Escudero quits NPC
- Christina Mendez () - October 29, 2009 - 12:00am

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MANILA, Philippines - Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero bolted the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) yesterday, dashing expectations that he would be the party’s standard-bearer in the 2010 elections.

Escudero announced his resignation from the NPC at the Club Filipino days after the other top contender for the party’s top slot in 2010 – Sen. Loren Legarda – declared she is running instead for vice president.

Businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. is the founder and chief financier of the NPC.

Escudero appealed for more time to decide if he would run for president but ruled out defecting to another party, stressing that being attached to vested groups might weigh down his commitment to public service if he is elected president.

He also appealed for understanding from former partymates, particularly Legarda.

“Ang partido lamang dapat niya ay Pilipinas at ang kanyang mga kapartido ay lahat ng Pilipino (His party should only be the Philippines and his partymates the Filipino people),” he said of an ideal presidential contender.

Escudero, a former Sorsogon congressman, joined NPC in 1998.

The NPC, meanwhile, downplayed the resignation of Escudero, who was widely believed to be the party’s choice for presidential bet.

“Please give me a few more days for that,” he told reporters when asked if he was running as an independent candidate.

He said in Filipino that he wanted to rest and that only now could he breathe easy, adding that his lips were no longer sealed and his hands no longer tied, so he could decide  freely in the coming days.

In what sounded like a campaign pitch, Escudero told supporters he is no heir to a political throne, or a billionaire landlord like other candidates.

Escudero said he and Legarda have not talked since her declaration last Friday.

“I’ve been saying that any decision to run or not to run for any position should be a personal matter and should not be entrusted to anyone,” he said in Filipino at a press briefing after his announcement.

Visible among the crowd during Escudero’s announcement were supporters of detained Senator Antonio Trillanes IV of the Magdalo group and members of the Fernando Poe Jr. for President Movement (FPJPM).

‘New brand of politics’

Escudero’s campaign manager Lito Banayo said the senator’s move was an affirmation of his ideals.

“We want to deliver a political statement. Chiz Escudero is a young man who wants a new brand of politics in this country. This is what we call people politics,” Banayo said in an interview after Escudero’s announcement.

Banayo said Escudero is open to running as an independent and said there won’t be any alliance with tainted groups or political parties.

“He (Escudero) has clearly said that if he will join a party, he won’t join somebody or a group which does not personify good governance,” Banayo said.

“It was a very painful decision for him. But in the end, it was a decision that had to be made because his brand of politics – people politics – would eventually contradict party politics,” Banayo said.

Except for his father, former Rep. Salvador Escudero, and retired Philippine National Police chief Gen. Avelino Razon, who is running for mayor of Manila, no political bigwigs were present when Escudero made his announcement.

Unfazed

“We will remain steadfast. We believe that our platform of government can lead us to victory even as we look forward to a strong performance in next year’s election,” Rex Gatchalian, NPC spokesman, said at a press conference.

“Senator Escudero’s decision does not diminish the fact that we remain in a solid position to actively participate in the election,” he said.

Legarda, Rep. Faustino Dy, party chairman and Pangasinan Rep. Mark Cojuangco attended the press briefing.

Cojuangco said the party is fully behind the vice presidential bid of Legarda.

“For my part, I am fully determined to pursue my advocacies and programs for the Filipino people that I have outlined,” Legarda said.

“I respect the decision of Senator Chiz Escudero to resign from the Nationalist People’s Coalition and understand the noble sentiments behind it,” Legarda said.

“With millions unemployed, poverty and hunger spreading, natural calamities becoming more ferocious because of climate change, our health, educational and justice institutions on the verge of breakdown, our weakened economy pummeled by the global financial meltdown, even as two insurgencies rage without letup, the 2010 elections are even more crucial in determining our people’s fate,” she said.

“I hope that more self-sacrificing and patriotic individuals will join me in this decisive battle for our people’s ultimate redemption from misery,” Legarda said.

Surprise, disbelief

While claiming they were unfazed by Escudero’s resignation, NPC members said they were stunned by the development.

Rep. Cojuangco said he was not aware that the prospective NPC presidential candidate would resign.

He said he had expected Escudero to announce his presidential bid at 6 p.m. yesterday as he had scheduled days before.

Cojuangco also said he did not know if the reported one-on-one meeting between Escudero and his father, businessman Danding Cojuangco, on Tuesday night took place.

Some congressmen speculated that Escudero’s resignation had something to do with the alleged meeting.

The elder Cojuangco had voiced his preference for Escudero over Legarda as the party’s standard-bearer. But he said survey results shortly before the elections would determine who between the two NPC senators would be the presidential candidate.

Escudero has always led Legarda in surveys, prompting people to expect that he would be NPC’s presidential standard-bearer.

Rizal Rep. Jack Duavit, NPC secretary-general, claimed Escudero’s sudden resignation caught him unawares.

Another NPC congressman, Rodolfo Plaza of Agusan del Sur, said he only learned of the development from the media.

For his part, Speaker Prospero Nograles said the situation will remain fluid from the first day to the deadline of filing of certificates of candidacy from Nov. 20 to 30.

“It’s an open door policy that has made the political scene fluid. I have long been an advocate of (going) back to the two-party system because that makes programs more important than personalities,” he said.

“Let’s watch developments in the next two weeks. Our mental deadline is Nov. 19. Till then, everything is pure imagination and speculation without factual basis. Better to wait and see,” said Nograles.

Militant Rep. Satur Ocampo of party-list Bayan Muna, who is included in the senatorial slate of Sen. Manny Villar, said he, too, was surprised.

“It could augur well for the people if Chiz really decides to be his own man to better serve our country and our people,” the former NDF spokesman said.

LP standard-bearer Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III said he hoped Escudero would be able to better serve the country with his move.

“He is my friend and I understand it’s an agonizing process, we’ve been through that too,” Aquino said.

He denied reports that his uncle Danding had decided to support him instead of Escudero and Legarda.

“I haven’t talked to my uncle. The last we talked was during the senatorial elections (in May 2007) or a little after that,” Aquino said.

But he said offers of help from anybody would be welcome as long as they were under “terms of endearment.”

Aquino admitted he and Sen. Manuel Roxas II had tried to convince Escudero to unite with them as opposition after which they would decide who would run for president and vice president under one banner.

But he said Escudero was not ready to lose his “flexibility” at the time.

LP campaign manager Florencio “Butch” Abad said it might not be difficult for Escudero to run as an independent at this time because of the current political landscape.

Former senator Vicente Sotto III said Escudero was following the footsteps of the late actor Fernando Poe Jr. with his decision to run as an independent.

“I think he stated most of his reasons which I believe are the same reasonable and credible principles (that FPJ stood for when he ran for president),” Sotto told The STAR.

NPC Cordillera regional chairman and former Baguio City mayor Bernardo Vergara said the lack of support from Danding prompted Escudero’s resignation. “Blood is thicker than water,” he said referring to the businessman’s preference for his nephew and administration candidate Gilbert Teodoro Jr.

Ruling party open to Chiz

The administration party is open to Escudero even if it means teaming him up with Teodoro.

“I would like to think that we’re just being proven correct with our assessments as has been happening for the past months or so, and the latest being today,” Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said.

“We have to look forward to a positive development,” he said.

When asked whether the tandem of Teodoro and Escudero was acceptable to the ruling party, Ermita said: “Let’s just say that in politics, really nothing is impossible and so that could very well happen.”

He said it would not be a problem for Lakas-Kampi-CMD to have Escudero as its vice presidential candidate even if he has been packaging himself as a staunch critic of President Arroyo.

Among those being considered as Teodoro’s running mate are Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, Tourism Secretary Ace Durano, and Sen. Bong Revilla.

But Teodoro said an alliance between the ruling party and the NPC is unlikely with Escudero’s resignation.

“It’s hazy. I don’t think so but there are no blinders,” Teodoro said.

“I am leaving this matter to party leadership. I am no longer Gilberto Teodoro here because I am now representing the party,” he said when asked if he is open to a tandem with Escudero. – With Aurea Calica, Delon Porcalla, Jess Diaz, Perseus Echeminada, Artemio Dumlao, Jaime Laude, Michael Punongbayan, Paolo Romero

AQUINO BANAYO ESCUDERO LEGARDA NPC PARTY PEOPLE
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