, it’s difficult to know what’s on his mind. But in our discussion, we never talked about it and he never hinted that I should not run,” she said.
Escudero, when asked about the possibility of not getting the President’s endorsement, said it had long been his position that running should not depend on the support of one or several people but on his own decision.
“If a candidate decides to run, he should own the decision and not pass it on to anyone,” Escudero said.
“Whether to run or not is a personal decision, but we have not reached that point yet,” he added.
Poe and Escudero were considering going around the country after their South Cotabato visit.
They said visiting the provinces might help them make a decision.
Poe said she needed to know what she could do for the country before deciding to run.
“We’re still at that point where we’re studying those things, which is why we’re going to different places … It’s not only Metro Manila that we have to focus on, but the whole country, especially the rural [areas] where many poor people need help,” she said.
She also said it was not an easy decision to make, as she had seen the difficulties her father, the late movie actor Fernando Poe Jr., went through when he ran for President against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2004.
His opponents derided FPJ, as Poe’s father was known, for being a movie actor with little education, and they questioned his citizenship in an attempt to eliminate him from the presidential race.
FPJ, whose mother was American, won the challenge but lost the election to Arroyo. He protested his loss but died of a stroke seven months after the election.
Escudero said that if he and Poe would run, they would run as independents, which, a source told the Inquirer earlier, would open them to adoption by other parties without presidential and vice-presidential candidates.
In her speech at the T’nalak Festival, named after the cloth woven by the women of the T’boli tribe, Poe said working to better the country started with a dream that the people shared.
She spoke about the attributes of a good leader and disputed statements that experience was the key requirement, a clear dig on Vice President Jejomar Binay, who insists that his 30-year experience as mayor of Makati City makes him the best man for the job in Malacañang.
Poe agreed that experience is important, but said “it is also important that a leader must have heart and must be true to the people. Because it doesn’t matter if you are very intelligent if your intention is not to improve the lives of the people.”
Lessons from parents
She said her father and mother, the movie actress Susan Roces, taught her lessons that she continued to value, and that she wove into her discussion of what she believed made up a good leader.
Poe said her father taught her that it was important to be honest, helpful to others and courageous.
“You must learn to fight, but you must not be arrogant,” she said.
From her mother, she said she learned to be a good housewife and supportive spouse.
“These are lessons not learned in a day, a week or a year. These are learned starting from childhood,” she said.
Poe said the rule of law must always prevail and the corrupt must be punished.
“Whether friends or relatives, even if it hurts us, we must punish those who have wronged the nation,” she said.
Poe also spoke about her and Escudero’s accomplishments in the Senate and thanked South Cotabato for voting for her in 2013.
She topped the senatorial election in South Cotabato and elsewhere in the country, becoming the top-ranked senator and now the most wooed by political parties for presidential candidate.
Poe and Escudero received applause when they arrived at the South Cotabato Sports Complex. At the lunch following their press conference, onlookers lined up for selfies with the senators.
The political implications of Poe and Escudero’s visit to the province were clear to South Cotabato officials.
South Cotabato Rep. Ferdinand Hernandez, in his welcome remarks, noted that Poe and Escudero could figure prominently in the 2016 elections, and later pointed out the Inquirer banner story on the senators’ visit to the province.
“But I’ll leave it up to them to explain,” Hernandez added.
Top officials of the province, including South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Avance Fuentes and Hernandez, are members of the NPC.
The NPC president, Isabela Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao, earlier said the party might support a Poe-Escudero ticket if it would materialize.
Joining Poe and Escudero in their visit to the province was NPC member and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office Director Florencio Noel.
Also present was Las Piñas Rep. Mark Villar of the Nacionalista Party (NP), which is part of the administration coalition.
When asked if his party would support a Poe-Escudero ticket, Villar said the NP had yet to decide who to support in 2016 and was open to all possibilities. With a report from Jeoffrey Maitem, Inquirer Mindanao
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