Will Francis Tolentino still be in LP Senate slate?


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Will Francis Tolentino still be in LP Senate slate?

Federico Jose BasaCruz

Will – or should – the ruling LP keep embattled MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino in its ticket?

MANILA, Philippines – The worsening of vehicular traffic in Metro Manila, low survey numbers, and just this week, online fury over a lewd dance performance at the birthday party of a congressman.

The odds are stacked against Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Francis Tolentino, who is running for senator in 2016, presumably under the ruling Liberal Party (LP).

Tolentino was at the receiving end of online fury on Thursday, October 1, when photos and videos of the “Playgirls”, an all-girl group, dancing during an LP congressman’s birthday party went viral.

In photos and videos, the girls were seen gyrating, twerking, and even dry-humping select members of the audience on stage. It was a performance supposedly paid for by Tolentino.

The MMDA chairman has since denied paying for the girls’ services, while birthday celebrant Laguna Representative Benjamin Agarao vaguely attributed the performance to some of his friends.

Anger has since been redirected to the ruling party and its key personalities – President Benigno Aquino III, who is also party chairman, and Manuel Roxas II, the party standard-bearer for 2016.

It’s an incident that’s angered many in the ruling party and the Roxas campaign, and begs the question: Will the MMDA chairman still be in the LP’s Senate line-up?

Anger from the LP

The day after, Roxas issued a statement distancing himself from the performance, reminding his party-mates not to resort to “gimmicks” as the campaign season draws near.

Roxas also said the LP would launch and probe into the incident, as top party officials issued statements condemning the performance and calling on the LP leadership to take action.

Roxas was in Laguna the morning before the performance took place, to witness the oath-taking of some 80 new LP members from Agarao’s district. He had left the main venue by the time the “Playgirls” started their act.

Roxas’ presumptive running-mate, Camarines Sur Representative Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo was harsher in her reaction, saying there was “no place” in the ruling LP for acts that degrade the rights and dignity of women.

Tolentino has kept quiet following the outrage online, even after he was endorsed by former president and convicted plunderer Joseph “Erap” Estrada the next day. Reporters who waited for Tolentino at the MMDA office were told he was out on meetings.

Faithful ally

Tolentino is not the only Cabinet member in the LP’s slate for 2016.

There’s Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority chair Secretary Joel Villanueva, and resigned Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla.

Of the 4, only De Lima has had promising numbers in early election surveys.

Pollster Pulse Asia places Petilla at the 33rd-42nd rank in its latest senatorial preference survey. Tolentino is at 23rd to 25th, Villanueva is at 25th to 27th, while De Lima ranks 9th to 14th.

Ironically, of the 4, it’s only De Lima who has yet to hold an elective position. Petilla was once Leyte governor while Villanueva was party-list representative. Tolentino was a long-time mayor of Tagaytay City in Cavite for many years before being appointed to the MMDA, a post he’s held for 5 years now.

Petilla, in a chance interview with reporters before the now-infamous Laguna performance, said “performance” and not popularity would be the LP’s criterion in picking its Senate bets.

“Daang Matuwid,” the Aquino administration’s catchphrase for its anti-corruption, good governance, and transparency platform, is at the center of the LP’s 2016 campaign. It’s also the main consideration in picking its national bets, both Roxas and LP executive vice president Joseph Emilio Abaya said in previous interviews.

Even after Tolentino denied giving the “Playgirls” as a “gift” to local allies in Laguna, the backlash persisted. It was later revealed that Tolentino had hired the group before – in 2013, for his brother Abraham Tolentino’s 2013 bid for Congress.

Will – or should – the ruling LP keep Tolentino in its ticket? The ruling party is set to announce its vice presidential bet and full Senate slate on Monday, October 5. – Bea Cupin/Rappler.com

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