MANILA, Philippines - Nacionalista Party standard-bearer Sen. Manuel "Manny" Villar Jr. has strengthened his base of support in northern Luzon.
On Friday night, 15 of the 30 congressmen from Cordillera, La Union, Pangasinan, Ilocos region, Isabela and Cagayan publicly announced that they are endorsing Villar for president.
The group includes 8 Lakas-Kampi-CMD congressmen led by House Deputy Speaker Eric Singson of Ilocos Sur's 2nd District.
"I am going with the group to support Senator Villar because they are the majority," Singson said.
The others are:
Isabela Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao (Lakas),
Ilocos Sur 1st District Rep. Ronald Singson (Lakas),
Apayao Rep. Elias Bulut (Lakas),
Pangasinan Rep. Arthur Celeste (Lakas),
Ifugao Rep. Solomon Chungalao (Lakas),
Benguet Rep. Samuel Dangwa (Lakas),
Pangasinan Rep. Conrado Estrella (Lakas),
Zambales Rep. Antonio Diaz (Lakas),
Abono party-list Reps. Pacoy Ortega and Robert Raymund Estrella,
Apec party-list Reps. Ernesto Pablo and Edgar Valdez,
Nacionalista Party's Nueva Vizcaya Rep. Carlos Padilla; and,
Coop Natco Rep. Jose Ping-ay.
The group made the announcement after a 4-hour closed-door meeting at Camp John Hay in Baguio City on Friday night.
Singson said 15 more congressman from northern Luzon are asking for more time to decide on their presidential candidate.
Majority of the congressmen are officially campaigning for administration candidate Gilberto "Gibo" Teodoro.
Several Lakas-Kampi-CMD members have said that the party's failure to provide them campaign funds was one of the reasons for their defections.
Despite the losses, Teodoro said in a campaign sortie in Mandaluyong City on Friday night that he will not back out of the presidential race.
Teodoro condemned the party defections in his speech.
He also belied rumors that he is talking with the camps of Liberal Party standard-bearer Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III and Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino's Joseph Estrada for possible alliance.
"We are not talking to anybody, and I'd like to make this public announcement, I'm fighting to win and calling upon all our volunteers. Hangagng sa uli, walang atrasan ito (Until the end, there is no turning back)," he said.
Teodoro had taken a 2-day break from the campaign to conduct a loyalty check among members of the Lakas-Kampi-CMD.
He recently visited officials of the ruling party in Davao and Compostela Valley seeking assurance of their support. -- Reports from Dhobbie de Guzman, ABS-CBN North Luzon and ANC