LAST CHANCE TO UNITE THE LIBERAL PARTY
Written by Fel Maragay, Manila Standatrd Today
A few months before the start of the 2010 election campaign, Senator Mar Roxas’ bid to be the Liberal Party’s presidential candidate is being threatened by the emergence of Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III as a possible alternative. At the same time, Roxas’ hold on the LP as its national president is being challenged by a renegade faction, led by Environment Secretary and former Manila City Mayor Lito Atienza.
Aquino is being urged by some LP leaders to run for president or vice president, on the strength of the belief that he is destined to lead the party to electoral victory as the political heir of his revered parents, the late Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. and President Corazon Aquino.
A former LP president, Atienza has dared Roxas and former Senate President Frank Drilon, party chairman, to call a national convention to elect the party officers and to choose the standard- bearer for the coming polls.
Whether Aquino would run for higher office is highly uncertain because he is reluctant to expose himself and his sisters to problems and anxiety so soon after their mother’s demise. He knows that Roxas has invested so much time, money and energy to pursue his presidential ambition. Can he still catch up with other aspirants whose preparation for the electoral battle took years and is already in an advanced stage? Can Noynoy raise the billions of pesos needed to mount a credible campaign? But most important of all, is there a genuine clamor among the populace for him to join the presidential or vice presidential race?
Despite the fuss about Aquino’s potentials for a greater political role, it looks far-fetched at this point that Roxas would be dislodged as the LP standard-bearer.
The greater and real problem that confronts Roxas is the demand of the Atienza faction for a national convention to settle, once and for all, the leadership conflict and to bring about the elusive unity in the party. However, Roxas and Drilon have refused to entertain Atienza’s call on the ground that the latter has already been expelled from the LP for alleged acts inimical to the party. They accused him of allowing himself to be used by the Arroyo administration to destroy the party.
Atienza asserts that the holding of a national convention was ordered by the Commission on Elections and the judiciary after the court battle for control of the party was won by the Roxas-Drilon wing. But when the LP held an assembly in November 2007 at Club Filipino, Greenhills, San Juan City to elect the party officers, the Atienza wing was excluded by the Roxas-Drilon group. The reason given was that the Atienza faction tried to wrest control of the leadership of the party by earlier holding a “rump session” at the Manila Hotel in which Atienza and then Presidential Chief-of-Stafff Michael Defensor were elected president and chairman, respectively.
Atienza insists he remains a loyal Liberal Party member and belied Drilon’s claim that he has defected to the Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino of former President Joseph Estrada. “I am still a Liberal and I will continue to be Liberal until we are able to resolve our problem within the party because it is a fact that some leaders of the Liberal Party continue to defy the LP Constitution.”
Responding to accusations that he is a trouble-maker and intruder, Atienza averred: “Do not insult me and say I have a thick hide. Open the elections. Call the Liberals. Let us have a national convention and if you [Roxas] wins, you will be the official LP candidate for president.”
The Roxas-Drilon group might have acted within its right in its handling of the party’s internal strife. Their feud with the Atienza faction was deemed irreconcilable. It was sparked by the Hello Garci scandal in 2005 when the Roxas-Drilon group decided to break away from the Arroyo administration. The Atienza wing, for its part, opted to continue supporting the administration.
Atienza revived the call for resolving the feud and uniting the party at a time when the nation is girding for the 2010 elections. The situation now is entirely different and the fact is there is an urgency for party unity if only to boost the winning chances of its candidates. And since this is election season, the tendency of politicians is to assert their discretion, especially on the issue of which presidential candidate to back. In this period of political realignments, certain administration politicians will have no qualms in turning their back on Malacañang because what is at stake is their political survival.
Instead of rejecting outright the Atienza proposition, perhaps the Roxas-Drilon group should look at it positively and analyze whether it is worth considering. Perhaps they are wary about the proposed national convention because they may be walking into a trap. But assuming that they would grant Atienza’s request, what will they lose? Maybe they even stand to gain a lot of things but lose nothing.
Drilon says that Roxas remains the undisputed presidential bet of the Liberal Party and he enjoys the solid support of the party. This journalist finds no reason to doubt his claim. Even Aquino professes that he fully supports Roxas as the party standard-bearer.
If a new election for party officers is held and Atienza runs against Roxas for the party presidency, whoever will win is less important than the objective of unifying and solidifying the party. The truth of the matter is that Roxas should now free himself from the heavy responsibilities as party president because he has to concentrate on his campaign as a presidential candidate in 2010. The same is true of Drilon who can relinquish the party chairmanship to another stalwart so that he will have more time for his senatorial campaign.
As a pillar of the Liberal Party and as a man of honor, Atienza can be relied upon to keep his word that he would respect the will of party members. And if their will is to field Roxas in the presidential race, Atienza has pledged to support him.
The Liberal Party leaders should learn from past mistakes of politicians who, in their obsession for power, indiscriminately eliminated partymates whom they saw as a threat to their ambitions. They should remember the sad fate of the late Vice President Salvador Laurel who gained control over the Nacionalista Party by expelling his rivals for the presidential nomination—Senator Juan Ponce Enrile and Ambassador Danding Cojuangco— in his desire to dominate the party.
Consequently, Laurel was abandoned by key party leaders and the once mighty NP was reduced to a paper tiger. He ended up as the tail-ender in the seven-cornered presidential race in l992.
Of course, the re-entry of the Atienza faction into the party will not be without complications. We know that Atienza is staging a political comeback and seeking to retake the mayorship of Manila. His party organization in the premier city is very much intact. The Roxas-Drilon faction appears to be committed to support the reelection of Mayor Alfredo Lim. Undoubtedly, the possible return of the Atienza faction to the folds of LP will work wonders in strengthening the party. An aide of Atienza claims that his group constitutes about 60 percent of the Liberal Party’s strength nationwide. But admittedly, his readmission will also bring a king-size headache.
Already, Atienza’s appeal for party unity has struck a responsive chord from some party leaders. Senator Francis Pangilinan, former LP chairman, shares Atienza’s desire to reconcile the warring party factions. And like Atienza, Pangilinan believes that Noynoy Aquino should take a lead role in the unity effort He urged all reform-minded party leaders to pursue the dialog for unity.
END LIBERAL PARTY ROW, ATIENZA TELLS LEADERS
Written by Jonathan Mayuga / Business Mirror Correspondent
ENVIRONMENT Secretary Lito Atienza on Monday urged the ruling members of the Liberal Party (LP) to call a national convention and election of officers that will put an end to the leadership row that has plagued the country’s oldest political party for several years now.
“If we keep on calling each other names or badmouthing each other, nothing will happen to the party. A disunited LP cannot win in the 2010 election. I challenge them to open the process. Call a party convention and election. This way, we can unite and strengthen the Liberal Party once more. That way, we can increase our chances of winning in the coming elections,” Atienza, the former LP chairman, said.
He said Sen. Mar Roxas II, the incumbent LP president, can never excite the people with his presidential bid if he cannot even unite the party.
He also questioned Roxas’s declaration of running for president, saying the leadership row and the controversy that hounded his election as LP president remain big questions on his leadership.
“Why not call a convention and election. Why not let LP members nominate a presidential candidate?” he said.
Atienza is pushing for the candidacy for president of the son of former President Corazaon Aquino and Benigno Aquino Jr., Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, saying the lawmaker has the potential of leading the LP and eventually winning in the 2010 presidential election.
“They are depriving Noynoy the chance of leading the party,” Atienza said, recalling that it was the same fate suffered by Ninoy when he was deprived of the party leadership by the Salonga-led Liberal Party way back during the Marcos dictatorship.
Atienza said he has no interest running for a national position in the meantime, but he wants to unite the party by offering a hand of reconciliation to his nemesis to settle the leadership row. He said it is up to party members to nominate and elect the new set of officers, and former senator Franklin Drilon and Roxas, who claim to have the support of the LP members, have nothing to fear of losing to any candidate who may be nominated in the process.
He narrated that when Ninoy decided to return to the Philippines, he wanted to unite and strengthen the party to challenge Marcos. “Apparently, it did not happen because he was killed at the tarmac,” Atienza said.
He insisted that Noynoy is a potential party leader, but the Drilon-Roxas clique is allegedly depriving the son of the former President of the chance to take the party leadership. “Who will believe in a presidential candidate who cannot even unite party members?” Atienza asked, referring to Roxas.
Atienza challenged Roxas to open the process by calling for a party convention that will pave the way for an election of a new set of officers. He also said LP members should decide who will be the party’s presidential candidate.
According to Atienza, 90 percent of the estimated 2,500 LP members all over the country want to end the leadership dispute, and it is only through an election participated in by party members that it can be done.
The former mayor of Manila chided Roxas and Drilon for expelling him and four other top leaders of the party on the night of the election in 2007, where Roxas and Drilon were elected president and chairman, respectively.
He also insisted that the Supreme Court (SC) ruling clearly asked the leaders to settle the leadership row through an election. “How can that be when they expelled us on the night of the election? It is not even an election but a coronation and selection,” he said.
Atienza expressed dismay that his nemesis in the LP had called him names, reacting to an interview on radio where Roxas called him walang- hiya (shameless) for trying to grab attention during the 26th anniversary commemoration of the assassination of former senator Benigno Aquino Jr. on August 21.
A paid political advertisement of the Kabataang Liberal ng Pilipinas (Kalpi) declared that they are recognizing Atienza as the LP leader.
“That is not fair,” Atienza said.
Atienza, who was expelled along with Mike Defensor, a one-time Cabinet member and political spokesman of President Arroyo, on the night of the LP election, insists their expulsion from the LP is illegal. Atienza appealed the case and it is now pending in the Supreme Court.
Atienza warned that winning the 2010 elections, whoever is the standard bearer, is impossible unless the LP is united. On the other hand, he said whoever will be chosen as presidential candidate by a united LP has a better chance of winning against any party, including the merger of Lakas-Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino.