SAN FERNANDO, Philippines - Senator Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III invaded on Wednesday the bailiwick of his political nemesis, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, to court the Kapampangan vote.
Aquino campaigned in the province for the first time since the official campaign period began last February 9, but was here late last year to organize his volunteer organizations and to put together a slate behind beleaguered Pampanga Governor Ed Panlillio, who is seeking re-election.
Panlilio is appealing a Comelec decision declaring his opponent, Lilia ‘Baby’ Pineda, the winner in the 2007 elections.
The Liberal Party is fielding only 13 mayoralty candidates out of the 22 towns in the province. It has the backing of only one incumbent, San Fernando Mayor Oca Rodriguez.
It is going to be a tough courtship for Aquino. In the 2007 elections, he did not even make it to the magic 12 in Pampanga, landing only in the 13th spot.
At a press conference in the Jose Feliciano College in Dau town, Aquino said he is not giving up on Pampanga even though the province, especially its second district, is known to be pro-Arroyo.
Aquino is considered Cabalen, hailing from the Kapampangan speaking part of Tarlac.
"Ito po'y huling kampanya ko na rin, bumabalik po ako sa aking pinagmulan. At ako'y umaasa na talagang ngayon ho makakadesisyon nang malaya ang ating mga kababayan at makikita natin po uli yung talagang pagkatagal-tagalan na ugnayan at pagtutulungan po natin," said Aquino, who has vowed not to run for any elective post after his presidential term if he wins in the May elections.
(This is my last campaign, I am going back to my roots. I am hoping that the people can now decide freely and we will see the old relationship and assistance rekindled.)
Pampanga is the 10th biggest province in terms of votes, with over 1.2 million registered voters.
Also campaigning on Wednesday in Pampanga was Lakas-Kampi-CMD standard bearer Gilbert Teodoro, a cousin of Aquino, who hails from the Ilocano speaking part of Tarlac.
Why only now?
At the press conference, Aquino said he found it surprising that President Arroyo ordered Lakas-Kampi-CMD members to back Teodoro, with only a month left in the campaign.
”Itong official presidential campaign o national campaign is 90 days, and in the last 30 days, dun pa lang talaga sya mag-uutos sa kanya pong mga miyembro. Pano po yung two-thirds ng kampanyang nawala na?" Aquino said.
(The official presidential or national campaign period is 90 days but she only ordered her members in the last 30 days. What about the two-thirds of the campaign that has already passed?)
Once again, Aquino declined to give his cousin advise, refusing to echo former House Speaker Jose de Venecia’s call for Teodoro to back out of the race and expose Arroyo anomalies.
"Ayoko naman po bigyan yung pinsan ko ng unsolicited advice, pero tutal naman po, si Manong Joe ay nagbibigay ng advice, baka pwedeng i-advice ko na rin sa kanya, gamitin niya yung advice na binigay nya," Aquino said.
(I don't want to give unsolicited advice to my cousin, but since Manong Joe has given out advice, perhaps I can advise him to heed his own advice.)
"Bakit di niya isiwalat rin lahat ng nalalaman niya [de Venecia] kasama na po yung ZTE para naman ho talagang makita natin na ating senior statesman e talagang desididong tumulong po sa ating bansa," he added.
(Why can't he reveal everything he [de Venecia] knows, including the ZTE [scandal] so we can determine if the senior statesman is really set on helping the country?)
'It's down to a 2-man race'
Aquino, a consistent leader in surveys, said the contest is now a two-man race between him and Nacionalista Party (NP) standard-bearer Manuel Villar, hence the trading of accusations and counter-accusations between the Liberals and the Nacionalistas.
"Natural consequence po yan, parati naman po number one and number two talagang magbabakbakan. Yun pong nasa malayo po sa one and two, talagang matitira po sa kanila yung pinaka-die hard na lang po nila talaga," Aquino said.
(It’s a natural consequence for the number one and number two to trade barbs. Those who are far from the first and the second will only be left with their die-hard followers.)
On his losing the Supreme Court case questioning the creation of a new district in Camarines Sur, which would benefit presidential son Congressman Dato Arroyo, Aquino said: “I am confident given a different composition of the High Court, babaguhin ang desisyon (the decision will change).”
He took a potshot at his rival, Villar, saying his vote in favor of the creation of the district in the Senate is one more proof that Villar is an ally of the administration and is not a true oppositionist as he claims.
Aquino also made light of his nephew Baby James utterance of “Villar” at a rally in Bacolod, prompting some sectors to say he was the "secret candidate" of youngest sister Kris Aquino’s son.
“Wala naman ibang nagsasabi ng pangalan niya [Villar], kaya nasabi ni Baby James,” eliciting laughter from his supporters attending the press conference.