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Tolentino and the LP: A graceful exit

MANILA, Philippines – After almost a week of silence, embattled Metropolitan Manila Development (MMDA) Chairman Francis Tolentino finally said what many in the ruling Libera Party (LP) had always wanted him to do: leave the party’s Senate slate

Tolentino, chairman of the MMDA since 2010, made the announcement in a quick chance interview with reporters on Wednesday, October 7. The former Tagaytay City mayor has been fodder for headlines the past week, after he was credited for hiring an all-girls group to perform during an LP legislator’s birthday party in Laguna. 

Videos and photos of the performance saw the "Playgirls” gyrating and dry-humping audience members on stage during the party, which was preceded by the oath taking of new party members led by no less than LP standard-bearer Manuel Roxas II. 

Roxas distanced himself from the performance as LP members, including Roxas’ running-mate Camarines Sur Representative Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo, condemned the dance. Roxas said an investigation would be launched to probe into the incident. 

Sources close to the LP campaign told Rappler that Tolentino was left with two choices after several meetings among top party officials: either to leave the slate himself or be unceremoniously dropped when the party announces its full Senate slate on Friday, October 9. 

Tolentino chose the first option. 

Another source said the decision to boot Tolentino, whose survey numbers weren’t high anyway, was finalized as early as Monday, October 5. It was the day the party was supposed to unveil its vice presidential bet and full Senate slate. 

The LP eventually decided to only announce Robredo as Roxas’ running mate to put the spotlight on her. Tolentino was nowhere to be found during the Club Filipino event. 

President Benigno Aquino III and Tolentino are good friends from way back. The two are both alumni of Ateneo de Manila University: Aquino graduated with an Economics degree in 1981, while Tolentino graduated with a Philosophy degree the year prior. 

In a statement released after Tolentino pulled out from the LP slate, Aquino highlighted the “dedication and dynamic leadership of a public servant committed to the common good.” The MMDA chief’s political life was jumpstarted by Aquino’s mother, former president Cory Aquino, when the latter picked Tolentino to be the officer-in-charge of Tagaytay City after the EDSA revolution. 

Tolentino out, who’s in? 

With Tolentino out, yet another slot is left open in the LP’s Senate slate. Prior to the Laguna incident, Tolentino had been assured of a slot in the 12-man slate.  

The LP has officially nominated at least 4 bets – 3 reelectionists and a Senate returnee – to its slate: Senate President Franklin Drilon, Senator Teofisto Guingona III, Senator Ralph Recto, and former senator Francis Pangilinan. 

Eight slots are up for grabs but most have already been reserved for incumbent Cabinet members, LP members, and a coalition ally: 

Other bets still being considered for the Senate slate include Bureau of Internal Revenue Chief Kim Henares, Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Chief Operating Officer Mark Lapid, boxing champion and Saranggani Representative Manny Pacquiao, and Las Piñas Representative Mark Villar. 

Normally nominated by the LP’s National Executive Council, the party has since officially authorized Roxas to complete the Senate slate. Roxas had earlier said the Senate slate would be a reflection of the ruling party’s coalitions. –