Binay's UNA to launch in scandal-hit Makati on July 1

MANILA, Philippines – Vice President Jejomar Binay will launch his political party in the city where he made a name as a local chief executive but also where he became notorious for alleged corruption. 

Binay's United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), an opposition party, will formally launch at the Makati Coliseum on July 1, a date meant to highlight the party's name meaning first in English, and its founder's childhood ambition to be the country's most powerful official.

UNA interim president Navotas Representative Tobias “Toby” Tiangco told Rappler that the choice of venue is meant to highlight Binay's experience as Makati mayor of 21 years. 

Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay 'di makatutungo sa paroroonan. Saan ka ba naging Binay? Kung hindi niya pinagserbisyuhan nang maayos ang mga kababayan sa Makati, 'di siya aabot dito,” Tiangco said. 

(The person who does not look back at his beginnings won't go far in life. Where did he become Binay? If he did not serve his constituents in Makati well, he would not reach this stature.) 

Binay will be the keynote speaker at the event, where he will lay out his vision and policy statements as the opposition standard-bearer. The Vice President heads the opposition despite sitting in the Cabinet as housing czar and presidential adviser on overseas Filipino workers' concerns. (READ: Will Binay resign from the Cabinet soon?)

Those attending the launch are members of the Binay dynasty: the Vice President's children Senator Nancy Binay, Makati Representative Abigail Binay, and Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr.

Also invited are UNA members, including party interim vice president Senator Gregorio Honasan II, and boxing champion Sarangani Representative Manny Pacquiao. Pacquiao is UNA's provincial chairman for Sarangani. 

The launch will come ahead of President Benigno Aquino III's announcement of his chosen candidate after his State of the Nation Address on July 27. Aquino is the chairman of the ruling Liberal Party (LP). 

UNA interim secretary general JV Bautista dismissed statements that the Makati launch will only remind the public of allegations in a Senate inquiry that Binay rigged bids, used dummies, and plundered funds from infrastructure projects of the city. 

“After 21 hearings and 10 months of investigation, they remain unproven allegations. This is precisely because they are trying to destroy the image of Makati. But we are insisting that Makati is still the model for all local government units in the country, and it is the springboard for Binay's quest for the presidency,” Bautista told Rappler. 

The allegations are also the subject of investigations by the Ombudsman and the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC). The Court of Appeals granted the AMLC's request to freeze for 6 months the bank accounts of Binay and his alleged dummies. (READ: Binay to launch party, ads despite freeze order)

NATIONAL OFFICERS. UNA will elect permanent national officers during its party launch on July 1. File Rappler photo

NATIONAL OFFICERS. UNA will elect permanent national officers during its party launch on July 1.

File Rappler photo

'Local organization more important'

Binay's party is the youngest to contest the 2016 polls but will be the political vehicle of the front runner in election surveys. 

The Commission on Elections only accredited UNA in February. In 2013, UNA was a coalition between Binay's Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), and former President now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada's Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP). (READ: Binay and the politics of firsts)

Binay converted UNA into a political party last year after bolting his party of 3 decades, PDP-Laban. Binay had a rift with PDP-Laban president Aquilino Pimentel III, who protested the decision to draft resigned Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri as a senatorial bet even after he accused Zubiri of cheating him in the 2007 polls. 

Tiangco said that the main purpose of the July launch is to elect permanent national officers. Up for election are the party's president, vice president, secretary general, treasurer, legal counsel, and chairman. 

“We have to organize already, and formalize the political organization. We have to elect the officers, and then later on, organize down to the local level. We will elect the regional, provincial, local officials, which are very important,” Tiangco said. 

Bautista said that the launch will be Binay's “debut.” 

“It's a coming out party to announce to all that UNA is now in the process of preparing a complete slate from president down to the last councilor in the remotest municipality in the country to fight it out in 2016. The Vice President's speech is the highlight of the event.” 

Yet the launch will not include an announcement of Binay's running mate and senatorial slate. Tiangco said that these will likely be finalized right before the filing of candidacies in October. He explained that local organization matters more to the Vice President. 

“It's more important that we organize the party at the local level. The vice presidential candidate is just one person. Here, we are talking about 81 provinces, 1,500 municipalities. This is a harder job than looking for a running mate,” said Tiangco who heads the search committee for Binay's running mate. 

Binay is known for having a deep grassroots machinery due to his personal ties with local leaders, using Makati's so-called sister city network, and his connections in the Boy Scouts of the Philippines and the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity. 

More Senate bets, possible alliances 

The Vice President has yet to name a running mate after Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, Senator Grace Poe, and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte publicly rejected his statement that he is considering teaming up with them. Since the rebuff, UNA officials said they want to keep talks “low-key.” 

As for UNA's senatorial slate, Bautista said that the list of those being considered expanded from 14 to 18: 

Tiangco and Bautista said that UNA has yet to formalize any coalition with other parties, but is keen to partner with the following: 

Some NPC members have said that their party might endorse the tandem of Poe and Senator Francis Escudero, but Binay said he will wait for the party's official stand. 

'Grace Poe statements not an attack' 

Tiangco and Bautista hit headlines last week for questioning the eligibility of Poe to run for president or vice president even if the senator has yet to declare any political plans. 

Tiangco questioned Poe's residency qualifications while Bautista raised the citizenship issue in two separate press conferences that analysts and netizens said backfired on Binay. (READ: The Vice and the backlash)

Were the moves part of UNA's preparations to boost Binay's candidacy? The two officials said they were not instructed to criticize Poe. 

Tiangco was not reprimanded for his press briefing but he can no longer speak on the issue. “I was advised not to further comment on that matter.” 

Bautista had the same line but ended up defending his and Tiangco's pronouncements.  

“These are all legitimate and fair questions. It's not an attack. Our citizens will be shortchanged if, at the end of the day, you will find out that a favored candidate is not qualified under the Constitution. That's a big disservice.” – Rappler.com