MANILA, Philippines – It seemed an endorsement that was bound to happen. After all, most officials and members of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) had repeatedly expressed support for the tandem of senators Grace Poe and Francis Escudero as early as 2015. (READ: NPC: Grace Poe is our presidential bet)
But for the other presidential candidates, the second largest political party’s endorsement of Poe is no big deal. They claimed not all NPC members would toe the party line, especially at the local level.
Ibarra Gutierrez, spokesman of the Liberal Party-led coalition, refused to acknowledge the official announcement made NPC president and Isabela Representative Giorgidi Aggabao on Monday, February 29.
Ibarra said Aggabao's announcement could not have been the party's official position since it was “just a press briefing”.
“As far as I know there is no official statement from NPC yet, just a press briefing by Congressman Agabao and some others. This same group already claimed last year that NPC was endorsing Poe and Escudero. With all due respect to them, we'd rather wait for a more official, less partial statement,” Gutierrez said.
Peter Laviña, spokesman of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, said they respect the decision and thanked the party for meeting with Duterte earlier.
He, however, said they still expect strong NPC support at the local level, especially in Mindanao, where Duterte hails.
At the height of disqualification issues against Poe, Aggabao said there would only be a "negligible" few from NPC Mindanao that would shift support from Poe to Duterte.
Laviña said: “However, we expect many NPC members not to go with this party decision. NPC leaders for instance in Davao del Sur and Biliran provinces already declared their lot with genuine change under Duterte. We continue to bank on our mass of volunteers and supporters to carry Duterte and Cayetano to victory.”
The camp of Vice President Jejomar Binay had the same sentiments, saying the NPC's support for Poe is “not solid,” citing past experiences.
United Nationalist Alliance spokesman Mon Ilagan, a former NPC member, cited the supposed strong backing for Binay of former Pangasinan Representative Mark Cojuangco, the son of NPC founder Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. (READ: Mark Cojuangco ‘fights for Binay’ in NPC meeting)
“Sa ngayon, good luck, pero alam mo sa NPC din, minsan pagdating sa 'baba, minsan may kanya-kanyang ring diskarte ang mga local officials so 'di rin natin masasabi na kapag ito ay endorsed ng partido ay totally lahat din ay susunod, especially pagdating sa labanan ng lokal na partido,” Ilagan said.
(Right now, good luck. But, you know, with the NPC, sometimes when it comes to the local level, local officials have their own moves. So we cannot say that just because the party endorsed it, everyone would totally follow it, especially when it comes to feud among local parties.)
“Sa NPC din, may mga kaibigan, malalim na kaibigan at kasama si Vice President Binay nung siya ay naging mayor ng Makati, so hindi naman masasabi na solid ang NPC kahit na may endorso kay Senator Grace Poe,” he added.
(In NPC, Vice President Binay has friends, long-time friends and companions since his time as Makati mayor. So we cannot say that the NPC is solid behind Senator Grace Poe even if there's an endorsement.)
Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, for her part, refused to comment on the matter.
'Then why court NPC before?'
Poe's spokesman and Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian hit those who questioned the party's unity. After all, he said, other presidential bets, except Santiago, sought the party's support.
"It's quite intriguing, though, that if they do not believe in the cohesion of the NPC, why did they all court the party in the first place? I think it's unfair to question the unity of the party," he said.
Gatchalian, an NPC member, said the party's statement on Monday was clear – that "90%" of members support Poe and Escudero and that dialogues would still be conducted to convince the rest.
"The statement of the NPC says it all. We are confident that the party will be able to reel in the remaining 10%, after their dialogues are done," Gatchalian said. (READ: Disqualification hurdle: NPC can't endorse Grace Poe yet)
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email email@example.com