October 30, 2009 03:01:00
Christian V. Esguerra Leila Salaverria Rey M. Nasol Inquirer Southern Luzon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines — The political party that Sen. Francis Escudero has abandoned may still end up supporting his candidacy in case he joins the May 2010 presidential election.
“There remains the option that we will continue supporting Chiz (Escudero’s nickname) if he runs for president and we will still field a full NPC slate,” former Sen. Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, an NPC member, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer Thursday. He was present in the emergency meeting of officials of the Nationalist People’s Coalition called shortly after Escudero, hitherto the party’s perceived standard-bearer announced he was out of there.
Sotto said the party was left with no substitute for Escudero as presidential candidate even as it was also preparing a full slate both for the national and local elections.
“No NPC member has signified his intention to run for president. That’s the problem,” he said.
Sotto, also the chair of the Dangerous Drugs Board, acknowledged that Escudero’s departure from the NPC “demoralized” some members.
“I won’t call it a dilemma, but it’s a real problem because you suddenly lost a presidential candidate,” he said.
Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez said Escudero’s announcement that he would not need a political party should he run for president shackled him to remaining party-less, a condition that may not be ideal in Philippine politics.
Like whale shark’s fate
Golez also wondered how Escudero would fare after he left the NPC to which he belonged for over a decade, as he noted the death of a whale shark, which he said met its tragic fate when it was out of its natural habitat in Sorsogon, Escudero’s home province.
Politicians supportive of Escudero’s presidential bid and who were planning to affiliate themselves with the NPC wanted to know what was next for them.
Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte, who has left the administration party and has backed Escudero, said the group would meet with key leaders of the NPC next week to discuss their options.
Villafuerte said the group was composed of mayors, governors and those who wanted to be governors and representatives.
They are supportive of the Escudero-Legarda tandem, though they are not necessarily members of the NPC, said the Camarines Sur lawmaker.
“While we have not formalized it, we have committed from the very beginning. With these changes, we will have to reassemble,” Villafuerte said in a phone interview.
He said the members of the group would compare notes with the NPC and would evaluate their options.
Two other options
In the meeting at the NPC Clubhouse on Balete Drive in Quezon City, which was attended by some 30 members, Sotto said the party came up with two other possible courses of action in the wake of Escudero’s resignation from the party.
He said the top option would be for the party to ignore Escudero’s decision and proceed with its full lineup of candidates, from the vice president down to mayors.
In that case, he said the NPC would still be in search of a standard-bearer.
“Just because a presidential candidate or a single member of the NPC left doesn’t mean the rest won’t move anymore,” Sotto said in Filipino.
The third option was for the NPC to coalesce with other political parties such as the administration’s Lakas-Kampi-CMD, Sen. Manuel Villar’s Nacionalista Party, and Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III’s Liberal Party.
Sotto said the third option could be a longshot judging by the reaction of some NPC members in the meeting.
He said some of the members were vocal in their objection to the idea of coalescing with the ruling party, while others rejected a coalition with the Partido ng Masang Pilipino of former President Joseph Estrada.
Sotto said the choice of which political party to coalesce with would also depend on it accommodating the NPC’s vice presidential candidate, Sen. Loren Legarda.
So far, he said only Villar and Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, the preferred standard-bearer of Lakas-Kampi-CMD, were without a running mate.
Legarda earlier rejected the invitation to run with Teodoro.
Sotto said the NPC had agreed to determine its course of action during its general assembly on Nov. 5.
Loren: Rallying point
Legarda has become the NPC rallying point after the party was deserted by Escudero.
Valenzuela Rep. Rex Gatchalian, NPC spokesperson, said that while the party was searching for a new standard-bearer or thinking of whether it would even field one, its focal point would be its vice presidential candidate.
“We will rally around her, support her. We will put all our effort in making sure she gets the vice presidency,” he said.
After Escudero announced his surprising decision to bolt the party the other day, Legarda had quickly declared that she would be staying with the NPC as its vice-presidential candidate.
Gatchalian also said the NPC was not a jailhouse in response to Escudero’s statement that an aspiring president could not carry out his plans when “his hands and feet are shackled, his eyes are blindfolded and mouth gagged.”
He said he felt offended at allegations that Escudero left the party because he was not assured of enough funds for his 2010 campaign.
He said the senator deserved more respect than putting a price tag on him, adding that he was accepting Escudero’s reasons for leaving at face value.
Unlike Bicolano politicians, militant groups in the Bicol region are jubilant over Escudero’s resignation from the NPC.
“Chiz made the right move in leaving NPC,” said Tessa Lopez, the regional public information officer of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Bikol (Bayan-Bikol).
The militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-Bikol (KMP-Bikol) also welcomed Escudero’s move.
RP’s biggest landlord
“At long last, Chiz has escaped the stranglehold of [Eduardo] Danding [Cojuangco Jr.] and is now free to decide on his own. This is a welcome news for us, peasants, particularly coconut farmers because Danding is the biggest landlord in the country and until now he is still the one benefiting from the coconut levy funds,” said Felix Paz, chair of KMP-Bikol.
Cojuangco is the chair emeritus of the NPC and the chair of San Miguel Corp. where coconut levy funds own a big stake.
Lopez said he begged to disagree with those saying that what Escudero did was political suicide.
“Actually, what he did bolstered his political stock and would help him to be accepted by more people who are turned off by his Danding connection,” she said.
The Bicolanos For Change Movement, an alliance of Bicolanos nationwide, also expressed support for Escudero.
“Such action of Senator Escudero is a manifestation of the new politics that he is espousing under the Bagong Pagbabago slogan and which must be emulated by our political leaders if we want to introduce meaningful change,” it said.