LP: Pro-Poe Aquino pal acting on his own
The camp of Liberal Party (LP) standard-bearer Mar Roxas is not daunted by the reported efforts of former Interior Undersecretary Rico E. Puno, one of President Benigno Aquino III’s closest friends, to canvass support among his fellow Masons for the presidential bid of Sen. Grace Poe, amid persistent rumors that Mr. Aquino was secretly supporting Poe.
“There is no reason to doubt the President’s commitment to the candidacies of Roxas and his running mate, Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo,” said Akbayan Rep. Barry Gutierrez, spokesperson for the LP-led Daang Matuwid coalition.
Puno is obviously “acting purely on (his) own and in no way would this indicate that the President is supporting another candidate,” he said.
Budget Secretary Butch Abad, a former LP president, said the President may not even be aware of what Puno was up to.
“I’ve not been hearing about him (Puno) since he left the (government),” he said. Puno, the President’s shooting range buddy, resigned his undersecretary position at the Department of the Interior and Local Government in September 2012.
Gutierrez said Mr. Aquino had in fact quelled such speculations during an interview with members of the Philippine media who covered his visit to the United States earlier this week.
“The position of the President (on this issue) is very clear … He has publicly endorsed (Roxas) several times as the successor of the ‘straight path’ (administration),” he told reporters yesterday.
Gutierrez said he was tired of the issue being repeatedly revived.
“(The President’s) statements are very, very clear and we all know the President. He is not the kind of person who will mince words. He talks straight,” he said.
Gutierrez said such insinuations were the handiwork of individuals who just wanted to sow intrigue within the administration coalition.
“There’s no truth to those rumors. Daang Matuwid coalition is solid. It’s solidly behind (Roxas) and Congresswoman Leni Robredo,” he said.
Gutierrez played down Puno’s reported attempts to recruit members of Free and Accepted Masons of the Philippines to organize political gatherings for Poe in the LP bailiwicks of Western Visayas and northern Mindanao.
“Puno is no longer part of the straight path administration. Whatever he wants to do, he can do it,” Gutierrez said.
“But he’s not speaking for the Liberal Party. He’s not speaking for (Roxas) and certainly, he’s not speaking for the President in this case,” he said.
Two sources, both Masons, said Puno’s close aide, a certain Myro Lopez, had been recently calling up Masons in the Panay region and northern Mindanao, asking them to help Poe in the LP-controlled areas.
One of the sources said he was “surprised” by Puno’s actions, as he thought the President’s friend would support Vice President Jejomar Binay just like he did in the 2010 elections.
Puno is identified with the “Samar” faction in the President’s inner circle. The group, which also includes Executive Secretary Jojo Ochoa, got its name from one of its bases of operations on Samar Avenue in Quezon City.
Roxas, on the other hand, is the acknowledged leader of the LP-dominated “Balay” faction whose office is in the Balay building owned by the Roxas family in Cubao, also in Quezon City.
The Samar group is believed to be instrumental in Binay’s upset win after it dropped Roxas and supported Binay in the 2010 vice presidential race.
“They’re free to support whoever they want. They’re free to try and convince others to jump ship, but we remain confident that our supporters, from our local leaders in different provinces to our national leaders affiliated with the administration, are solidly behind (Roxas),” Gutierrez said.
He said talk about mass defections and resignations of LP members has been going on for several months, but none of the ruling political party’s prominent members have left to support rival candidates.
Cabinet also divided
A well-placed source active in the LP campaign told the Inquirer in a separate interview that not all Cabinet secretaries are supporting the presidential bid of Roxas.
The source said some are for Poe while others are for Binay.
Ochoa, Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, Education Secretary Armin Luistro, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima were some of the the Cabinet secretaries who were not seen at Roxas’ big campaign kickoff last week.
But Abad said that if there were indeed Cabinet secretaries who are not for Roxas, they are a minority.
Obviously, Luistro and Gazmin, and even former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario who is serving the final week of his tenure, would be expected to be neutral because of the sensitivity of their posts, he said.
Public school teachers, under the education department, administer the elections, while soldiers, serving under the defense department, secure the country throughout the election season.
Aside from Abad, the other Cabinet members who joined Mr. Aquino in campaign rallies in Capiz, Iloilo and Bicol provinces last week were Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles, Health Secretary Janette Garin, Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson, Interior Secretary Mel Sarmiento and Energy Secretary Zenaida Monsada.
“The President wants to show a solid front (in the Roxas campaign) to send the message that the government intends to make sure that its programs would be continued. That is an obligation on the part of the President,” Abad explained.
Abad said the President brings his Cabinet along in the campaign for as long as they have done their principal duties as agency heads.
Singson and Monsada were with the President in his “governance activities” such as inaugurating government projects. With a report from Nikko Dizon
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