Who are the people behind Team Jejomar Binay?

MANILA, Philippines – "Tried and tested" is how analysts describe the campaign strategy of Vice President Jejomar Binay, who is not known to be a risk-taker. 

The same description can apply to the people running the campaign of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) standard-bearer, which is a mix of familiar faces. They are the longtime allies, trusted friends, political strategists, volunteer groups, and, of course, family members, who are regularly seen with him during sorties.

For the dark horse of the 2010 elections, it’s all about trust. If Binay wants to win again in May, he needs the people who know him best to help sell his name – and vision– to the masses. (READ: Return of the ‘juggernaut’? What Binay needs to do to win)

Sources within the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) said Binay’s campaign group is a “flat” organization, with several committees and point persons consulting each other regularly on proposals for the Vice President’s approval.

No campaign manager

According to Navotas City Representative Toby Tiangco, UNA president, no one in the team holds the title "campaign manager." He said this is because each committee's task is intertwined with the others.

 

"We work collectively. When we decide on something, it is a collective decision. You cannot separate communications from political. You cannot separate logistics from communications. They all have to fall into place. So they have to complement each other so decisions cannot be done separately," he said.

Tiangco said Binay listens to every team member's suggestion, and then makes the final call. “In the end, he is the candidate. His decision is final. In politics, the candidate has to be comfortable with it,” he said. 

Binay’s campaign group meets once or twice a week, but with several people in the team constantly accompanying Binay in his sorties, they make use of group chat applications like Viber and Telegram for faster communication. 

Tiangco also said that a separate committee is in charge of the campaign finances. He declined to identify its members for "security" reasons but described them as “very respectable people in their own field.”

Pera 'yan e, ‘di ba? (That involves money, right?) We have to make sure [their security] is taken care of,” said Tiangco.

The rest of the team, though, are very visible  in the campaign and have specific tasks. Meet the people who play important roles in Binay's presidential bid, based on Rappler’s interviews with insiders and key team members: 

Ronaldo 'Ronnie' Puno, campaign adviser

Photo by Rolex dela Peu00f1a/EPA

Unlike most members of the team, Ronaldo “Ronnie” Puno is not a longtime political ally of Binay.  During the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Puno and Binay were on opposite sides of the fence.

In 2006, Puno, then interior secretary, tried to enforce a 60-day preventive suspension order on Makati Mayor Binay and other officials, who were accused of padding the city hall’s payroll with “ghost” employees.

Despite their history, it did not come as a surprise that the Binay camp would seek out Puno.  He is, after all, the political strategist credited with the victory of 3 presidential candidates – Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. This earned Puno the moniker “magikero (magician)” in political circles. 

Dragged down by the Senate probe into corruption allegations against him when he was Makati mayor, sources in the Binay camp said the Vice President reached out to Puno in late 2014, initially to consult him on how to handle the situation. Later on, Puno was asked to be part of the campaign team.

A source said Puno officially joined the team in September 2015, when the  yearlong investigation had pulled down the Binay's poll ratings to a low of 19% from a high of 40% in April 2014.

According to the source, it was Puno who helped steer Binay’s campaign team back on track. By January 2016, the Vice President regained the top spot in the pre-election poll, though it still can't be considered a comfortable lead.

With Puno in the team, Binay employed a strategy of silence – leaving his spokespersons to face the media while he and the party focused on a disciplined ground campaign. 

During this time, Vice President’s “Only Binay” and “Sino ba si nognog? (Who is nognog?)” political advertisements were also released. These did not only establish his his pro-poor agenda but also answered the allegations being thrown at him at the Senate, at least in the eyes of his target audience.

More structure was also seen at Binay’s provincial sorties. Puno was said to have advised Binay and his campaign team to grant interviews to local radio stations, and to continue visiting public markets, malls, and even local officials allied with the ruling party. 

Senator Nancy Binay for advertisements, Junjun Binay for sorties

Senator Nancy Binay (left) and Junjun Binay (right) Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

According to two sources, Senator Nancy Binay and dismissed Makati mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr, play key roles in their father's campaign team.

Tiangco said Nancy is involved in overseeing the political advertisements, which one political analyst described as “classy” and effective in delivering Binay’s campaign message amid the corruption allegations.  

Hindi lang ad placement. ‘Yung creatives, ‘yung pag-screen ng mga ad [tinitignan din ni Nancy] (It’s not just ad placement. Nancy also looks into the creative aspect and the screening of ads),” said Tiangco. 

The Vice President personally chose Junjun to be on top of  the group in charge of finalizing his sortie schedule.

"It should be someone who VP can talk to anytime and someone who can decide ASAP and organize the sortie based on last minute changes," Tiangco explained.

Binay himself “handpicks” most of the provinces in his campaign itinerary. Junjun’s group arranges the details, including the schedule, the motorcade route, the rally site, and meeting venue with local officials. 

A source close to Binay said Junjun performs another important role: a kind of “teddy bear” for the Vice President during the campaign – a source of comfort; someone he can relax with between breaks.

Nancy and Junjun accompany their father during sorties, though they are often at the sidelines. Their mother, Elenita, reportedly has no role in the campaign.

Navotas Representative Toby Tiangco, UNA president

Photo by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

Navotas Representative Tobias “Toby” Tiangco, is a longtime ally of Binay. He was first elected as UNA secretary-general before becoming the party's president.

It was Tiangco who first questioned Senator Grace Poe's qualifications  to run for president over citizenship and residency issues, which are now pending before the Supreme Court

As UNA president, Tiangco oversees the affairs of the party, including coordinating with leaders of the various groups volunteering to campaign for Binay. Tiangco also acts as spokesperson for the Vice President from time to time.

Asked about his specific role in the campaign, Tiangco gave a general answer, “Whatever I have to do, I will do for my candidate to win.”

He said the campaign team members are not always constrained by their positions. They provide input for the other committees as needed. “We help each other. So it’s not about titles. We have a common goal to support the VP," Tiangco said.

Joey Salgado, communications director

Photo courtesy of Joey Salgado

Joey Salgado is tasked with ensuring that the whole team sticks to the central anti-poverty message in all media platforms.

Salgado used to be the media affairs head at the Office of the Vice President as well as Makati City’s public information chief under the Binays. He quit the Makati government after Junjun was suspended and replaced by acting Mayor Romulo “Kid” Peña Jr of the Liberal Party.

Salgado resigned from the OVP on February 8, a day before the start of the official campaign period, to work full time in the Binay campaign.

As communications director, Salgado is tasked to oversee the subcommittees interacting with the media. His job includes granting – or denying –  interview requests from news groups, releasing press statements, writing Binay’s speeches, and also manning the Vice President's social media team.

He works closely with Binay’s official spokespersons and is among the people who decides if embedded journalists for UNA would be allowed to have chance  interviews with the Vice President during sorties.

Rico Quicho and Mon Ilagan, spokespersons

Rico Quicho (left) and Mon Ilagan (right). Photo from Mon Ilagan's Instagram account

Rico Quicho (left) and Mon Ilagan (right).

Photo from Mon Ilagan's Instagram account

Binay has two official spokespersons who usually join him in all of his public appearances: lawyer Rico Quicho, a defense lawyer at former chief justice Renato Corona's impeachment trial, who handles campaign matters and political affairs; and former Cainta mayor Mon Ilagan for UNA-related issues.

“As campaign spokesperson, I go with the Vice President to the sorties, help him with media relations, answer questions from the media, issue press releases and most of the time, reply to issues against the Vice President,” Quicho told Rappler.

Ilagan, a former broadcast journalist, said he is primarily expected to answer the media’s questions about UNA.

[Ang trabaho ko ay] ipaliwanag at i-expound ang mga sinasabi ni Vice President Binay when it comes to one, ‘yung programa ng partido, and then 'yung platform ng partido tapos kung may changes tungkol sa organizations, ako ‘yan. It’s all about the party,” Ilagan told Rappler.

(My job is to explain and expound on what Vice President Binay says about the party’s program and if there are changes in the organization. It’s all about the party.)

Both spokesmen agreed that a “thin line” divides their tasks, especially when journalists begin asking questions about the Vice President. Quicho further explained that their roles in the campaign are a “team effort” to ensure that the message is on point. 

“The spokespersons work in close proximity with each other and we try as much as we could to cover all issues as much as the Vice President and the campaign are concerned,” he said.

Senator Gringo Honasan, running mate and UNA vice president

Photo by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

Senator Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan II mans two posts in Binay’s campaign – as UNA vice presidential candidate and UNA vice president.

The senator told Rappler that he squeezes in his responsibilities as an UNA official in between sorties.

“In a very limited capacity, I help in processing UNA candidates. I get reports from the field and refer them to secretary-general JV Bautista. Since I’m a candidate, I cannot do that full time anymore,” said Honasan. (READ: 10 things to know about Gringo Honasan)

As party officer, Honasan said his responsibilities include organizing the Philippine Guardians, his links with retired military and police officials, and his fraternity brothers to help secure votes for UNA candidates.

“Administratively, logistically, politically, I cannot disengage from the UNA campaign. There are times when I need to attend to some administrative and organization matters. That’s the time I ask permission from the Vice President [to leave the campaign trail for a while,” he said. 

JV Bautista, UNA secretary-general 

Photo by Mara Cepeda/Rappler

As secretary-general of UNA, JV Bautista’s main responsibility is to help secure UNA’s alliances with local parties nationwide. 

From oath-taking ceremonies up to the official signing of campaign-related partnerships, Bautista is expected to be present to woo and rally the support of local politicians not only for Binay but for the rest of UNA.

He used to be among the spokespersons for the Vice President, but when the election season began, Bautista focused more on building the party. 

He recently spearheaded the formation of the Abogado ni Binay (ANIB), a group of lawyers that will act as UNA’s poll watchdog to prevent possible cheating during the May elections.

Margarito 'Gary' Teves, economic policy adviser and UNA treasurer

Photo by Ayee Macaraig/Rappler

It was Margarito “Gary” Teves and his team who helped Binay formulate his proposal to scrap income tax payment for those earning P30,000 below, and to offset the revenues losses arising from the tax measure through a crackdown on smuggling. 

Teves, 72, was Arroyo’s finance chief from 2005 to 2010.

Tiangco explained that Teves' research team goes through a rigorous process before they propose a policy to Binay.

Magugulat kayo doon sa proseso na pinagdadaanan bago masabi ni VP Binay ang isang statement because Secretary Teves will ask his team to research on it. Dadaan pa iyan sa isang policy board na talagang kailangang depensahan iyong iba’t ibang policy, at saka pa lang ito aabot kay VP Binay,” Tiangco explained. 

(You’ll marvel at the process that VP Binay's statement has to go through before he issues it to the public, because Secretary Teves will ask his team to research on it. It will then pass through a policy board before being relayed to VP Binay.)

Jay Layug, policy

Lawyer Jose "Jay" Layug Jr is among the people who reviews the policies Binay wants to implement in his administration.

Layug served the Aquino administration as energy undersecretary but resigned in 2012 to give way to the new energy chief, Jericho Petilla. Since 2013, Layug has been the chief of staff of Senator Nancy Binay.

For the Vice President’s campaign, Layug is tasked to review Binay’s platform of government. 

“The Binay platform of government is a collective work from all his policy advisers. It includes the social protection programs that VP Binay implemented during his term in Makati and as VP. He approved the final platform and is currently rolling it out in his sorties,” Layug told Rappler.

Binay's advisers, consultants

The Vice President’s advisers include some of his most trusted political allies and friends.  

Cavite Governor Juanito Victor "Jonvic" Remulla, who used to be a spokesperson for Binay, told Rappler that he is a “close adviser on domestic and political policy.” 

Remulla’s local party, Partido Magdalo, adopted Binay as a member and vowed to secure votes for the Vice President in the vote-rich province. If Binay is elected president, he promised Caviteños that he would appoint Remulla as his interior secretary,

Former Quezon representative Danilo Suarez is also an adviser of Binay. Suarez, a friend of the Vice President, was a member of the committee that helped select Binay’s running mate.

Ang role ko dito is if there are some issues to be discussed or bago siya magbigay ng statement, [he consults with me] (He consults with me if there are issues to be discussed or before he issues a statement),” said Suarez, who is one of the people helping Binay prepare for the presidential debates.

BINAY ADVISER. Former Quezon representative Danilo Suarez. Photo by Mara Cepeda/Rappler

BINAY ADVISER. Former Quezon representative Danilo Suarez.

Photo by Mara Cepeda/Rappler

It's been observed that the Binay campaign has quite a few people associated with the Arroyo administration. Like Puno and Teves, Suarez is a known close ally of the former president, who is under hospital arrest for the alleged misuse of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office funds when she was chief executive.

Former mayor Jerry Pelayo of Candaba, Pampanga, an Arroyo loyalist, is part of the "Pangulo na si Binay" movement in Central Luzon and was seen on stage at the February 9 UNA kick-off.

A source said that Arroyo’s former spokesman Rigoberto “Bobi” Tiglao, and advisers Alex Magno and Rene Velasco, are among those being consulted by Binay for his campaign.

Tiangco, however, said this is merely coincidental. 

“Can any of the presidential candidates claim categorically that they don’t have any former Arroyo allies? ‘Yan ang tanong eh (That is the question). So that’s not exclusive to us,” he said.  

A quick check of rival teams can attest to this. Senator Grace Poe's campaign manager, Cebu Representative Ace Durano, was Arroyo's tourism secretary, while administration standard-bearer Manuel "Mar Roxas II was Arroyo's trade secretary before he began his career in the Senate.

There is also talk in political circles that Binay has tapped the services of American political strategists The Mellman Group and Benenson Strategy Group, which was involved in US President Barrack Obama’s reelection bid in 2012. 

A source said Puno is friends with Mark Mellman, The Mellman Group president and chief executive officer.

Tiangco, however, denied that foreign firms are involved in Binay’s campaign.

“The campaign of VP Binay is managed by Filipinos. But now that you asked, then I would have to request all of them to present their Philippine passport, just to be 100% sure,” he said. – Rappler.com

Read on the campaign teams of other presidential candidates

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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