MANILA, Philippines - Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero yesterday announced that he is backing out of the presidential and vice presidential race in the May 2010 elections, hinting that he is instead supporting the candidacy of Liberal Party standard-bearer Sen. Benigno “Noynoy”Aquino III.
“I have decided that even if I’m not a candidate for president in the coming elections, I still have a role to play as a Filipino and ordinary voter,” Escudero said at a press conference in Club Filipino in Greenhills, San Juan.
Over the weekend, it was reported that he had decided to run for vice president.
He admitted that he is short of funds to launch a national campaign as an independent since he resigned from the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) last month.
“I’ve always said that for me, it’s the presidency but not at all cost. Not at the cost of losing my soul, not at the cost of losing myself, not at the cost of being eaten up by the system and the process and certainly not at the cost of not being able to do the things that I set out to do,” he told a crowd of supporters and allies.
Escudero, who has been performing well in the latest presidential and vice presidential surveys, said he consulted with family, close friends, and supporters on his plans for next year’s elections. He told them his decision Monday night and early morning yesterday.
“I also cannot do what I want to do without being eaten up by the system. For me, this challenge must also be faced by the others who had declared to run,” Escudero said.
Escudero thanked his supporters, who wore red for the event, for their trust and confidence and vowed to continue his fight for a “new Philippines” in the days ahead.
“I realized it was not yet the time for me to fulfill my dream and goal to lead the nation without any shackles. I will continue to hold on to that dream and that promise. Maybe not now but in the future,” Escudero said.
“For all we know it’s Divine Providence, maybe (these events) were telling me something,” he added.
Escudero’s wife, Christine, said it was a very painful decision for her husband and she only had to support him whatever direction he would go.
Giving way to Noynoy?
Escudero said he also considered his friendship with Aquino, the godfather of his twins, and the LP candidate’s consistent lead in the surveys in deciding.
“I cannot deny that I weighed in the fact that Noynoy is my best friend. If the call of the times shows this is for him, it is not for a true friend to steal or partake of it. Let us just allow other people to do it, not me who stands by a friend,” Escudero said.
Aquino and his running mate, Sen. Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, said they would talk again with Escudero to join their campaign.
Aquino said they had been talking to Escudero for the sake of opposition unity but failed to reach an agreement. Escudero himself disclosed that Aquino visited him at his condominium in Quezon City.
“We are the same in many fronts (in our fight in the opposition),” Aquino said.
He commended Escudero’s decision saying “it is a choice based on principle and on the need to promote a kind of leadership that goes beyond usual politics.”
“I truly believe that he will be a significant contribution to the people's campaign, especially in rallying the youth to support our advocacy for reform. I am grateful for his friendship and I hope that I can convince him to join our team,” Aquino said.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan said Escudero must have realized that it is difficult to go against the LP tandem, as he himself realized when he pulled out of the vice presidential race.
“Perhaps he realized that the Noy-Mar tandem will be difficult to beat given the massive outpouring of sympathy and support from the people. We were quick to recognize Noynoy as a viable alternative as millions of Filipinos, tired of corrupt and abusive brand of politics, readily embraced his candidacy. This is the very reason why I gave up my bid to run and instead supported the people’s push for Noynoy’s bid,” Pangilinan said.
Pangilinan, an LP member, said Escudero made the right decision.
“I believe he made the right decision to not run. We encourage him now to support the candidacies of Noy and Mar. We all need to unite behind the true reform agenda our country desperately needs,” he said.
Still ‘a major political player’
Despite Escudero’s decision to back out of the race for the top two positions in the land, Malacañang still considers him as a major player in the 2010 polls.
Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs Gabriel Claudio said Escudero can make a difference, whoever he decides to support because of his popularity with the voters.
“His deciding not to run is not necessarily the end of his participation in this particular election. Remember that he can also campaign for a particular presidential candidate,” Claudio said.
Claudio said the Palace respects Escudero for making his decision on his own.
“The judgment is entirely his. He is in the best position to determine for himself whether it is wise or otherwise to run. I guess based on the circumstances, he has decided it is not the right time or circumstance to do so,” he said.
“We respect his decision. We must agree with his decision because this is something that affects him directly. Only he has the firm basis to make that choice,” he added.
Nacionalista Party (NP) vice presidential candidate Sen. Loren Legarda also welcomed Escudero’s decision.
“I respect and welcome the decision of (Escudero) and hope he can also help me in fighting poverty, hunger and climate change,” said Legarda, who was Escudero’s colleague in the NPC.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said it was good that Escudero listened to his elders in politics.
Escudero’s father, Salvador, incumbent Sorsogon representative, agreed that Escudero should wait for the right time to run for president because he might not be able to recover if he loses in 2010.
Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, who worked with Escudero in the presidential campaign of the late Fernando Poe Jr., also lauded Escudero’s decision.
“No one can question his principles. Chiz was with us in the opposition when most of the political personalities who now claim to be with the opposition were either with the present administration or were conveniently silent on major issues. I respect his decision and my admiration for him has grown even more,” he said.
Escudero was Poe’s spokesperson while Binay served as Poe’s campaign manager.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Escudero should now focus on campaigning against “pretenders” to the presidency next year.
In June, Lacson withdrew from the presidential race, saying he lacked the resources to keep up with his better-funded opponents
"I hope Chiz will also join me in campaigning against the pretenders to the presidency who are traditional politicians out to deceive and fool us all before and after they get elected," he said.
Escudero supporters in the NPC said his decision to back out of the race has given them freedom to support other candidates.
“We are now free to support whoever candidate we want to campaign for,” Rep. Florencio “Bem” Noel of party-list An Waray and a close friend of Escudero, told reporters yesterday.
He said NPC members, who remained loyal to Escudero even after the senator resigned from the party, heaved a sigh of relief.
“They can now campaign for Gibo (Gilberto Teodoro Jr.), Sen. Manny Villar or Sen. Noynoy (Benigno) Aquino,” he said.
Administration presidential bet Teodoro was head of the NPC bloc in the House of Representatives in his three terms as representative of Tarlac.
Noel said he and other Escudero loyalists have not yet decided whom among the presidential aspirants they would support.
An Escudero supporter, Rep. Mujiv Hataman of Anak Mindanao party-list, has joined Aquino’s camp. He is planning to run for governor of Basilan province.
Earlier, at least 12 NPC congressmen led by Giorgidi Aggabao of Isabela, and three NPC governors, including Jesus Jurdin Romualdo of Camiguin, have expressed support for Teodoro.
Former senator Vicente Soto III of NPC said he supports Escudero’s decision but hinted that it might have affected his plans for 2010.
“It’s his decision. I respect it. I only wish I had known earlier,” he told The STAR without elaborating.
Sotto, who resigned as chairman of the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) last week, said he will remain with the NPC and will run for senator next year despite the party’s lack of presidential and vice presidential candidates. – with Marvin Sy, Jess Diaz, Michael Punongbayan, Jose Rodel Clapano