President’s pal recruiting for Poe
Is the rivalry between the “Balay” and “Samar” factions in President Aquino’s inner circle brewing anew?
Former Interior Undersecretary Rico E. Puno has reportedly been contacting fellow Masons in the bailiwicks of the administration’s Liberal Party (LP), trying to muster support for presidential candidate Sen. Grace Poe, according to two Inquirer sources.
One of the sources, a police official, said that a Myro Lopez, whom he identified as Puno’s personal aide, had been calling up members of the Free and Accepted Masons of the Philippines in Western Visayas and northern Mindanao asking for help in organizing Poe’s rallies.
The source, also an influential Mason, said he recently received a call from Lopez relaying Puno’s “concerns.”
“Myro has been seeking our help in looking for venues and local leaders who could head the political rallies and press conferences of Senator Poe in the Panay provinces,” the source, who sought anonymity for lack of authority to speak to media, said.
Asked if Lopez was soliciting funds for Poe’s campaign, he said: “Yes, but not directly because he did not specifically ask for money.”
“He did not tell us they would provide the funds needed to organize Senator Poe’s political gatherings, so it only means that those who are willing to help may also have to spend for the events,” he said.
The Inquirer could not contact Puno as of press time last night.
Sought for comment, Poe’s camp said it was clueless about Puno’s supposed efforts to muster the support of Masons.
“I am personally unaware of the moves of (Puno) to organize, but Senator Poe’s campaign is anchored on the principle of inclusiveness,” Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian, Poe’s spokesperson, said in a text message.
Known as a shooting-range buddy of the President, Puno resigned as interior undersecretary for peace and order in September 2012 following allegations he tried to filch confidential documents from the office of Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo a few days after Robredo died in a plane crash.
Along with other personal friends of the President, Puno is identified with the “Samar” group, so called because it held office in a building on Samar Avenue in Quezon City during the 2010 elections.
LP standard-bearer Mar Roxas is the leader of the LP-led “Balay” faction, whose headquarters are in the Balay building, referring to the “bahay na puti” (white house) of the Roxas family in Cubao, also in Quezon City.
The Samar group—which includes Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa—was believed behind the “Noy-Bi” movement, which dropped Roxas as Mr. Aquino’s running mate in 2010 in favor of the eventual winner, Vice President Jejomar Binay.
Last week, Roxas, joined by Mr. Aquino, launched his campaign for Malacañang at two rallies attended by some 35,000 people in the cities of Roxas and Iloilo. Almost all the Cabinet members were present, except for Ochoa.
This week, Poe and her running mate, Sen. Francis Escudero, embarked on a campaign tour of Western Visayas.
According to the second source, who also sought anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, Puno was tapping his connections in the Masons to garner support for Poe in provinces where she has no political organization.
“Rico Puno knows that fellow Masons cannot turn down a fervent request from one of us,” the source said.
“But he also knows it’s nearly impossible for Poe to win in Western Visayas because it’s practically the LP’s home base with Mar Roxas and (Senate President) Franklin Drilon,” he said.
The source said he was “surprised” when Lopez phoned him to relay Puno’s request, saying he thought Puno would support Binay like he did in 2010.
The source said Lopez had also been calling up Masons in Cagayan de Oro City and other parts of northern Mindanao where the local officials had announced they were supporting Roxas.
“Masons may not be a voting bloc like the Iglesia Ni Cristo, but the influence of our brods in the military, police, judiciary, politics and business would certainly be a major factor in the elections,” he said.
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