Apparently fed up with the opportunistic straddling of two horses of three of its senatorial candidates in the May elections, the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) has dropped Senators Francis Escudero and Loren Legarda and political neophyte Grace Poe-Llamanzares from its Senate ticket.
The UNA campaign manager, Navotas Rep. Tobias Tiangco, announced that the three were dropped for failing to meet their commitments. None of them appeared in the UNA’s provincial rallies, including its proclamation rally in Cebu City, a vote-rich opposition bailiwick.
The three had earlier been warned to show up at the rallies to confirm their loyalty to the UNA. Legarda and Llamanzares had only sent proxies in a token gesture, raising questions on whether they were in the opposition camp or candidates/stooges of the administration’s Team PNoy. The UNA has lambasted Escudero for failure to even send a proxy. Legarda did send a proxy, but showed up at the Liberal Party-led Team PNoy proclamation rally in Plaza Miranda. To the voters who seek a definition between the opposition and administration teams, the loyalty of the three, who are running as common (or shared) candidates of the two major lineups, remains a puzzle.
Legarda and Escudero are the front-runners—first and second, respectively, in the recent Pulse Asia survey (Jan. 19-30).
Whether or not Legarda’s and Escudero’s double dealing will affect their rankings in the next survey is a matter of conjecture, but the UNA leaders have shown their disgust over their guests’ dubious commitment to the opposition’s cause. The concept of guest candidates straddling both the administration and opposition tickets has been one of the more undesirable features of the Philippine party system since the two-party setup (comprising the Liberal and Nacionalista parties) of the pre-martial law political system, and has now been abused in the post-Edsa multiparty system.
The Liberal Party has hoped that the adoption of opposition candidates with high survey ratings in the administration lineup would enhance its chances in making a 12-0 sweep in May and ensuring the administration’s control of the Senate, which is historically an opposition-inclined chamber of Congress. But the administration’s uneven record of economic management has come under fire for promoting economic growth without creating jobs and alleviating poverty. Thus, common candidates taking advantage of the administration’s resources may also be affected adversely by the criticism of its economic performance.
The fragile structure of the Team PNoy coalition, composed of the Liberal Party, Nacionalista Party and Nationalist People’s Coalition, surfaced the other day, when former lawmaker Mark Cojuangco, the chair of the NPC in Pangasinan, was reported in Manila Standard Today to have announced that its alliance with the administration has ended over intraparty differences on local candidates. The NPC, founded by businessman Eduardo Cojuangco Jr., is the biggest party in the Team PNoy coalition; its withdrawal can precipitate the disintegration of the alliance.
According to the report, the announcement of Mark Cojuangco sent Liberal Party officials scrambling to save Team PNoy from unraveling in the midst of the election campaign, and President Aquino intervened to “iron out the kinks.” Following the intervention, the LP officials said the alliance with the NPC “remained strong despite differences at the local level.”
Sen. Vicente Sotto III of the NPC revealed some sources of the provincial disputes. He said that many NPC members had become disgruntled at the LP decision to field its own candidates in local government units where incumbent NPC-affiliated officials had been campaigning for reelection. “If there is a coalition with the LP, how come the administration is fielding candidates in areas where the incumbent NPC officials are also running?” Sotto said. He said many of his party mates had complained to him that the coalition supposedly forged among the LP, NPC and NP had not been honored at all.
The tone and issues of the campaign have been set by the President as a translation of his “daang matuwid” (straight path), which is more of a moralistic exhortation than an ideological or policy direction. Members of the Team PNoy coalition have not criticized the Aquino administration’s economic performance in the rallies, and the midterm elections are supposed be a referendum on Mr. Aquino’s performance during the first half of his presidency. He has, at the start of the campaign, called for a clear definition between the administration’s coalition and the opposition alliance in terms of issues, policies and programs. This crystallization of the debate has happened in the campaign.
The guest candidates shared by the contending tickets have not criticized the economic performance of the administration and have all declared themselves apostles to continue its claimed accomplishments in the remainder of the President’s term.
The UNA has also not acted as a critic of the administration’s performance. Its officials claim they are all behind the President for the continuity of his direction. The opposition has not presented an alternative political and economic program to offer the electorate a real choice. It has become part of this farce of the “yellow army” ideology.