THE founders of the Nationalist People’s Coalition and stalwarts of vote-rich provinces said they will support the presidential bid of Vice President Jejomar Binay, openly defying the party leadership’s decision Monday to back independent candidate Senator Grace Poe
“We are still for Binay,” said reelectionist Pangasinan Rep. Kimi Cojuangco, daughter-in-law of business tycoon Eduardo Cojuangco Jr., founder and chairman emeritus of the NPC, the country’s second largest political party.
Cojuangco and her husband former Pangasinan Rep. Mark Cojuangco made the stand on the same day that NPC spokesman Quezon Rep. Mark Enverga, NPC president Isabela Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao and NPC secretary-general Batangas Rep. Mark Llandro Mendoza announced the NPC would adopt Poe and her running mate Senator Francis Escudero as their candidates for president and vice president, respectively.
The Cojuangcos are cousins of President Benigno Aquino III, whose anointed candidate Manuel Roxas II is the standard bearer of the ruling Liberal Party. But the Cojuangcos have chosen to support Binay, Roxas’ political archrival instead.
Roxas ran and lost to Binay in the 2010 vice presidential race and the two are again squaring off for the presidency in May.
Aggabao said the decision was arrived at after months of consultations with their members, 90 percent of whom secretly voted for the Poe-Escudero tandem.
In defying the party stand, the Cojuangcos were joined by members of the biggest political clans such as the Dys of Isabela, and the Fuentebellas, Villafuertes and Alfelors of Camarines Sur.
Party leaders must now decide if they will discipline members who do not toe the party line.
Mark Cojuangco, who is running for governor of Pangasinan, is the NPC chairman while former governor Alfonso Dy was the party’s former president. Other Binay supporters were the party’s provincial chairmen.
In a statement, NPC member and Camarines Sur Rep. Felix William Fuentebella said the NPC leaders were aware of his decision to support Binay and the United Nationalist Alliance slate.
“I am a member of the NPC supporting VP Jojo Binay for president. I, with the other NPC members in Camarines Sur, informed the leadership of the NPC about this decision,” Fuentebella said.
Fuentebella said NPC members in his province support Binay because of his experience, track record as an executive and concern for poor.
“Our constituents were rightfully consulted in arriving at this decision. Our local leaders are inspired by Binay’s programs for health, education and senior citizens. His proposal to abolish the income tax for the P30,000 monthly earners and commitment to improve and expand the 4Ps to include the senior citizens are close to the hearts of our constituents,” he added.
The Fuentebellas, Villafuertes and Alfelors for decades had been political enemies but they set aside their rivalry when they all agreed to back Binay’s bid.
Fuentebella said Binay has a solid track record as a public servant and as a human rights lawyer fighting for the oppressed.
“We want Binay to become President. That’s the clamor on our end and I am sure that the leadership of the NPC will hold that in high regard,” he said.
“As a member of the NPC, I will reiterate this position,” he added.
Fuentebella was often seen tagging along in Binay’s provincial campaign sorties.
He was in Binay’s entourage last week in Quezon, the bailiwick of the Suarezes, stalwarts of Lakas-CMD.
Reelectionist Gov. David Suarez and his father, former Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez, who were running unopposed, also back Binay’s candidacy. Incumbent Quezon Rep. Aleta Suarez, who would be replaced by her husband Danilo, was busy hosting the Binay camp during the two-day campaign sorties in the Quezon province.
Mon Ilagan, UNA spokesperson and a member of NPC, said the NPC endorsement of the Poe-Escudero tandem will have minimal impact on Binay’s candidacy.
Ilagan said he does not expect other local party members to support the tandem, since many local officials are actively supporting Binay.
“You can’t say that everyone will follow the leadership’s endorsement, especially when it comes to the local races,” Ilagan said in Filipino.
“Many of the members of the NPC are close friends with Binay when he was still mayor of Makati. You can’t say that the NPC endorsement of Poe and Escudero is solid,” he added.
But a staunch supporter of Poe in the NPC, Senator Vicente Sotto III, said party members who could not support the decision to support Poe and Escudero were free to leave the party.
He added that NPC members who cannot support the party’s decision should expect no support in the coming elections.
Key officials of the NPC, meanwhile, said they would endorse senatorial candidate Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez as among the party’s 12 Senate bets, citing his “malasakit” (compassion) for the people’s welfare.
Batangas Rep. Mark Llandro Mendoza, NPC secretary-general, said the party has seen Romualdez’s good governance and platforms of government that would champion people’s interests.
“Definitely Congressman Romualdez is among the 12 names that we are going to endorse for the Senate,” Mendoza told reporters in an interview Tuesday.
“The NPC will carry him [Romualdez]. He is a good addition to the lineup that we will be fielding,”
On Tuesday, administration standard bearer Roxas said the NPC endorsement was not final.
“I’ve been talking with the NPC leadership, and they still don’t have a choice for President,” Roxas told reporters in a chance interview after making rounds in Metro Manila Tuesday.
But Roxas said Aggabao, Mendoza and Enverga do not represent the final stand of the NPC, which is an alliance partner of the ruling Liberal Party.
“Those are just few members of the NPC,” Roxas said.
“There are still other members, more than 20 governors and congressmen who remain with the straight path, with the Mar-Leni tandem,” he added.
But Poe’s spokesman, Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian, said other political parties should refrain from questioning the cohesion of the NPC.
“Like a vast majority of NPC members, I am of the firm belief that the NPC will consolidate behind the candidacies of Senators Poe and Chiz [Escudero],” Gatchalian said..
“It’s quite surprising to hear some political parties doubting the unity of the NPC, when all of them courted the party precisely because of the collective strength of the party,” he added.
Poe’s running mate, Escudero, said Tuesday he would welcome the support of members of the ruling Liberal Party as long as they were not involved in the P10-billion pork barrel scam.
“Politics is addition. Why not,” said Escudero when sought for his comment if they will accept defections from the LP and other parties. With Maricel V. Cruz and John Paolo Bencito
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