[PHOTO AT LEFT - Vice President Noli de Castro and Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro greet each other during the merger of the Lakas-Kampi-CMD. De Castro and Teodoro were special guests at the party held at the Manila Hotel. Willy Perez MANILA, Philippines]

MANILA, MAY 29, 2009 (STAR) By Marvin Sy - Read her lips: elections will take place next year as scheduled.

President Arroyo personally vouched for the holding of general elections next year during her speech on the merger of the country’s two largest political parties yesterday.

Mrs. Arroyo dismissed speculations of a no-election scenario, citing the preparations made by the administration in the merger of the ruling party Lakas-Christian and Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD) and the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi).

“Cynics and detractors love to paint grim scenarios about the cancellation of the 2010 elections. Let this merger of Lakas and Kampi be tangible proof of the administration’s readiness, nay determination, to help ensure that the elections do push through,” Mrs. Arroyo told the gathering at the Manila Hotel.

Mrs. Arroyo emphasized the holding of elections next year is a victory for the entire nation.

“Let us achieve victory in the context and manner of clean and credible elections worthy of the Filipino’s democratic traditions,” she said.

Mrs. Arroyo has kept her silence on the issue amid speculations of a cancellation of elections due to the efforts of administration allies at the House of Representatives to amend the Constitution.

Apart from signing the law on the automation of the country’s election process early this year, Mrs. Arroyo left it to her aides to issue statements assuring the public that elections will be held next year.

During the formal launching of the merger of the two political parties now called Lakas-Kampi-CMD, the President said the elections in 2010 will definitely push through.

“After all, electoral reforms, especially automation, are a priority item in our administration’s 10-point agenda,” the President added.

Speaker Prospero Nograles, the prime mover in the efforts to amend the Constitution, expressed support for the merger.

Nograles said that elections would take place next year notwithstanding efforts to tinker with the Constitution.

He said Charter change efforts could simply taper off due to lack of time.


Nograles, as the ranking party leader of Lakas, was among those who witnessed the launching of the merger but the principal players that created Lakas were notably absent.

Mrs. Arroyo, as chairman of Lakas-CMD, formally launched the occasion but party chairman emeritus and founder, former President Fidel Ramos, was not around.

Mrs. Arroyo did not even mention Ramos during the launching.

But Ramos’ spokesman Ed Malay said the former president had just arrived from the US after a three-week speaking tour and proceeded to a hospital for “self-quarantine.”

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and presidential adviser on political affairs Gabriel Claudio, both members of Lakas-CMD, said they were expecting Ramos to attend the event.

“We were all expecting him. We announced it already. He came from abroad and he landed (early morning yesterday) but then for some reason he is not here yet. I have no idea,” Ermita said.

Claudio said Ramos had confirmed his attendance to the convention.

In consideration of his trip overseas, the organizers even moved the date from some time last week to yesterday, he said.

Claudio denied insinuations that the former president may have boycotted the convention because of some disagreements over the merger process.

“I don’t think so. Because we had been reporting to President Ramos in his capacity as chairman emeritus of Lakas and now chair emeritus of Lakas-Kampi-CMD,” Claudio said.

Ramos was apparently dissatisfied with the turn of events, particularly the status of Lakas-CMD, which he co-founded with Pangasinan Rep. Jose De Venecia Jr.

Insiders revealed Ramos was unhappy over the merger that was done with the undue haste.

The merger was said to have been done without getting the approval of the national directorate and ratification by the general assembly.

Pangasinan Rep Jose de Venecia Jr., co-founder of Lakas with Ramos, was also absent during the gathering. He had indicated that Ramos wanted Lakas to become the surviving entity in the merger as a condition for his support.

But this did not happen as a new constitution and bylaws were drafted and adopted during the convention yesterday, indicating that a new party – Lakas-Kampi-CMD – was created.

Some members of the two parties have raised concerns that the merger could end up causing more problems instead of unifying the factions within the two parties.

Erstwhile Kampi president Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte also did not attend the gathering. He decided not to take part in the merger and has effectively left his party.

Claudio admitted there were disagreements over the manner by which the merger was concluded.

He admitted Villafuerte was unhappy over the development.

“But in the end, as you can see, all of the members of the Lakas national directorate and the Kampi national council… have come to this assembly to adopt and ratify the merger of the two parties into one,” Claudio pointed out.

He said Villafuerte wanted some issues to be resolved before the merger took place, particularly regarding conflict in the local level.

“If we wait till all of them are settled, although they comprise only 30 percent of all localities all over the country, we will not be able to have the merger,” Claudio said.

Another notable party member, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chairman Bayani Fernando, was also absent.

Both Ermita and Claudio could not comment on why Fernando, as vice president for the National Capital Region of Lakas-CMD, was not around to witness the merger.

But the MMDA chairman’s wife, Marikina Mayor Marides Fernando, attended yesterday’s convention.

Fernando has been actively campaigning for party support in his bid for the 2010 presidential elections.

In a statement, Fernando blamed the “lack of fairness” of some party members in favoring outsiders.

Fernando cited the apparent zealousness by party members over Vice President Noli de Castro and Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr.

“Several party leaders, in their press statements, could not contain their enthusiasm for their favorites like Vice President Noli de Castro and Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, who are not even Lakas party members,” Fernando said.

He said a high-ranking party member was even quoted as saying the merger would accommodate De Castro and Teodoro and later determine who between them would be the party’s standard-bearer in the 2010 elections.

“They are conditioning the minds of the public to accept an inevitable De Castro or Teodoro candidacy,” Fernando said.

De Castro and Teodoro attended the gathering yesterday, apparently bolstering Fernando’s suspicions that the merger was geared for their possible accommodation to the new party.

De Castro ran as an independent and was adopted by the ruling party as vice presidential candidate in 2004 elections.

Teodoro, on the other hand, is a ranking member of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC).

“The reason why Vice President Noli de Castro and Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro were acknowledged is because they are not members of the party and they came here, they were invited as special guests and observers,” Claudio later reasoned out.

Guest candidates

De Castro, for his part, said he was merely invited to grace the affair.

He denied allegations that arrangements are being made to include him in the shortlist of possible presidential candidates of the new party.

“Nothing yet. I cannot decide this early since the elections are still far away. Like I said, my options are open so why should I seek an endorsement (from the ruling party) this early. I have not made the decision to join the party,” De Castro told reporters.

De Castro insisted he was “one of the guests” and his presence in the gathering was his manifestation of his gratitude to the party leaders who supported him in the 2004 election.

“I know many await word on my political plans. I am studying my options and I believe there is a proper time to make known my decision for 2010, as I opt to continue doing my tasks as Vice President, Housing chief, OFW presidential adviser and Task Force Against Illegal Recruitment,” he said.

De Castro said he would not want his performance in the government in the coming months to be perceived as part of a campaign for the presidency.

Teodoro, on the other hand, was more direct in his political plans.

The former Tarlac congressman said he would “vigorously seek” the endorsement of President Arroyo as administration standard-bearer in the elections next year.

“I have no reason to feel ashamed about my association with the President and her administration. To me, it is only proper that I seek her blessings, first and foremost, because she is my boss,” he said.

Teodoro also called on the new party to adopt “acceptable and democratic” methods in choosing its presidential candidate.

He advised all aspirants seeking the nomination of the ruling coalition and the President’s blessings “not to be ashamed of making public their intentions because there is no need for anyone to be hypocritical about it.”

Although admitting his dismal survey ratings, Teodoro said that if he is named the administration standard-bearer, his political chances would definitely improve. –With Paolo Romero, Pia Lee-Brago, Rhodina Villanueva

Erap eyes own merger of opposition parties By Jose Rodel Clapano Updated May 29, 2009 12:00 AM

SAN FELIPE, Zambales, Philippines – Former President Joseph Estrada hinted yesterday at the possible merger of his party, the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP), with PDP-Laban, the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) and the Liberal Party (LP) for the national elections next year.

In an interview, Estrada said a merged PMP, PDP-Laban, NPC and LP would all the more strengthen the opposition in 2010.

Estrada also belittled the chances of administration candidates even with a merged Lakas and Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi).

“Like in the 2007 senatorial elections, we have a strong lineup of candidates for the 2010 elections. The administration will enter the needle’s eye. The opposition will be an issue-oriented one in next year’s elections,” Estrada said.

He said that the administration will have a hard time explaining to the people the issues on “rising unemployment, rampant graft and corruption and the peace and order problems in the country today.”

“Our country has been named as the most corrupt country in Asia; second to the most corrupt country all over the world. International human rights groups also tagged the Philippines as a very dangerous place for journalists. We would easily beat the administration candidates,” Estrada said, adding that Filipino voters of today are intelligent.

“The people will no longer allow themselves to be fooled. You may fool them once, but not twice,” Estrada said.

Estrada said the vice presidential candidate of the opposition will be known either in August or September.

“Whoever will be chosen, the opposition candidate will surely win. All our presidentiables are winnable and highly qualified. There are Senators Loren Legarda, Manny Villar, Manuel Roxas, Panfilo Lacson and Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay. All of them are capable. We will see the realignment of candidates and who will slide down either by August or September,” Estrada said, adding that the opposition will also have a stronger vice presidential candidate because he or she will come from the list of presidential contenders who will not be chosen as the opposition standard-bearer.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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