PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — The political opposition on Sunday made good claims to forge a “grand and broad opposition” coalition by adopting “independent” Senate President Manuel Villar, Sen. Francis Pangilinan, former senator Dominique Coseteng and jailed Magdaló leader Antonio Trillanes IV in its senatorial lineup.
At a news briefing, Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, chairman of the United Opposition (UNO), said a new name would be coined for the broad alliance.
“This is the winning slate, the opposition slate,” Binay said. “This is not UNO, LP [Liberal Party], NP [Nacionalista Party], PDP [Partido Demokratikong Pilipino] or whatever. It is the grand and broad coalition of people from all sectors; the women sectors, the youth, the political sector, the civil society.”
“You will not find any Senatorial slate better than this one,” a jubilant Binay crowed.
Binay’s announcement came a few hours after Villar issued a press statement saying he is running as an independent.
“After much introspection and consultation with the people that matter around me, I have decided to run as an independent candidate in my bid for reelection as a senator. I believe that my running as an independent is best and fair to everyone concerned,” Villar said.
“I am very much aware that there were many speculations on which group I will join, but for the sake of fairness and independence as well as not to hurt anyone’s feelings, I decided to be an independent candidate,” he added. “In the heated political environment that we are in now, there is room for people with a neutral stance.”
“He is a special guest, on the specific request of [deposed President] Estrada,” the source said. “So is Kiko. They remain independent, which is why the coalition is scouting for a name to reflect this.”
Villar will run under the banner of the oldest political party in the country, the Nacionalista Party with the slogan “Ang Bayan Higit Sa Lahat” (The Country Above All Else).
Despite the Wednesday group splitting into opposition and administration slates, Villar stressed that the group, which includes Sens. Joker Arroyo and Ralph Recto, would remain strong.
“We have proven in the Senate that cooperation is the key,” he stressed. “There are 23 personalities who have different opinions most of the time and yet we manage to work together as one. During my term as a Senate President, we passed 109 bills in record time. That is a testimony to the cooperation among all the senators regardless of our political leanings.”
The Gringo question
Binay, who earlier came under fire for efforts to rope in the Senate independents as UNO members, clarified, “it is not UNO; it is a grand and broad coalition.”
“UNO is just one of the many parties that are included in this coalition. We are still discussing what we will call this slate,” Binay added.
The opposition appointed San Juan Mayor JV Ejercito as campaign manager and lawyer Adel A. Tamano as spokesman.
Ejercito was asked by the former President to give up his senatorial bid for the sake of opposition unity. He agreed and escorted his replacement, Sonia Roco, widow of the late senator and presidential contender, Raul Roco, when she filed her certificate of candidacy.
The Lakas-Kampi coalition had earlier invited Tamano to be the Muslim representative in the administration slate but the lawyer’s close friends said he was set on the opposition.
Of Villar and Pangilinan, Tamano said: “In the end, whether you call them adopted or guests, they are part of our slate. They are official candidates of this grand coalition. And if you asked them, they would not deny that they are part of this slate.”
Binay refused to explain why the opposition picked Trillanes over former senator Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan.
“It is a unanimous decision reached after negotiations and consultations with the coalition parties,” he said.
Binay said the opposition would discuss how to help campaign for Trillanes, who remains detained in the Marine Headquarters in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig.
Opposition sources, however, said civil society groups were adamantly opposed to Honasan. Other opposition stalwarts also raised earlier reports that he and former senator Vicente Sotto III, now with the administration slate, were hatching a deal with the administration when cops captured him in November 2006.
Binay said the group would immediately start campaign plan discussions and have its first mass appearance by Tuesday or Wednesday.
He said the group would not focus on personalities but on issues currently hounding the administration.
Also present in the opposition meeting were former senator Ernesto Maceda, Horacio Morales, party-list Rep. Joel Villanueva, Corazon Soliman, former senator John Osmeña, Black and White Movement’s Vicente Romano, Leah Navarro and Leticia Ramos-Shahani.