GMA defends opposition entry into senate slate

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal Arroyo yesterday defended the inclusion of her political opponents in the administration’s Senate slate amid rumblings of discontent from her allies.

The President said the formation of the “unity ticket” was in line with her desire for leaders of both sides of the political fence to set aside divisive partisan conflicts and to wage a common battle to make the country economically and politically stable.

“We must continue to lead this nation to loftier heights of achievement not only on the economy but on all fronts of political stability and social reform,” the President said at a stock-listing ceremony at the Philippine Stock Exchange.

“Good economic sense tells me to avoid the partisan fray and focus on mustering leaders at all levels who will help push our Philippine plan.”

Top administration officials have confirmed the inclusion of two of the President’s harshest critics, former senators Vicente Sotto III and Teresita Aquino Oreta, in the administration’s ticket.

Presidential chief-of-staff Michael Defensor said the drafting of opposition politicians was nothing new.

In the 2004 elections, opposition politicians Miriam Defensor Santiago, John Osmeña, Orlando Mercado, and Rodolfo Biazon accepted the President’s offer to run under the administration banner, he said.

Speaker Jose de Venecia yesterday identified six sure candidates for the administration.

Aside from Defensor, Sotto and Oreta, these were Bukidnon Rep. Jose Zubiri, Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay, and Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis Singson.

Palace sources added a seventh name, opposition Senator Edgardo Angara of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino.

Five more slots were being reserved for incumbent senators running for re-election, the Palace sources added.

The aspirants on the “waiting list” are Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, actor Edu Manzano, former Senator Heherson Alvarez, Isabela Gov. Grace Padaca, and actor Richard Gomez.

De Venecia said Tarlac Rep. Gilbert Teodoro would forgo a run for the Senate and seek office as governor instead.

Sources said Nationalist People’s Coalition founder Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. was instrumental in bringing Sotto and Oreta to the administration ticket.

They added that he also wanted House Minority Leader Francis Escudero to run under the administration banner, but the congressman stuck it out with the opposition.

The rift between incumbent senators and the United Opposition of deposed President Joseph Estrada remained wide yesterday. Senator Francis Pangilinan criticized the opposition for its take-it-or-leave- it attitude toward the Wednesday Group in the Senate, of which he is a part.

While the opposition has reserved slots in its lineup for the Wednesday Group, Pangilinan and his colleagues want to run in the same ticket as other incumbent senators.

In her speech, the President focused on the country’s economic gains.

Export growth was in double digits, direct foreign investment had sored to $2 billion, and almost one million jobs were created last year, she said.

With the passage of the 2007 budget, billions would be spent on education, health care, social services and new roads, bridges and ports.

“I see 2007 as the year we start to bring home the fruits of reform to those who need nourishment most—the poor here in the Philippines,” she said.

“For years the government has promised much but delivered little through the painful but necessary battles to raise new revenue, crack down on tax cheats, and prosecute corrupt government officials. We are now finally a nation ready to do right by our poorest citizens.”