MANILA, Philippines - "President Arroyo's endorsement is not just the 'kiss of death', it is the touch of death."
The Nacionalista Party issued this statement Monday to condemn reports that President Arroyo and First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo are actually backing the candidacy of NP standard-bearer Sen. Manny Villar and not Lakas-Kampi-CMD presidential bet Gilbert "Gibo" Teodoro.
In an interview, NP senatorial bet Adel Tamano quashed rumors that Villar and the Arroyos have forged a secret agreement, leaving Teodoro without the backing of the President.
"First of all, Gloria is not just a 'kiss of death', it's a touch of death. If you want to lose the elections, just have your hand raised by President Arroyo. For example, Gibo should be a very strong candidate but because he is close to GMA, his ratings are very low. Ang tanga naman namin sa NP at si Manny Villar, kung manghihingi kami ng tulong kay GMA," he told ABS-CBN.
He added: "Very simply, the NP and Manny do not need her help. We do not want it. We are very happy that she is helping Gibo and not us."
Tamano said the reports that Teodoro is no longer the administration bet is actually an attack on Villar since any perceived closeness to the incumbent president would have an effect on ratings.
"By giving that idea, that we are not opposition, and that we strongly support GMA, nakakasira yun sa amin...We will have nothing to do with her, we are not asking for her support, we do not want her suppport," he said.
Reports of the rumored "Villaroyo" alliance escalated last week after Teodoro resigned as national chairman of the Lakas-Kampi CMD allegedly due to lack of financial support from the Arroyos.
The resignation came after former Ilocos Sur governor Luis "Chavit Singson, Bukidnon Gov. Jose Zubiri Jr. and former Cebu mayor Alvin Garcia, all Lakas stalwarts, pledged their support for Villar, which further fueled speculation that the Arroyos were backing the NP bet.
For his part, Teodoro's spokesman, Atty. Mike Toledo, reiterated that the administration party standard-bearer quit as national chairman because he wanted to focus on his campaign. He said that at least 70 percent of candidates running for local positions all over the country are Lakas-Kampi members.
"If they win, it will help the campaign of Gibo. It will be the local machinery that will give him the votes," he said. He also denied that Teodoro is planning to quit the presidential race.
Asked if President Arroyo is secretly backing Villar, he replied: "Ayaw naming sumama sa ganyang kampanya. It is politics of hatred and divisiveness and we want no part in it. Now whether or not it is true, as far as we are concerned, our campaign will continue. We don't give it any attention or importance."
Tamano said there seemed to be a double standard in the media about the defections of some Lakas members to NP.
He said that when some Lakas-Kampi members such as Recom Echiverri and Quezon City Mayor Feliciano "Sonny" Belmonte Jr. transferred to the Liberal Party, these were portrayed as a defection based on principle. On the other hand, when top Lakas leaders transferred to NP, these were portrayed as having the blessing of President Arroyo, the party's chair emeritus.
"I don't think that's right. They are transferring to us because they believe in our candidate and they see that they really have a strong chance at winning. On the ground, there a lot of Lakas members who want to transfer to us pero pinipigilan sila ni GMA," he said.
NP vice-presidential bet Loren Legarda, meanwhile, said her camp has received reports that former Cabinet members are behind the black propaganda being circulated against Villar. She added that she will reveal the names of those spreading lies about the NP candidate in due time.
LP senatorial candidate Risa Hontiveros, meanwhile, challenged Villar to file legal action against those who claim that the NP presidential bet is the true heir apparent of President Arroyo.
"Sue us. If he thinks that the 'Villaroyo' tag is slanderous, then he should file a case against those who use it," Hontiveros dared Villar.
Hontiveros, who is the congressional representative of Akbayan party-list group, said Villar has always been half-hearted with his opposition to the administration.
"On many issues, he has been lukewarm in his opposition to GMA. Instead of an outright condemnation of GMA's midnight appointments, he merely said that he would review them, disregarding the unconstitutionality of the executive action," she said. "The same lukewarm reaction could be seen from Villar on the Chief Justice issue."
"He still receives his pork barrel. He never openly called for GMA's resignation at the height of the 'Hello Garci'. Is that the track record of a true opposition leader?" asked Hontiveros.