LP walks tightrope in vote-rich Pangasinan after NPC breakup

LP walks tightrope in vote-rich Pangasinan after NPC breakup
Outgoing Governor Amado Espino has left NPC and wants to join the LP. What keeps President Aquino's party from taking in the popular Pangasinan politician?

MANILA, Philippines – The Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), the country’s second biggest political party, suffered a setback in vote-rich Pangasinan with the exit last year of Governor Amado Espino and Represetative Leopoldo Bataoil, two popular politicians.

The ruling Liberal Party (LP) could swoop in, adopt the two politicians who remain party-less to date, and establish a stronger presence in the  traditional NPC stronghold that has 1.6 million voters. 

But the administration party is stalling, conscious that if it joins the fray in Pangasinan, it could sabotage hopes to keep intact its nationwide coalition with the NPC.

“Paano makukuha si Espino eh they’re hoping na makuha si NPC?” said an LP member in the House of Representatives. (How can they get Espino when they’re still hoping to get NPC?)

Local politics is never so simple. Pangasinan is a case study of how political movements cannot be decided on the ground as the country waits for presidential wannabes to finalize their plans, specifically survey frontrunner Senator Grace Poe who is assumed to get NPC support.

Espino has been applying to become a member of LP, and he has been talking to the camp of presidential candidate Manuel Roxas II, according to 3 Rappler sources in Pangasinan.

The governor is on his 3rd and last term, but his son and namesake, Amado Espino III, has declared his gubernatorial bid. A source said Espino thinks it’s best for his son to run as an administration bet if he is going to beat NPC candidate Mark Cojuangco, a former congressman and the son of NPC founder Eduardo Cojuangco Jr.

Here lies the big problem for LP.

The son of Boss Danding

While LP had no problems attempting to invade Pangasinan in the 2013 elections despite its coalition agreement with the NPC, it’s a different case this time. It would mean going against the son of the NPC founder himself.

“Hindi naman ordinaryo na NPC si Mark kaya complicated,” said another LP member. (Mark is not an ordinary NPC member, so it becomes complicated.)

UNITED NO MORE. Pangasinan Governor Amado Espino and the son of NPC founder Eduardo Cojuangco, Mark, go separate ways

This is why LP is making Espino wait, according to the sources. The administration cannot make Espino and his group become party members while Roxas is still courting the NPC to stay with the LP-led coalition and support his presidential bid.

It will be unlikely for NPC to support Roxas should Grace Poe decide to run against him. The senator has held two public meetings with NPC members. (READ: Grace Poe could propel NPC as PH’s biggest political party)

But a possible middleground might work for LP: for NPC to declare a “free zone” and allow its members to decide individually who they’re going to support. (READ: Divided NPC? Mar Roxas meets with key members)

Talks with NP’s Alan Cayetano

While LP is stalling, Rappler learned Espino is also talking to Senator Alan Cayetano of the Nacionalita Party, according to two sources, and to PDP-Laban, according to one source.

The senator made a visit to the province recently. 

One source, who is close the governor, said they are under the impression that NP, the 3rd biggest political party, will opt to stay in the LP-led administration coalition. It means Espino will still support Roxas even if he ends up joining NP.

Potential candidates from NP have, however, been talking to camps other than LP.

Roxas continues to court Poe to become his running mate. Still, Cayetano’s name is among those floated as possible alternatives. 

Mark for Binay

Local politics got even more complex when Mark Cojuangco declared his support for the presidential bid of Vice President Jejomar Binay, a different position from what some NPC stalwarts in Manila have taken.

He has been accompanying Binay in activities in Pangasinan, a move that put local and national NPC members in an uncomfortable position. 

Still, new pronouncements from Cojuangco have been helpful. He said his support for Binay is a “personal position” he will recommend to the NPC leadership. He maintained that in the end he will abide by the NPC decision.

Despite the party’s breakup in Pangasinan, Valenzuela City Representative Rex Gatchalian, the NPC spokesperson, is confident that the province will remain an NPC bailiwick.

“Congressman Mark Cojuangco is running a very strong campaign for the governorship. He has assembled a formidable machinery in the province composed of numerous incumbent board members, mayors, vice mayors, and councilors,” Gatchalian said.

“The strength of Congressman Mark’s machinery is the strength of NPC in the province and it will propel NPC candidates to victory in the province,” he added.

The split

Espino and his group split from NPC when Cojuangco announced his gubernatorial bid in 2014 supposedly without consulting his party mates.

Cojuangco also made the announcement on the same day Espino delivered his State of the Province Address.

“He (governor) was offended. That day was supposed to be the shining moment of the governor. Nasapawan (The spotlight was stolen from him). The rest is history,” an ally of the governor told Rappler. 

Bataoil, the popular representative of the 2nd district of Pangasinan, was himself preparing to run for governor. He backed out when Cojuangco declared his bid, acknowledging that he can’t match the resources of the NPC founder.

The Espino camp is floating a survey showing his son leading Cojuangco, but Gatchalian dismissed it. “Who commissioned the survey? What was the sample size and survey design? The NPC knows that Congressman Mark Cojuangco will be the next governor of Pangasinan,” he said.

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