By Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:42:00 10/31/2009
Filed Under: Politics, Elections, Eleksyon 2010
MANILA, Philippines – It’s the presidency or nothing for Sen. Francis Escudero.
Escudero, who made the improbable decision to bolt the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), said he was running for the highest post, ending speculations that he would be willing to run as the No. 2 to one of the presidential aspirants.
“It’s the presidency but not at all cost,” Escudero said in a phone interview Friday.
“If on your way there you will be eaten up by the system then what for? You can’t do what needs to be done anyway,” he said, by way of explaining his sudden decision to quit the second largest political party in the country and run for president as an independent.
Dismissing doubts about his chances without a political party vehicle, he dared his rivals to do the same.
“They should ask themselves that same question. For example, can they take a position vs pork barrel, can they openly fight contractualization?” he said.
Escudero shocked his party mates when he resigned last Wednesday from the NPC, which had been grooming him for months to be its standard-bearer for 2010, in order to ponder whether he should run for the presidency without a party.
Window of opportunity
A Waray party-list member Florencio Noel, a friend of Escudero, said his friend has not given a thought to running for vice president and that waiting for 2016 was an unlikely option.
“Another Chiz could emerge in the next six years and his window of opportunity would have passed him by,” said Noel.
If anyone could run an independent campaign, Noel said Escudero was the best man to do it based on his resilient popularity, especially among the youth.
Noel said Escudero has gained more followers in resigning from the NPC.
“There is no bad blood between him and his former party-mates. He gained a lot of elbow room to pursue his dream of being the president of this country,” said Noel.
Indeed, NPC spokesperson Rep. Rex Gatchalian said the NPC could still support Escudero should he decide to run for president.
“His departure, while shocking, does not mean an end to his ties with our members whom he worked with fondly all these years. Anything is possible including NPC eventually supporting him as president,” he said.
Gatchalian said the NPC would field a complete team, from the vice president (Sen. Loren Legarda) down to city and town councilors in 2010.
Pangasinan Rep. Mark Cojuangco, the son of Eduardo Cojuangco, the founder and chair emeritus of the NPC, remains an avid supporter of Escudero despite his abrupt departure from the party.
“Speaking purely for myself, Chiz has not changed because he left us. He is still the same person, who stands for the same set of principles, who has the same aspirations for the people, that he had one week ago. I thought that he would make a great president then. Why would he not make a great president now?,” Cojuangco said in a text message.
Biding its time
With its mind-set on snagging Legarda for its own vice presidential candidate, the ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD is giving the NPC all the time to regroup but not forget that a possible coalition is on the table.
The NPC is still licking its wounds after losing presumptive presidential candidate, and the ruling party isn’t rushing it to go to the table, said Prospero Pichay, Lakas-Kampi-CMD vice president for accreditation and membership.
“He [Escudero] has just announced that he was bolting the party. They’re still trying to assess their position,” he said.
According to Pichay, informal talks among House legislators for a national coalition between the ruling party and the NPC were going on but have not progressed to the next level.
“There are informal talks, but we’ve not sat down for the formal talks. The congressmen are still talking,” he said.
But once the NPC gives the go-signal for formal talks, Lakas-Kampi-CMD is ready to draw up “concrete talking points” for a coalition, which for now is merely confined to the House of Representatives, he said.
Not an option
But Cojuangco said that while the NPC was still studying its options post-Escudero, merging with another political party was not being considered.
“In any and all cases, we will retain our identity. Merger is not an option,” he said.
Cojuangco also denied that the NPC was now open to poaching by other political parties.
“There is no indication of such. Again, it is speculation. All parties will have some realignments because of preference, but we have a solid core that is thoroughly NPC,” he said.