MANILA - Senator and presidential wannabe Manuel Villar on Tuesday admitted that he is threatened by the rising popularity of Sen. Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III after the latter declared his intention to run for president in 2010.
Asked if he feels threatened by Noynoy, Villar acknowledged: "Siyempre, si Noynoy ang malakas ngayon (Of course, because Noynoy is strong now)."
He added, however, that Noynoy's popularity may be shortlived since the other presidential candidates are equally strong. He said he himself was trailing in the surveys until recently.
Villar criticized Aquino while telling his supporters that he would not back down from his presidential bid.
"Ang tunay na demokrasya ay makakamit kung pagbibigyan ng tao na maging presidente ang isang anak ng mahirap at hindi kailangan maging anak ng presidente (True democracy can be achieved if men will allow a son of poor parents, not just a son of president, to become president)," he said in a political rally in Cavite.
He later said he was not criticizing Aquino since the incumbent President Arroyo is also the daughter of a former president, Diosdado Macapagal. Aquino is the son of former president and freedom icon Corazon Aquino.
Villar added that there was nothing inherently wrong with being the son or daughter of a former president.
Villar has centered his campaign on a pro-poor platform, anchored on the slogan "Ang taong galing sa hirap, tumutulong sa mahihirap (A person who comes from poverty helps the poor)."
Aquino, on the other hand, has been thrust into the national limelight after the death of his mother last August 1. He declared his candidacy earlier this month after his partymate, Liberal Party president Mar Roxas, backed out of the race and supported his bid.
Villar, meanwhile, said he has yet to choose a running mate for the 2010 polls. He said he would make a final decision once he files his candidacy in November.
He also told former president Joseph Estrada to "relax" after the latter was linked to smuggling, strong-arm and illegal numbers rackets during his protracted term as president. He said Estrada's accuser, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, should present evidence to back his claims.
Lacson had earlier accused Villar of profiting from a double-insertion for the C-5 road project.
Magdalo members back Villar
Meanwhile, some 300 members of the Partido Magdalo on Tuesday pledged their support for Villar's Nacionalista Party. Former Cavite vice-governor Jonvic Remulla led 18 out of 23 Cavite mayors in pledging their support for Villar, adding that they would deliver 1.5 million votes for the senator's 2010 presidential bid.
Among those who pledged their support for Villar was Cavite Rep. Jesus Crispin "Boying" Remulla, a former spokesman of Estrada's Partido ng Masang Pilipino. In an interview, Remulla said Estrada gave his blessings when he told the forrmer president that he would join the Nacionalista Party.
He said he believes Villar would be the best candidate to support since Estrada "is not accepted by the rich" while Aquino is being supported by civil society, which he termed as a divisive force. "It's about time we find a middle ground," he said.