A closer look at Escudero's gamble

by Purple S. Romero, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak

Posted at Oct 28 2009 11:15 PM | Updated as of Nov 03 2009 02:14 AM

MANILA - Quitting the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) had been on the mind of Sen. Francis ‘Chiz’ Escudero for a month already. On Sunday (October 25), the die was cast.

Escudero, who was expected to be NPC’s standard-bearer for 2010, announced his decision to leave the party on Wednesday, stirring shock among his partymates.

But the 40-year-old solon actually reached his decision Sunday, two days after his then rumored running mate Sen. Loren Legarda declared her intention to run for the vice-presidential post. 

Some reports say Escudero left the party because he was disappointed that the party could not provide him sufficient campaign funds. A presidential candidate who runs a traditional campaign needs around P2 billion. NPC chair emeritus Eduardo ‘Danding’ Cojuangco Jr. allegedly only committed to give him P200 million. 

Escudero denied the reports. “It is not true,” he told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak in a text message. 

Credibility issues

Escudero's political adviser Lito Banayo said the senator had been toying with the idea about leaving the NPC since he was always being asked about how he would deal with Cojuangco’s economic interests in case he becomes president.

Cojuangco is the chairman and CEO of San Miguel Corp. with business interests not only in food and beverage but also in power and telecommunications.

It’s all about proving to the public that he walks his talk, Banayo explained. 

It was no accident, for example, that Escudero specified the issues of oil deregulation and contractualization in his resignation speech at Club Filipino, San Juan.  

“…At lalong ‘di dapat mag-desisyon base sa dinidikta ng interes ng iisang grupo, partido tao lamang. Kung gusto nating umunlad at guminhawa, hindi na puwede ang dating gawi. Kung hindi…papaano niya, halimbawa, isusulong ang pagpapanagot sa tiwali, pork barrel, contractualization, oil deregulation law, PAGCOR,” Escudero said.

“How are you going to prove that you oppose oil deregulation when you have connections to Ramon Ang?” Banayo told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak after Escudero’s press conference.

Ang is chairman and CEO of Petron Corp., one of the Big 3 oil companies in the country. He is also president and chief operating officer of San Miguel Corp., (SMC), which Cojuangco chairs. 

On contractualization, a ticklish topic for business, Banayo said Escudero would not be able to say that he will strengthen labor rights when SMC has been castigated for it. Contractualization is opposed by labor since contractual employees do not have security of tenure and do not enjoy the same benefits as regular employees. 

Form new party

A political analyst, however, does not buy Escudero's reasons for leaving the NPC, for which he had been a member for 11 years. 

Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said Cojuangco’s support for Escudero has wavered since his nephew, Liberal Party standard-bearer Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, is ahead by a big margin in the polls. 

Escudero was preferred by only 15% of respondents in the September 18-21 survey of the Social Weather Stations wherein respondents could give three names to the question of who are the best leaders to replace President Arroyo.

Escudero placed fourth behind Aquino (60%), Sen. Manny Villar (38%), and former President Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada (18%).  (Read: Noynoy, Villar best leaders to succeed Arroyo)

“He’s [Danding] not convinced Chiz can win against Noynoy,” Casiple told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak. He added that the business tycoon is also “shopping” for a candidate to support, and Aquino and Villar are possible alternatives.    
Banayo, however, said the issue of Cojuangco switching support to other candidates has not surfaced at all in their discussions.  

UP Professor Roland Simbulan said that Escudero could best prove the sincerity of his intentions by forming his own party. “His only hope is to form a new party based on principles and think long-term,” he said.

Escudero is not ruling this out and has asked for more time to decide on his 2010 plans. He has deferred the announcement of his political plans thrice already.

Campaign shake-up

Aside from the issue on insufficient campaign funds, Escudero’s candidacy also recently suffered a setback after key people left his campaign team.

Former Sen. Sergio “Serge” Osmeña III, his campaign manager, joined the Liberal Party's senatorial slate.

But Banayo said Osmeña had already sounded off Escudero about leaving early on and had recommended him [Banayo] to take his place.

As to the departure of advertising executive Yolly Ong from their camp, Banayo said Ong has "ties" with the Aquinos.

Malou Tiquia, senior campaign strategist, will also leave Escudero’s camp at the end of October.

Banayo it was the mutual decision of Escudero and Tiquia not to renew their contract, which was to expire soon.

Support stays, unless…

Meanwhile, Magdalo, a group of rebel soldiers who staged the Oakwood mutiny in 2003, reiterated its support for Escudero amid his decision to bolt the NPC.
Magdalo endorsed Escudero for president last Sunday, a decision reached by the group after two months of consultations among its members.  

“We were more surprised than anything, but that only shows that he [Escudero] is going beyond the norms,” Magdalo spokesperson Francisco Acedillo said.  

He added that although Magdalo has scant financial resources, they have 40,000 members who could help generate votes for the young politician.

“We have 375 chapters nationwide,” he said.

But Acedillo said they may not support Escudero if he decides to join other parties.  “It runs contrary to what he said,” he pointed out.