MANILA - Sen. Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III on Wednesday said he remains unfazed by the presidential bid of his cousin, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, after the latter was chosen as the Lakas-Kampi Christian Muslim Democrats (CMD) standard bearer for the 2010 election.
In an interview, Aquino acknowledged that the administration coalition has the bigger party machinery compared to the Liberal Party. He added, however, that LP volunteers would be more than a match to the Lakas-Kampi machinery.
"Do no underestimate the power of volunteerism. Tingnan niyo nga ang EDSA?" he said, referring to the 1986 popular bloodless revolt that toppled the Marcos dictatorship and catapulted his mother, Corazon Aquino, to the presidency.
Aquino said he considers Sen. Manny Villar of the Nacionalista Party as probably his toughest opponent in the 2010 polls after the latter placed second only to Aquino in the most recent survey tracking voter sentiment in Luzon.
He said that while Teodoro has not been doing well in popularity surveys, he expects the longstanding feud between their two families to be raised constantly during the presidential campaign.
While Teodoro's mother Mercedes Cojuangco is the first cousin of Aquino's mother, former President Corazon Aquino, both families have always been on different sides of the political fence since the 1960's.
During the time of then strongman Ferdinand Marcos, Teodoro's father served as Social Security System administrator while Noynoy’s father, the late senator Benigno Aquino Jr. was a leading opposition leader.
Even their uncles, San Miguel Corp. Chairman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, and Jose “Peping” Cojuangco, were bitter political rivals in Tarlac.
The two were also schooled in rival schools, Teodoro being a college graduate of De La Salle University, while Noynoy graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University.
The biggest difference between the two, however, is how they view the Arroyo administration. Teodoro has promised to continue the gains made by President Arroyo while Aquino has been a vocal critic of the incumbent.
Enrile: Gibo has a fighting chance
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, meanwhile, said Teodoro has a good fighting chance in the 2010 poll after being chosen to be the administration party's standard bearer. "I will not underestimate him," the Senate chief said.
Enrile said Teodoro speaks fluent Ilocano, which could translate to as much as 5 million to 7 million votes come election time. He noted that Ilocanos are usually clannish when it comes to voting.
He also said Aquino and Teodoro could split the vote in Tarlac, which is the bailiwick of the Cojuangco clan.
Enrile said potential presidential candidate Sen. Francis Escudero of the Nationalist People's Coalition would lean more on the youth vote. He said 40 percent of the country's voting population is between 18-35 years old.
Vote-rich regions such as Nueva Ecija, meanwhile, could be a toss-up between former president Joseph Estrada and the other presidential contenders, Enrile said.
The Senate president said there is no clear frontrunner in the presidential race since popularity surveys could change in time. He noted, however, that a tandem between Villar and Vice-President Noli de Castro as well as Noynoy and Sen. Mar Roxas would be strong. De Castro has turned down the invitation of Lakas-Kampi CMD to become the party's standard bearer but declined to say if he would join next year's presidential race.
Gibo presidency bad for RP sovereignty
Militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, meanwhile, said a Teodoro presidency may be bad news for Philippine sovereignty because of the defense chief's track record of defending the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement.
"He is the only presidential aspirant who has been vocal in saying that we cannot live without the VFA. If that is the kind of foreign policy mentality that he will promote, one of dependency and mendicancy, then that's like another six years of GMA. Expect our country to be treated like a doormat by US troops for the next six years under a Teodoro presidency," Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes, Jr. said in a statement.
Bayan and its allied groups held a protest Wednesday at the United States embassy to mark the 18th anniversary of the Philippine Senate's rejection of the US bases treaty. The protest comes in the wake of renewed efforts this time to abrogate the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement.
Reyes said Bayan members in the US revealed that Teodoro spoke at a forum by the right-wing Heritage Foundation in Washington DC last September 10, and tried hard to court US support for his presidency.
"It was reported that he emphasized that the close ties between the US and the Philippines are not only economic, political, and military but also cultural and personal. He cited his family's ties to the US. The impression he was giving was that he was a natural friend of the US, according to our reliable sources," Reyes said.
"We don't know if he has already secured the blessings of the US government for his electoral run. Presidential aspirants have in the past sought support from the US because of its huge influence in Philippine economy and politics over the last century," he added.
The group likened Teodoro to Ramon Magsaysay, though minus the populist charm. Both Teodoro and Magsaysay were one-time defense secretaries. Historians have pointed out that Magsaysay had the support of the US en route to becoming president.