SILAY CITY, Negros Occidental - Nacionalista Party (NP) standard-bearer Manny Villar has found an ally in his opponent, former President Joseph Estrada, after the senator recently caught flak for giving P20 dole outs to kids during a campaign sortie in Batangas.
In an interview with reporters, Estrada said Villar's giving out P20 to children should not be considered a form of vote buying.
"Mga bata naman yung binibigyan nya. Hindi naman bumoboto yun, kaya hindi yun vote-buying," he said.
The former president admitted that as public servants, it is often difficult to avoid giving money to people. He said people look up to them and often come to them asking for help.
During his campaign rally in Silay City on Monday, Estrada also gave money, this time to an elderly woman who had attended the rally.
The octogenarian was squeezing through the crowd inside the Jose Locsin cultural hall when Estrada's campaign manager, Ernesto Maceda, caught sight of her and asked her to come closer.
Estrada shook the lady's hand and humbly accepted when the woman offered to buss him on the cheek. Afterwards, Maceda gave P1,000 to the woman.
When asked if he was worried that he could be charged with vote-buying, Estrada said: "Di naman ako namigay. Hindi naman sya (Maceda) ang kandidato (I wasn't the one who gave the money. And [Maceda] is not the candidate.)
It was the second time for Estrada to campaign in Silay City, following his successful presidential campaign in 1998. This time, however, the crowd was much smaller than the one he drew 12 years ago.
Another ingredient missing in Monday's rally was tycoon Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco, the so-called kingmaker that brought Estrada to victory in Negros island in the 1998 elections.
Estrada said that during his heyday, he would never be seen in Negros without Cojuangco at his side.
"Syempre namimiss ko sya. Pero I understand, hindi sya makasama because he's sick. He has health problems," he said.
Despite Danding's absence, Estrada said he still communicates with the tycoon.