LP leader Benitez leaves ruling party
BACOLOD CITY—It’s official: Negros Occidental Rep. Alfredo Abelardo “Albee” Benitez is out of the Liberal Party (LP), and has been replaced by former Manapla Mayor Manuel “Manolet” Escalante as LP chair in the province.
“For now, I think I can safely say that Congressman Albee is considered independent and no longer part of the LP hierarchy,” said former Negros Occidental Gov. Rafael Coscolluela, whom the ruling party had assigned to sign the certificates of nomination and acceptance of LP candidates in the province until Dec. 10.
“As far as we are concerned, the LP chair of the party is former Mayor Manolet Escalante,” Coscolluela added.
But the party was not closing its door to Benitez, the former governor said, adding that “if Albee decides to come back and offers his support to (LP standard-bearer Mar) Roxas, then by all means, he will be welcome.”
Benitez, the fourth richest man in Congress, had opted to run for reelection as an independent candidate although he has yet to say whom he is supporting for president in 2016.
Asked about his LP affiliation, Benitez replied: “Can you be LP and independent at the same time?”
In September, the province’s third district congressman admitted to a “communication gap” between himself and Roxas, and said that he had offered his resignation as LP chair in Negros Occidental but this was rejected by party leaders.
Asked if President Aquino could talk him into staying with the LP, Benitez had said that he was “actually open” to the idea.
But, he had added, “we have to iron out first, is there enough trust for us to work together again?”
There is also a need to define exactly what political parties are for, the congressman said. “Is it to advance the ideology or the individual?”
Coscolluela said that even without Benitez, the Roxas campaign machinery in the province would remain strong, with the LP structure already in place even in the congressman’s bailiwick.
The reality is that most of the mayoral candidates of Benitez in the third district did not show any indication that they would support Roxas, the former governor said. They were moving more toward Sen. Grace Poe and Vice President Jejomar Binay, Roxas’ rivals in the presidential race, the LP official added.
“The point is, from the perspective of the party, you had a provincial chair who could not be depended on. Any political party would elect to have a structure that will protect its own interests. If its own chair could not do that, you can’t blame it for doing what it can,” Coscolluela said.
The LP official said the party didn’t really know if Benitez would support Roxas. “I guess we should leave it up to Congressman Albee to declare (his support) whenever he finds it timely,” Coscolluela said.
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