MANILA - The Lakas-Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-Kampi-CMD) is expected to pick Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro as its standard-bearer during the ruling party's national executive committee meeting on Wednesday.
Although its strongest possible presidential aspirant Vice-President Noli de Castro has yet to make it official that he will not be joining the ruling party, members of the ruling party have already given up on him.
“Based on his physical appearance, his body language, non-commitment to the party, maybe he is not interested. I don't see how somebody will just get anything without applying for it,” said Lakas-Kampi-CMD vice-chairman and House Speaker Prospero Nograles.
“Ayaw talaga e. I think he might go [for] vice-president,” said Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez, Lakas-Kampi-CMD senior deputy secretary-general.
“Kung ako si Noli, I won't be comfortable either. This will be a very hard statement. We are not yet politically mature. Money really plays a major role. If Noli will run based on the mercy of how much people will contribute, he cannot really muster a good number,” Suarez added.
The party had given de Castro up to midnight on Tuesday to make up his mind, with presidential political adviser and Lakas-Kampi-CMD secretary-general Gabriel Claudio involved in the talks.
Several members of the ruling party believe that de Castro will run as Villar's running mate. Villar and de Castro are part of the Senate's so-called "Wednesday Club," a group of neophyte senators elected in 2001. The others in the informal club, which used to meet every Wednesday, include Senators Francis Pangilinan, Joker Arroyo, and former Senator Ralph Recto.
Teodoro has upper hand
With de Castro out, the ruling party will have to choose from its two member-aspirants: Teodoro and Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chairman Bayani Fernando.
On Wednesday (September 16), the Lakas-Kampi-CMD national executive committee will hold a meeting to decide on the party's standard-bearer. Of the 64 national executive committee members, 33 are congressmen and 25 are governors. The rest are Palace and local officials.
Based on the meetings held by both contenders on Tuesday (September 15), Teodoro clearly has the upper hand.
In a breakfast meeting for Teodoro organized by Zambales Rep. Milagros Magsaysay, a total of 84 Lakas-Kampi-CMD and party-list representatives signed a manifesto supporting him as Lakas-Kampi-CMD's standard-bearer.
Bukidnon Rep. Jose Maria Zubiri III, brother of Teodoro's supporter in the upper house, Senator Miguel Zubiri, described Teodoro as the “future president of the republic.”
“We congressmen should have a say in choosing our standard-bearer. We cannot allow the executive committee to make the decision for us. We are the foot soldiers. We have a better sense of who should be the next president,” said Magsaysay.
Among the signatories in the manifesto are national executive committee members, Nograles; vice-president for policy Rep. Rodolfo Antonino; vice-president for peace and security Rep. Douglas Cagas; vice-president for public affairs Palawan Rep. Antonio Alvarez; and, spokesperson Rep. Jose Aquino II.
Other signatories are vice-president for legal affairs, Iloilo Rep. Raul Gonzalez Jr., son of presidential legal counsel Raul Gonzalez; and, Rep. Roberto Puno, the brother of Lakas-Kampi-CMD vice-chairman Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno.
Majority of governors for Teodoro, too
Nograles said he will abide by the party decision even if Teodoro is not chosen. He added that Tuesday's show of support for Teodoro would weigh heavily on the party's national executive committee.
“The people who will wake up very early to have breakfast here is an indication that they will probably support the candidacy of Gilbert. Mahirap magising ng umaga e. I am the Lakas president before. Partilista ako. Doon ako kung sino mapili ng party. My personal choice does not matter. But if I wake up early morning to have breakfast here, palagay ko naman,” Nograles said.
President Arroyo's brother-in-law, Negros Occidental Rep. Ignacio Arroyo, also signed the manifesto supporting Teodoro's bid.
Asked if his stand reflects the First Family's choice, Rep. Arroyo said: “Sa akin lang po ito. But the First Gentleman would want somebody intelligent, somebody who knows politics. Teodoro's been in politics. He has been a congressman. He has held an executive position also. I think, as far as qualifications go, he is qualified. That's all the family wants to see. Qualification. Hopefully, we can help him out with the ratings.”
The League of Provinces of the Philippines earlier endorsed the presidential bid of Teodoro.
According to league president, Misamis Occidental Gov. Loreto Leo Ocampos, 61 of the total 79 governors nationwide are supporting Teodoro.
“He [Teodoro] is a consensus builder. He is a local chief executive. We share a common discipline,” Ocampos said.
As an ex-officio member of the Lakas-Kampi-CMD executive committee, Ocampos can vote in Wednesday's meeting.
Teodoro's cousin for Fernando
However, Fernando is not one to give up so easily.
His lunch meeting at the Edsa Shangri-La didn't muster as many endorsers as Teodoro's breakfast meeting, but this did not discourage Fernando. He spent the afternoon in the House of Representatives going room to room to talk with about 15 members of the Lakas-Kampi-CMD executive committee.
Only two members of the Lakas-Kampi-CMD executive committee were reportedly present in Fernando's lunch meeting—senior deputy secretary-general Rep. Jose Solis and vice-president for public affairs Rep. Amado Bagatsing.
Asked to comment on the manifesto endorsing Teodoro's bid, Fernando said, “Magaling. Pero di naman lahat boboto yun e. Lahat ng makausap ko, boboto din sa akin e. Malay mo, pumirma dun para sa attendance. Ako, naniniwala na nasa akin ang hinahanap ng partido para kami ay manalo."
Fernando said he also got the support of Lakas-Kampi-CMD vice-president for Visayas, Rep. Art Defensor.
Ironically, one of Fernando's supporters in the House is Teodoro's cousin, Marikina City Rep. Marcelino Teodoro.
"This is a political decision," the Marikina congressman told reporters. Although he and Secretary Teodoro are distant cousins, he said he has had longer relationship with Fernando, a long-time mayor of Marikina.
Asked if Secretary Teodoro approached him for his support he said, "Alam namang nyang hindi ako nakakadalo sa mga imbitasyon. Tingin ko naiintindihan naman nya."
A lot of catching up
Whoever is chosen between Teodoro and Fernando, party members said they will do their best to help their standard-bearer catch up in the surveys.
Teodoro and Fernando are way behind survey leaders like Senators Manny Villar of the Nacionalista Party and former President Joseph Estrada. Fernando got only 1% while Teodoro got 0.2% voter preference in the August 2009 survey of Pulse Asia.
Palawan Rep. Alvarez is counting on the machinery of Lakas-Kampi-CMD to kick in once the party chooses its standard-bearer.
“Ang aking prediction, by January, kahit anong sabihin kay Pangulong Arroyo, wala na yun. Ang pag-uusapan credibility ng kandidato,” Suarez said.