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Joker, Ralphjoin ‘Team Unity’

Re-electionist Senators Joker Arroyo and Ralph Recto, two members of the "Wednesday Group" in the Senate, have decided to run under the administration ticket, completing the "Team Unity" as of yesterday.

Highly placed sources said Arroyo and Recto made the decision to part ways with their fellow Wednesday Group member Senate President Manuel Villar Jr., who decided to run under the United Opposition.

The sources, however, failed to mention the position taken by Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan, the fourth member of the group.

"Depending on the final decision, most likely, I will run under the Liberal Party-Nacionalista Party coalition, but neither administration nor opposition," Pangilinan told The STAR yesterday.

Pangilinan said the members of the Wednesday Group will formally announce today their final decision.

The four members of the Wednesday Group are considered administration allies but they had openly disagreed with President Arroyo on initiatives to amend the Constitution, which would cause the abolition of the Senate for a unicameral parliamentary government.

Presidential Political Adviser Gabriel Claudio confirmed yesterday that Arroyo and Recto had moved over to the administration ticket.

Claudio said it would be up to Arroyo and Recto to elaborate on their decision.

He said Arroyo and Recto added up to the "Team Unity" list of 10 confirmed names, with the remaining two others whose names will be announced anytime today.

Claudio revealed another addition to the team is Zambales Gov. Vicente Magsaysay.

Others who were included in the administration senatorial ticket are former presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor, Bukidnon Rep. Juan Miguel Zubiri, Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay, Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis "Chavit" Singson, Sen. Edgardo Angara and former senators Vicente "Tito" Sotto III and Teresa Aquino-Oreta.

This leaves only two more names in the ticket to start up the administration team for the campaign trail starting Tuesday.

"Team Unity" will be officially launched on Tuesday, Feb. 15, at the Tanghalang Francisco Balagtas, formerly the Folk Arts Theater, in Pasay City.

Each member of the team will proceed tomorrow to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) head office in Manila to file their respective certificates of candidacy (COC).

So far, only Zubiri and Pichay formally signified their intention to run for the Senate by filing their COCs.

Official of the ruling part Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas) said the administration ticket is set to launch a nationwide campaign "to ensure a runaway" victory in the coming polls.

The team’s first sortie would be on Cebu, where they would be accompanied by Mrs. Arroyo.

The day after Wednesday

Pangilinan revealed the members of the Wednesday Group were caught in a crisis because of differing political preferences.

He said that despite intensive discussions and exchange of ideas to break the "deadlock" for the last three days, they finally agreed to make the formal announcement today over the issue.

He conceded splitting might be inevitable as each member will go his separate way.

Villar’s camp, on the other hand, denied reports that they had been the cause of the delay in the Wednesday Group’s decision.

They said Villar was committed to former President Joseph Estrada and will join the opposition ticket.

Villar has declared in a number of interviews that he is not keen in going to the administration, citing the Charter change initiatives to abolish the Senate.

Villar was a key player in the ouster of Estrada when he initiated the impeachment proceedings against the former leader during his tenure as Speaker of the House of Representatives in 2000.

Seven years later, Villar managed to win the endorsement of Estrada to run for the United Opposition. His frequent visits to Estrada’s rest house in Tanay, Rizal where the ousted leader is currently under house arrest for plunder charges apparently had significance.

The split also became imminent when Recto, during an interview over ANC cable news television on Friday, said he was inclined to join the administration or run as independent, counting himself out of the opposition.

On the other hand, the Wednesday Group itself is focused on Senator Arroyo who remains unsure of seeking re-election.

Separate sources, however, revealed Arroyo is considering joining the administration.

A source close to Arroyo said the maverick senator wants to tap the services of a veteran comedian to help in his campaign.

Although he was critical of some of President Arroyo’s policies and decisions, the senator did not actually call for her resignation or directly attack the President, just as the opposition did.

The idea of having a unity ticket for the administration was first broached by Defensor and Mrs. Arroyo and her allies later on gave their support.

Defensor had said it would be good to present to the people a team that would work for unity and reconciliation for the sake of national development.

He said this was the reason why known opposition personalities such as Sotto, Oreta and Angara were welcomed into the administration’s fold.

Angara, Sotto and Oreta, had earlier called for President Arroyo’s resignation following the defeat of the late movie icon Fernando Poe Jr. in the May 2004 presidential elections.

Angara, Sotto and Oreta came from the opposition as the campaign handlers of Poe who ran against Mrs. Arroyo in the 2004 presidential run-up.

The three had led Poe’s camp in accusing Mrs. Arroyo of cheating her way to victory.

No curtain raisers

Actors Richard Gomez, Cesar Montano and Edu Manzano, on the other hand, were initially considered in the lineup but sources disclosed the mounting adverse public opinion against movie stars and popular personalities in a political arena prompted the administration to reconsider its position.

Gomez, for his part, said he is unfazed by the possibility of being excluded from the administration ticket.

Gomez said he would not force the issue to the administration or the opposition and he would rather run as an independent

"Well, if that is the case, that’s good. If they (administration) don’t want to accept me, I will not force myself to them. I will run as independent. Anyway, that was our original plan before we took our oath at the NPC (Nationalist People’s Coalition), we decided long ago that I will run as independent," he said.

The actor said he already expected the antagonism of administration allies who opposed the possibility of including him in the ticket.

Pichay had openly showed his dislike for Gomez because the actor had been critical of President Arroyo.

Pichay revealed yesterday that no movie stars or popular personalities were included in the initial lineup.

On the other hand, Speaker Jose de Venecia, Lakas party president, said the ruling coalition with other major political parties are expected to announce the final senatorial slate on Monday at the latest.

Aside from the identified senatorial candidates, De Venecia said the ruling coalition is currently securing a candidate who could represent the Muslim vote.

De Venecia revealed they might include the daughter of former senator Mamintal Tamano, he described as a "very brilliant" Muslim scholar and educated at Harvard University.

De Venecia added the inclusion of Gomez, Montano and Manzano are all "still under consideration."

His wife Gina, on the other hand, told the STAR that she is no longer seeking a Senate seat to concentrate on being a partner to her husband, "whose vision I really believe in." De Venecia was reluctant from the start to let his wife run in the May polls.

The only showbiz personality in the ticket so far is Sotto, one of the popular television hosts of the long running noontime game show "Eat Bulaga!"

Sotto, in preparation for his long campaign back to the Senate, has bidden farewell the show’s viewers yesterday afternoon.

"Kay Vic (Sotto) at kay Joey (de Leon), sa lahat po dito na mga taga ‘Eat Bulaga!’ at kayo pong lahat, ang Tito na nakasama ninyo sa halos 28 taon ng tanghalian ng inyong buhay, yan din po ang maglilingkod sa inyo (the Tito you have seen in the 28 years of the show will be the same Tito that will serve you)," a teary-eyed Sotto said.

He was accompanied by his wife Helen Gamboa and daughter Ciara.

Sotto earlier announced moving to the administration, confirming talks that he had finally moved over after joining the NPC in bolting from the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) along with Oreta.

He said he would still keep a critical stance against the administration, particularly on moves to amend the Constitution.

Sotto said he would file his COC today and would register NPC as his political party. -With Christina Mendez, Patricia Esteves, Sheila Crisostomo, Delon Porcalla

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