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Albay gov joins Aquino, shocks Arroyo party

April 15, 2010 01:01:00
TJ Burgonio Christine Avendaño Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Stalwarts of the ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD are bewildered by the defection of Albay Gov. Joey Salceda to the camp of Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, and are appealing to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to step in and stop the bleeding.

“I don’t understand,” Lakas-Kampi-CMD secretary general Raymundo Roquero said by phone early Wednesday. “[Salceda] organized the Caucus for Governors. The very basis for their existence is palabra de honor (word of honor). It’s very hard to comprehend.”

Be that as it may, Salceda, who’s running unopposed for reelection, has indeed accepted Aquino’s offer to be the LP regional chair in Bicol. But he has asked to be given “sufficient” time to “make proper notices to [the Lakas Kampi-CMD] leadership, local leaders and Ma’am PGMA.”

“I would like to thank them, especially our dear President, for the unique opportunity to work with them in the field of public service, economic policy and social reengineering,” he said in an e-mail to LP officials and close associates.

Salceda and Aquino were classmates at Ateneo de Manila University; they graduated in 1981. “My task is [to] make him win in Bicol on May 10, 2010,” Salceda said.

The formal announcement of his defection to the LP is scheduled on April 20, after he returns from a medical checkup abroad.

“Noynoy, Mar (LP vice presidential candidate Sen. Manuel Roxas) and the LP leadership have agreed to respect … my local commitments, whether for mayor, councilor or congressman. The only thing that changed is that I would now campaign for Noynoy for president. Everything else remains the same,” Salceda said.

In a separate phone call, Lakas-Kampi-CMD vice president Prospero Pichay said he did not believe that Salceda, Ms Arroyo’s top economic adviser and ally, was bolting the coalition.

“I don’t see any reason why he should leave the party and join Noynoy,” Pichay said, adding that a friend of Salceda’s had denied the earlier report. “That could be a bum steer. You have to confirm that with Salceda.”

Pichay claimed that the number of defections from the party was “marginal” but said Ms Arroyo should do something about the matter.

“I think somehow she should look into the problem of stalwart leaders [leaving the party],” he said of the President, who is in the United States on an official visit.

Political reality

The Lakas-Kampi-CMD chair, Occidental Mindoro Rep. Amelita Villarosa, conceded that there could be more defections. But she said not even Salceda’s decision to join Aquino’s Liberal Party (LP) would affect Teodoro’s candidacy.

Teodoro himself said defections were part of political realities that could do good in terms of purging the party of pseudo-supporters.

It was at the news conference of Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza in Malacañang that Villarosa and Roquero heard confirmation of the news that Salceda was bolting the ruling coalition.

Villarosa acknowledged the possibility that more party members would jump ship before the May 10 elections.

“It’s still possible because we have a big base. The parties have no other party to turn to but ours,” she said, noting that the administration had lost two of its 171 congressmen.

She said the party had not been formally advised of Salceda’s decision, and that the members would just have to deal with it.

Earlier on Wednesday, Roquero said it would be no surprise to learn that other parties had wooed Salceda, whom he described as “a strong provincial leader.”

He said he had been trying to call Salceda, to no avail.

Masbate Gov. Elisa Olga Kho, who learned about Salceda’s defection on Wednesday from the Inquirer in Naga City, said: “All the while we thought we were allies. I am shocked. I am hurt.”

Kho said that before his defection, Salceda was still urging the remaining Bicol governors backing the administration standard-bearer, Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro, to unite.

“All the while, I was thinking that Joey, I and [Sorsogon Gov.] Sally Lee were the remaining allies of Gibo in Bicol. Now it’s only two of us,” she said.

Word of honor

It was Salceda who called an emergency caucus of administration governors at Discovery Suites in Pasig City on April 6, purportedly to conduct a loyalty check following the defection of Lakas-Kampi-CMD’s top two leaders.

On that day, he and more than 30 governors signed a manifesto to “work hard for overwhelming electoral majorities” for Teodoro, and organized themselves into the National Caucus of Governors.

Prior to that, Salceda organized two massive political rallies for Teodoro in Albay.

Reminded Wednesday that Salceda was among those who initiated the Team Palabra de Honor that reinforced the party’s support for Teodoro’s candidacy, Villarosa said: “That puts in question his palabra de honor. We don’t want to comment on this because this would be putting him on the spot.”

Anyway, she said, there were other party leaders like Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman and local officials and congressmen who could still campaign for Teodoro in the province.

Asked if Ms Arroyo would be hurt by Salceda’s move, Villarosa said the President was “a strong lady.”

Andaya, Teves, Romulo next?

She and Roquero denied reports that former Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya, Negros Oriental Rep. Henry Teves and Pasig Rep. Roman Romulo were bolting Lakas-Kampi-CMD.

They said the three remained committed to Teodoro and the administration ticket.

Villarosa denied that the ruling party was in disarray or even in panic mode after the defections.

“We don’t have any problems; we have money, unlike the others,” she said.

Executive Secretary Mendoza said no Cabinet member was moving to other parties.

“I’ve been talking to practically all members of the Cabinet, [and they are] supporting the President and, of course, the administration ticket,” he said.

Arroyo updated daily

Villarosa said the President was being updated daily on party developments. She said Ms Arroyo’s directive was to “do what you have to do and campaign, and see to it that all matters requiring attention are attended to.”

In a statement, Teodoro said defections were “a reality in politics which we have fully accounted for at the beginning of the political exercise.”

“They will allow us to work with our real supporters without having to bear the baggage of those who only pretend to support us. Just like a ship which has been rid of barnacles. It will be a smoother ride to an honorable victory,” he said.

In Iloilo City, Teodoro’s running mate Edu Manzano said they were committed to see the campaign through regardless of the defections.

Difficult decision

Salceda, who once described Ms Arroyo as a “lucky bitch” for steering the country to record economic growth despite her abysmal popularity ratings, described his parting with her as “a difficult (but not abrupt) political decision.”

He said he was encouraged to switch loyalties by the effusive support given by his fellow 1981 Ateneo graduates to Aquino since the start of the campaign in February.

Salceda said that in his research on the impact of the contenders for the presidency, he found that an Aquino administration would have “the highest statistical probability of triggering a significant increase in the investment rate.”

He estimated that it would immediately add P642 billion in new investments and 642,000 jobs in Aquino’s first 18 months in office.

According to Salceda, he stayed as Ms Arroyo’s economic adviser because “I always believed that an incumbent, provided correct policy, has the capacity to do good and to do well and, thus, prompt positive consequences in the lives of ordinary people through the apparatus of the state and through the workings of the market economy.”

He also related memories of Aquino in their college years: “I distinctly remember Noynoy as a seatmate in the English class of Ms Annette Condon during my first year in Ateneo. He struck me as being quite ordinary for a son of the biggest political prisoner, a future martyr-hero, and a future president.”

Just the beginning

In San Carlos City, Aquino said the parade of political “big names” to the LP had only just begun with Salceda’s defection.

“There are others who will follow and not just from the administration party. I am not at liberty to name them. I agreed that they will do it in their own time,” he told reporters. “The oathtaking of our new allies might become a regular Monday event.”

Aquino said he was not worried about the entry of politicians into his camp, “as long as they adhere to our party platform.”

Returning to his roots

“Governor Salceda and I went through the same school that taught the theology of liberation, how to deal with oppressive structures. We have the same background and orientation,” Aquino said, adding:

“He was also with [the late Sen. Raul] Roco for a long time and was a member of the ‘parliament of the streets’ during [Ferdinand] Marcos’ time, so this is like he is returning to his roots.” With reports from Philip C. Tubeza, and Jonas Cabiles Soltes and Mar S. Arguelles, Inquirer Southern Luzon

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