Second of two parts
MANILA, Philippines – Constructive opposition, loyal opposition, but not opposition.
This is how Vice President Jejomar Binay’s United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) positions itself. (Read the first part of this series: Binay and the politics of firsts)
How then does it differ from the ruling Liberal Party (LP)?
“We’re not elite. We are the party of the masses,” UNA spokesperson JV Bautista tells Rappler.
For Navotas Rep Tobias “Toby” Tiangco, UNA secretary-general, the alliance’s pro-poor identity comes from the brands of its leaders.
“Basically, UNA is ‘Erap para sa mahirap’ combined with VP Binay’s ‘Gaganda ang buhay’ so ang ibig sabihin nito, kung gaganda ang buhay, dapat magsimula sa mahirap.” (UNA is ‘Erap for the poor’ combined with VP Binay’s ‘Life will be better’ so this means, if life will be better, it has to start with the poor.)
Binay and Estrada teamed up to form UNA, an alliance between their political parties: the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) and Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP).
‘Motherhood lines not enough’
Fighting poverty is not a cause that is exclusive to UNA.
In 2010, LP’s Benigno Aquino III won an overwhelming mandate as president on the promise that he will reduce poverty by battling corruption.
Binay’s partymate, Sen Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, says UNA’s overarching platform is to restore democracy and the rule of law. He admits that there are overlaps with the advocacies of UNA and other parties.
“The difference is look at our track record. Do we implement what we say? Do we walk the talk? Sa track record na iyan. Doon na magkakatalo.” (The track record will spell the difference.)
Pimentel says 2013 is different from the 2007 midterm polls, where the lines were clearly drawn between an unpopular Arroyo administration and the opposition.
“Candidates must now distinguish their stand on an issue on the details because on the motherhood level, we will sound the same,” he says. “You have to be specific. You can’t just say, ‘We will minimize poverty, fight corruption.’ The question is how?”
Pro-Arroyo vs ‘inclusive leadership’
This early, critics challenge UNA to draw the battle lines on issues like the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Yet the alliance is neither for nor against removing Corona. It claims it is only after a fair trial. However, a close ally of Binay, Sen Francis Escudero, admitted cautioning President Aquino about his “inordinate focus” on Corona.
Former Senate President Ernesto Maceda, a key Estrada ally who is now part of UNA, also told reporters that Binay will benefit from a Corona acquittal.
Binay quickly distanced himself from Maceda’s statement.
In April, a leaked document showed that Binay had asked President Aquino to approve the controversial plea bargain deal between the Ombudsman and disgraced ex-military comptroller retired Maj Gen Carlos Garcia. That deal, which caused the dropping of the plunder suit against Garcia, angered anti-corruption groups and led to the impeachment of then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.
Binay questioned the timing and motive for the leak, coming on the heels of the formation of UNA.
The Vice President also draws criticism for the likely inclusion of ex-Arroyo allies in UNA’s senatorial slate. (Read: Binay slams LP ‘hypocrisy’)
Among those being considered are Zambales Rep Milagros “Mitos” Magsaysay, resigned Sen Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri, former Sen Richard Gordon and Cebu Gov Gwendolyn Garcia.
Within UNA, there are reservations about welcoming former political rivals.
In a chance interview with Rappler, San Juan Rep Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito explained, “It’s just human that after 9 years of being treated harshly by the administration of GMA, of course, it’s just a human reaction.”
Ejercito’s father, former President Joseph Estrada has already forgiven. Early May, he raised Zubiri’s hand as a new member of PMP.
Zubiri was part of the so-called Spice Boys, neophyte congressmen who criticized Estrada and pushed for his ouster. During his oath-taking, Zubiri apologized to Estrada.
Magsaysay, a staunch Aquino critic, is also set to join Binay’s PDP-Laban.
Bautista says what critics call a flaw is actually Binay’s edge.
“VP Binay is an inclusive kind of a leader. He does not shut out anyone if the leader can help in strengthening the country,” he says. “He is able to collect together various political leaders and attract them under the fold of his political party and that is working now to the advantage of UNA.”
To other political players who know him, Binay is not being inclusive; he’s just being himself – the consummate politician.
But Tiangco says UNA should not be singled out for having strange bedfellows.
“It’s not only this campaign and it’s not only our coalition …. Kahit tingnan mo ‘yung Team Unity nila GMA noong 2007, ang daming strange bedfellows doon diba? Ganyan ang pulitika.” (Look at GMA’s Team Unity in 2007, didn’t they have many strange bedfellows? That’s politics for you.)
Pressure on Pimentel
So far, UNA has 5 confirmed senatorial bets: Pimentel and Joey de Venecia from PDP-Laban, Ejercito from PMP, Cagayan Rep Juan Ponce “Jack” Enrile Jr, and Sen Gregorio Honasan.
Bautista says negotiations are ongoing for the inclusion of Sen Loren Legarda, Zubiri, Magsaysay, Gordon, Garcia, and Maceda.
Initially, Bautista told Rappler that Zubiri was part of the so-called sure candidates but backtracked in deference to Pimentel’s continuing objection. The rift is rooted in the 2007 election protest Pimentel filed against Zubiri. Watch him explain here:
With the pronouncements of Binay, Estrada and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile in favor of Zubiri, Pimentel might be forced to give in. The senator admits that being PDP-Laban president also puts him in a delicate position.
“There is really extra pressure or burden on me on what I will do if the decision is not to my liking. I will treat that as a challenge when it comes. It will be a challenge on my personality, my political maturity if you can call it that. Let’s see.”
UNA leaders are confident the dispute will be resolved soon. It has a bigger battle to prepare for: slaying Goliath.
‘LP caught unawares’
Binay’s coalition is fielding a full senatorial slate and candidates for most local positions in 2013.
For the local races, Tiangco’s team is fixing the database of the two parties and the list of Binay and Estrada supporters who are not members of PDP-Laban and PMP. This will be the starting point for the arbitration process.
Besides setting up headquarters, UNA is busy forging local alliances. In the past months, party leaders have been going around provinces to swear in new members.
With Garcia’s inclusion, UNA got a head start in vote-rich Cebu. It also lured prominent recruits like boxing champ Sarangani Rep Manny Pacquiao, Zubiri of Bukidnon, and Manila Vice Mayor Isko Moreno.
The preparations seem to have stunned the LP and Aquino allies. (Read: A wake-up call for PNoy’s ruling party)
Bautista points out, “I think it was Senator Sonny Trillanes who is now identified with the Liberal Party who practically excoriated LP saying, ‘You are caught unawares. You are not prepared.’ Sa Tagalog, natutulog kayo sa pansitan.” Watch here:
Ironically, it was the LP that gave the Binay camp the cue to start preparing. In a December 2011 interview, Aquino told ABS-CBN’s Lynda Jumilla that it “might be difficult” to include Binay’s group in the administration’s 2013 ticket.
Bautista says, “We are not offended by that because we believe it is a very sound and practical political statement because LP is going to put up a candidate in 2016. That’s the unstated part.”
Initially, Pimentel made overtures for LP to join UNA but to no avail. He knows why.
“Because the party president of LP is Mar Roxas who has an existing electoral protest against our party chairman (Binay). So naturally, PDP-Laban resents the fact that LP’s president is still contesting the election of our chairman.”
Matching of strength
They say they know what they are up against and what is at stake.
“Now, the LP enjoys the strength of incumbency but that will be tested in 2013,” says Bautista. “It’s really a matching of strength between UNA and the other party that will be the defining character of the 2013 elections.”
With a year ahead of the midterm polls and 4 years before the presidential election, could UNA’s founder just be way too early? – Rappler.com