MANILA, Philippines – The son of businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco made the case for Vice President Jejomar Binay as the opposition standard-bearer asked the endorsement of the Nationalist People's Coalition (NPC).
Former Pangasinan Representative Mark Cojuangco said he “fought for Binay” (pinaglaban) during a two-hour meeting at the NPC headquarters in Quezon City on Monday, September 7.
It was the first time the Vice President formally met with members of the NPC, most of whom had openly expressed support for Binay's toughest rival, neophyte Senator Grace Poe. (READ: Grace Poe could propel NPC as PH's biggest political party)
Cojuangco highlighted Binay's experience as mayor of Makati for 21 years in trying to convince his party mates to endorse him. Still, NPC's chairman for Pangasinan said being the son of the party's founder and chairman emeritus does not give his opinion extra weight.
“That's my burden. Why will I be restricted to express my position just because I'm the son [of Danding]? I don't think that's fair to me as an NPC member, that I have to be gagged,” Cojuangco told reporters after the meeting.
He added: “It's not an advantage [to be Danding's son] because the other members have an equal say. I'm just a player. I'm just a member. I'm just a soldier at the end of the day, but I want my sentiments known.”
Binay met with 16 members of the NPC, the country's second largest political party. The NPC invited Binay to the meeting as part of its consultation with presidential aspirants to determine who to endorse in 2016.
Binay brought with him 10 members of his political party, the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), including his daughters Senator Nancy Binay and Makati Representative Abigail Binay, and son, suspended Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay.
Cojuangco took the lead in vouching for Binay. In past months, the ex-lawmaker declared support for Binay when the Vice President campaigned in Pangasinan, where he is running for governor.
“It's his depth of local government experience. It's his experience and sense that the decision-making is so centralized and local government units now even have to ask for the signature of the [interior department] just to buy a vehicle,” Cojuangco said.
“Why do we even elect local leaders if they are powerless?”
Cojuangco argued that “imperial Manila” does not know all of the needs of local government units, and has too much control of the budget – a sentiment Binay shares and often emphasizes.
Watch Cojuangco's full explanation here:
He stressed that supporting Binay is a decision the entire party must make. “We didn't debate today. Today was a day to listen to VP Binay. The other days were days to listen to the other candidates. When the crunch time comes, then all these two cents worth will be put in the pot and we will sort it out.”
Binay was tight-lipped about the meeting, simply calling it “promising.”
He said he is friends with “95%” of the NPC, but refused to comment on his chances of securing an endorsement.
“Bawat boto kailangan. Ito ay second largest political party dito sa Pilipinas. 'Tsaka mayroon naman kaming pinagsamahan individually ng NPC members,” Binay told reporters. (Every vote counts. This is the second largest political party in the Philippines. And we have relationships with the individual NPC members.)
The NPC has 2,000 members, including two senators, 45 congressmen, and 14 governors.
No stand on Binay corruption allegations
Binay said there will be no second meeting between him and the NPC. Still, he hopes the party will support his candidacy and coalesce with UNA.
“That's why I'm here. I hope we will be together in the election,” the Vice President said.
Besides Cojuangco, Binay counts as his NPC supporters former Speaker Arnulfo Fuentebella and son Camarines Sur Representative Felix William “Wimpy” Fuentebella. Former Camarines Sur Govenor Luis Villafuerte is another Binay supporter in the party.
NPC spokesman and Quezon Representative Mark Enverga said that the party's criteria for choosing who to support are the candidate's economic development program and “transparent governance.”
During the meeting, Binay presented his defense on the corruption allegations against him. The Vice President faces multiple plunder complaints and parallel investigations over claims he approved the overpricing of Makati infrastructure projects, and acquired ill-gotten wealth.
Still, the NPC does not have a stand on the corruption scandal.
“His defense is it's merely politicking. The timing is suspect. The people behind it are suspect. What's important to us is to hear the platform. We'd like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and there are no court cases yet,” Enverga said.
Cojuangco backed Binay's position.
“Noong araw, bida nila si VP Binay. Ngayong nagpahayag siya na tatakbo siyang presidente, naglabasan itong lahat. Ang question ko, credible ba ang witnesses against him? For me, maraming witness diyan na doubtful ang character. Dapat iyan masuri sa isang court of law. Madaling mangwasak ng tao,” he said.
(Before, Binay was their main man. Now that he declared he is running for president, all these allegations came out. My question is: are the witnesses against him credible? For me, they are of doubtful character. They should be examined under a court of law. It is easy to destroy a person.)
Binay also discussed his platform of ensuring “inclusive growth” for the masses, a message he harps on as he criticizes the lack of a trickle-down effect of economic growth under the Aquino administration.
Sotto: 'I cannot not support Grace'
Among those who attended the meeting were NPC president and Isabela Representative Giorgidi Aggabao, and NPC members Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, former agriculture secretary now Bohol Representative Arthur Yap, Valenzuela Representative Sherwin Gatchalian, and brother Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian.
Representative Gatchalian was initially a staunch Binay supporter but has since kept his distance from the Vice President.
From UNA, president and Navotas Representative Toby Tiangco was present along with party vice president and Senator Gregorio Honasan II.
Enverga said the NPC will support only one candidate. It will make a decision in the next 3 weeks, or even after the filing of candidacies in October.
The congressman stressed that the elder Cojuangco no longer takes part in decision-making since turning over party matters to members in 1998 after his failed 1992 presidential bid.
“We have always been unified when it comes to decision-making. It would be very difficult for anyone to make a decision, deciding on one person out of many. But we would like to remain as we are, a party that is united,” said the NPC spokesman.
Yet in the meeting alone, it was hard to get a consensus. While Cojuangco lobbied for Binay, Sotto was firm in his support for Poe.
“If Senator Grace decides to run, I cannot not support her. [If Binay is the party choice], I will cross the bridge when I get there,” said Sotto.
Asked who most NPC members are backing, the comedian-senator laughed. “Mas mabuti pang 'di ko sagutin muna. Pangit naman may mga bisita tayo rito. (It's best I don't answer that because we have a visitor here.) – Rappler.com