Palace drops hints on no-el, retracts

Delon Porcalla - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang hinted yesterday at doing away with the May 2016 presidential elections but took it back hours later, saying the general elections “will push through.”

The Palace also advised the public to wait for President Aquino’s endorsement of his preferred candidate if he decides he is not for term extension.

“Let’s wait for the endorsement of the President kung sino ang kanyang kandidato sa 2016 kung sakaling itutuloy ang 2016 elections,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda told TV reporters in an interview in his office.

The phrase on whether the elections would push through triggered speculation that there would be no elections, or “no-el.”

Later in the afternoon, Lacierda issued a clarification: “The President has neither decided on term extension or endorsing a candidate. In both instances, 2016 elections will push through.”

Some quaters considered his earlier statement either a slip of the tongue or a calculated remark in the wake of Aquino’s recent pronouncement that he is open to extending his six-year term and clipping the powers of the judiciary through Charter change.

Lacierda’s comment was in reply to queries on what bearing the support of Aquino’s siblings and uncles will have on Vice President Jejomar Binay, who has declared his intention to run for president in the 2016 elections.

“This shows a healthy vibrancy in Philippine democracy so everybody has his own opinion on who their preferences are for 2016,” Lacierda said when asked about the pro-Binay stand taken by Aquino’s uncle, former senator Agapito Aquino.

Lacierda believes that the endorsement of the President, whose 77 percent peak trust ratings fell to 56 percent recently, will have a significant effect on the anointed one.

Lacierda said the President is chairman of the Liberal Party (LP) and the party has a process in choosing their candidate.

Binay, currently the housing czar and presidential adviser on OFW concerns and also frontrunner in the May 2016 presidential elections, will most likely be pitted against Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, who is expected to be endorsed by Aquino as standard-bearer of the ruling LP.

But while Binay is a family friend of the Aquinos, the President already made hints and has indirectly taken a swipe at the Vice President over what he observed as premature campaigning despite the numerous problems the country is facing.

“If you read the papers daily, it seems many are already campaigning, as if forgetting we have more pressing problems,” he told the crowd in Filipino at the gymnasium in Tuao, Cagayan where a bridge was named after his father, the late senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr.

It was an obvious reference to Binay following his confirmation a few weeks ago about rumors that the ruling LP of Aquino is contemplating on adopting him as its standard-bearer in the May 2016 elections.

“There may be problems in 2016 which is an election year, right? But that’s in 2016 and it is our obligation to address the problems besetting society today, and if we can help our fellowman no matter what side we’re on, it can’t be somewhere down the line, dapat ho now na,” Aquino said.

As far as Malacañang is concerned, the legacy that the revered parents of President Aquino – the late President Corazon Aquino and former senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. – left is not really about selflessness or stepping down from office after one’s term expires, but honesty in government service.

“If you want to know if there’s something I’d like to emphasize, if there’s one thing that the Aquino legacy is all about: it’s about honesty and integrity in government service,” Lacierda told Palace reporters.

He issued the statement in response to the speech Binay delivered during Thursday’s commemoration of the 31st death anniversary of Ninoy, where he said term extension is a threat to democracy.

“Where are they when they speak of the Aquino legacy? The President has been very honest. It’s one of the virtues of the Aquino legacy,” Lacierda said.

Reliable sources also revealed that the Senate probe initiated by Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV on the alleged overpricing of the parking building at the Makati City Hall – where Binay’s mayor-son Junjun holds office – had Aquino’s blessings.

While Aquino and Trillanes come from different parties – LP and Nacionalista Party, respectively – they are political allies. There have also been reports that Trillanes is eyeing the vice presidency in May 2016.

The STAR also learned that Trillanes submitted to Aquino a list of politicians – both administration and opposition officials – that have been gravitating towards Binay at this early stage.

In his recent interview with TV-5, Aquino also disclosed that his sisters Ballsy and popular TV host Kris categorically denied to him that they prefer Binay to be his successor when he steps down on June 2016.

Lawmakers’ advise

Two congressmen advised President Aquino to learn to trust Filipinos in choosing their next leader in 2016 instead of seeking to remain in power.

Deputy Majority Leader Magtanggol Gunigundo and Valenzuela City Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian, in separate statements, said the proposal of some LP stalwarts to amend the political provisions of the Constitution so that Aquino could seek another term is very divisive and would distract the nation from important economic problems.

“Anybody could propose amendments to the Constitution, but the question is, will this really benefit the people? He (Aquino) has to convince them that this (term extension) will benefit them,” Gunigundo said.

He said the benefits of such a move remain “quite debatable” even as he stressed that the National Unity Party (NUP), to which he belongs, has yet to have an official position on the issue.

The lawmaker said while all presidents want to continue to implement their policies, “what’s important are the programs, not the person.”

He said Aquino should leave it to the people to choose their next leaders.

Gatchalian said extending Aquino’s term would not only cause divisiveness but also derail the much-needed legislation to reduce poverty.

“The President should trust the people that they will choose a leader who is honest. He should not underestimate the judgment of the people in making the right choice in 2016,” he said.

The Save Quezon Province Movement, on the other hand, supports the term extension of President Aquino to allow him to continue the fight against corruption.

Hobart Dator Jr., president of Save Quezon, said Aquino’s term extension could be achieved by a constitutional amendment and a national referendum where the people would decide.

Dator believes that Aquino wants to leave a legacy of good governance for the whole country to honor his mother, the late president Corazon, and his father, senator Ninoy, who was murdered during the administration of strongman President Ferdinand Marcos in 1983. – With Paolo Romero, Michelle Zoleta












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