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MANILA, Philippines - When Malacañang moved in 2009 to impeach Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, members of the Nationalist People's Coalition (NPC) in the House of Representatives were split. They had heated debates, but in the end, all of about 50 members voted as one to impeach her.
"The NPC has acquired the reputation of being a solid party. A party that is disciplined because once the leadership has spoken--after a consensus is reached--everybody follows. I think that is a true mark of a disciplined party," said NPC stalwart Isabela Rep Giorgidi Aggabao.
The political party founded by businessman Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco for his 1992 presidential bid is not known for a particular advocacy. It has, through 4 administrations, built itself as reliable partner of the political party in power.
It consistently supported the agenda of the Lakas-Christian Muslic Democrats (Lakas-CMD) during the administrations of Fidel Ramos and Gloria Arroyo, the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) during the administratin of Joseph Estrada, and now the Liberal Party of President Benigno Aquino III.
"NPC is a consistently moderate party. We look at the agenda being fostered by the administration. If it's good for the country, then we will support it. We have proven that throughout the years through our voting record," said NPC spokesperson Rex Gatchalian.
Out of the political scene for a number of years because of his ailment, Cojuangco -- now looking healthy -- made a comeback recently when he led the oath-taking of new NPC members in Bacolod City. He remains NPC's chairman emeritus, and has entrusted the party to the leadership of former Isabela Gov. Faustino Dy Jr. His brother Tarlac Rep Henry Cojuangco, however, is also very active in running the party.
The perfect ally
NPC's power lies in its numbers, its bargaining chip with various administrations.
With its 50 members in the House of Representatives, NPC delivers. It helped the Aquino administration push for the impeachment of Gutierrez and former Chief Justice Renato Corona. They also helped in passing the postponement of the elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the sin tax measure, among other bills.
It is the perfect ally. Always solid and always reliable.
In a way, NPC is run like a corporation. When the national executive committee makes a decision, the members dare not defy.
"If you look at our data base, it's still the same names. We don't encounter a sudden surge, wherein we'll grow. Neither do we have a sudden exodus where we'll lose our members," said Gatchalian.
This is possible because NPC is, more than other parties, discriminating in recruiting its members.
"The important thing is you subscribe to the principle that once the party reaches a decision, you follow. Kung pilosopo ka, you have no place in NPC. I use 'pilosopo' in a pejorative sense. Okay, we discuss and we debate. We have heated discussions as well. But in the end, once party has made a decision, you have to go with us," Aggabao said.
In exchange for supporting various administrations, NPC gets critical committees in the House of Representatives and various positions in government.
Battle with the Supreme Court
NPC caught national attention in 2003 when the political party picked a fight with then Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. The party, under the leadership of Danding's nephew, then Tarlac Rep Gilberto "Gibo" Teodoro, led an impeachment complaint against Davide for alleged graft.
In the impeachment complaint, they accused Davide of unlawful disbursement of the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF). They cited underpayment of employees' cost-of-living allowances and questionable renovation of the Supreme Court facilities.
NPC almost succeeded. It got 96 congressmen -- more than the necessary 76 -- to sign the impeachment complaint. But the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional because it was the 2nd complaint filed against Davide that year. Under the 1987 Constitution, only one impeachment complaint may be filed against impeachable officials within a year.
Backroom negotiations were also made, with tribunal emissaries reportedly sent to pressure Malacañang and House Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr.
NPC also lost in the court of public opinion. Civil society led by former President Corazon Aquino backed Davide. (Mrs Aquino died in 2009.)
"The NPC was the bad guy, seen as doing Cojuangco's bidding in going after the Chief Justice. For many, the move was driven by a huge vested interest--Cojuangco protecting his businesses--as the High Court voted against Cojuangco when they declared the coconut levy funds public," writes Supreme Court observer journalist Marites Dañguilan Vitug in her book Shadow of Doubt: Probing the Supreme Court.
Teodoro would distance himself from NPC after this episode. He would later join Lakas-CMD as its 2010 presidential candidate.
Eyes on 2016
For the 2013 senatorial elections, NPC forged an informal coalition with LP. Both unable to complete a 12-man slate, it's a natural alliance.
For LP, this means the NPC will tap its political machinery to support the entire administration ticket and commit to support the remaining years of the Aquino administration. For NPC, the LP agrees not to field candidates in some of its bailiwicks and instead support NPC candidates.
Obviously, only the NPC can do that--make the ruling LP observe the equity-of-the-incumbent rule at the local level, an arrangement that LP's other senatorial race partner, the Nacionalista Party, failed to do.
The NPC is also the only party that national coalitions aren't able to restrict in terms of letting members choose which senatorial tickets to join. Jack Enrile is running under Vice President Jejomar Binay's United Nationalist Alliance, while Loren Legarda has been adopted by both UNA and the LP-led coalition.
Danding's failed bid was the first and last time that NPC tried the presidential elections. In 2010, two of its stalwarts were encouraged by surveys to go for it but would eventually drop their bids.
Sen Francis "Chiz" Escudero made a suprise move in bolting the party. He'd end up supporting the campaigns of President Aquino and Vice-President Binay.
Legarda, on the other hand, slid down to become the running mate of Nacionalista Party presidential candidate Manuel Villar Jr. Both lost.
But NPC is not giving up on the possibility of someday getting to Malacañang. Legarda and Escudero (who has since returned to the graces of the NPC but is running as an indepedent) remain to be the party's best bets for the presidency. Both seeking re-election in 2013, they are consistently topping the surveys.
"There's always a possiblity. Chiz and Loren are very young and very active. It's only a matter of time and opportunity," said Aggabao. - Rappler.com
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