MANILA, Philippines – Now that the campaign is over and Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III of the Liberal Party (LP) is poised to become the country’s next president, let us take a look at the men and women around the president-apparent who helped propel a most unlikely candidate – who joined the presidential race barely eight months ago – to the presidency, those who give him counsel and support.
Aquino has kept a close circle of friends for many, many years, and most of them joined him during the grueling campaign. They include his best friend Romy Mercado, lawyer Galland Diaz, lawyer Chito Cruz and Quezon City Councilor Joseph Juico.
His cousin, Rafael “Rapa” Lopa, also accompanies Aquino on sorties but refused to take a major role in his campaign, preferring to stick to his work in the Aquino Foundation.
Also visible during the campaign was Quezon Rep. Lorenzo “Erin” Tañada III, LP spokesman who was with Aquino in the House of Representatives since Aquino served as Tarlac congressman for nine years.
The sisters of Aquino - Maria Elena “Ballsy” Cruz, Aurora Corazon “Pinky” Abellada, Victoria Eliza “Viel” Dee and television host and actress Kristina Bernadette “Kris” Yap - stepped out of the background and actively campaigned for him and were in charge of the finances of the campaign, although they revealed in interviews that Aquino was the one who decided on which campaign donations they would accept. Cruz and Abellada were also part of the executive committee deciding on campaign strategies for Aquino.
Aquino disclosed he was also consulting Ballsy and Pinky as regards the people he would appoint to his Cabinet.
Sen. Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, aside from being the running mate of Aquino, is also LP president and chaired the campaign’s executive committee after former Sen. Sergio “Serge” Osmeña III, who was campaign coordinator, left.
Osmeña was reportedly the one who helped in the media aspect of the campaign instead and also worked to strengthen the delivery of the campaign message through the media.
Osmeña left the Aquino campaign reportedly to concentrate on his own campaign as senatorial candidate, but there was also talk that some of his ideas did not sit well with Aquino.
Quezon City administrator Pacquito “Jojo” Ochoa Jr. was also a member of the executive committee and was the one briefing Aquino about his campaign schedules. He is said to be Aquino’s choice for executive secretary. Aquino has described him as a long-time legal counsel who had been helping him since he entered politics.
Ochoa was initially considered to head the legal team called PiNoy Lawyers tasked to guard the votes but this was later taken over by the Aquino-Roxas Bantay Balota team headed by former defense secretary Avelino “Nonong” Cruz. Aquino said Ochoa was also assisting him in the transition period leading up to his inauguration.
Supposedly tapped to be the next “Little President,” Ochoa has been in the news lately and questions about his background abound. Ochoa finished economics at the University of Santo Tomas and law at the Ateneo de Manila. He is founding partner of the Marcos Ochoa Serapio & Tan (MOST) law firm from September 2006 but is currently on leave.
He became Quezon City administrator in 2001 and special assistant of Mayor Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte.
Their fathers and namesakes - the late Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. and former Pulilan, Bulacan mayor Paquito Ochoa Sr. - were friends.
Sen. Francis Escudero and Lito Banayo were part of the media operations for the campaign along with Maria Montelibano, the communications head of the campaign. Montelibano is a relative of Aquino and was chief of Radio-TV Malacañang during the time of Aquino’s mother, former President Corazon Aquino.
Montelibano was also identified as one of the heads of Tuloy PiNoy with Mikee Cojuangco-Jaworski, Aquino’s cousin, as president.
Aquino said his uncle, Jose “Peping” Cojuangco, did not really have much participation in his campaign, but reports had it that Peping, Mikee and her husband Dudot Jaworski, along with Escudero, Banayo and Montelibano, supported United Opposition’s vice presidential bet Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay.
Yolanda Ong was the communications director of the campaign, with former trade secretary Johnny Santos as head. Ong is the managing director of Campaigns and Grey, a public relations and advertising firm, that conceptualized the “Kung Walang Corrupt, Walang Mahirap” campaign slogan of Aquino and Roxas.
Aside from Santos, other members of the “Hyatt 10” or the group of Cabinet members who resigned from the Arroyo administration in 2005 to protest alleged election fraud were part of the campaign, including former education secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad, who served as overall campaign manager and member of the executive committee.
Former finance secretary Cesar Purisima worked with Viel Dee on finances, and also sat as one of the members of executive committee.
Former social welfare secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman was head of a volunteer group for Aquino and Roxas as well as the People Power Volunteer Center put up for the LP team. She also took charge of events involving the urban poor. Aquino said she would get back her old post under his administration.
Edwin Lacierda is a constitutional law professor and member of the Black and White Movement who serves as Aquino’s spokesman and who also sat in the executive committee.
Julia Abad, daughter of campaign manager Butch, is Aquino’s chief of staff and oversees Aquino’s schedule and engagements and manages the affairs of his Senate staff.
The people behind Aquino work out of two separate offices. Ochoa, Montelibano and the PiNoy Lawyers are in an old house on Samar Avenue, while the Hyatt 10 group along with the staff of Aquino and Roxas are in Cubao, both in Quezon City.
The groups reportedly split because of the support of Escudero, Montelibano, Peping and Mikee Cojuangco for Binay. But the Aquino camp denied this, since only Escudero openly campaigned for Binay.
Aquino has repeatedly downplayed the supposed power struggle within his camp, saying he had put his foot down on the bickering factions and said he was leaving his door open so those who would only sow intrigues could leave.
Aquino said his group was not monolithic and differing opinions were part of the process. The most important thing was that when they would arrive at a consensus, “everyone must follow.”