PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — House Minority Leader Francis Escudero ended on Tuesday speculations about his political affiliation as he filed his candidacy for the Senate under the United Opposition (UNO) ticket.
Speaking to reporters, Escudero also said the proposed Third Force, or unity ticket, would die in the run-up to the May polls, with candidates splitting into administration and opposition camps.
“In the end, there is only one force and that is the people,” the lawmaker stressed, adding that a strong opposition is healthy for democracy.
Escudero made the remarks a day after President Arroyo backed the proposal of Chief of Staff Michael Defensor to endorse a unity slate.
Administration officials have named several reelectionist senators as possible members of this slate. But while the Nationalista Party under Senate President Manny Villar has formed a Third Force with independent members of the Liberal Party, the group said they would form an alliance with either Arroyo’s ruling coalition or deposed President Estrada’s UNO.
Escudero, 37, was the 17th candidate to file a certificate of candidacy (COC) for senator. Commission on Elections (Comelec) officials said he is the first serious contender for national office since the election period started on January 15.
Escudero arrived at the Comelec office about 9 a.m., after attending Mass at the Manila Cathedral.
Comelec personnel mobbed the young congressman, hugging him and clasping his hands as his wife, Christine, and actress Susan Roces, widow of his godfather, the late actor Fernando Poe Jr., looked on.
“There will be no turning back. I will not deviate from the path I have decided to travel,” Escudero said. “From this point on, I am putting my fate completely in the hands of the people.”
The Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) of tycoon Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco nominated Escudero.
The NPC is allied with the administration’s Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats and Kampi but the young lawmaker chose to run under the UNO banner.
“I have been a member of the Nationalist People’s Coalition since 1998. And there is no reason for me to change my political affiliation now,” Escudero said.
“I am with the opposition and I will remain with it. I expect my party [NPC] to support me as it did many times in the past,” he said.
Escudero confirmed reports that administration operators had wooed him for the unity ticket.
“But my answer was always that I would run under the opposition and I would remain with it,” he stressed.
UNO expects to complete its senatorial lineup within the week, he added.
Malacañang Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said the administration expected Escudero’s move.
“It’s no surprise,” said Bunye at a press briefing.
Escudero explained that a strong opposition is indispensable to the growth of Philippine democracy.
“But I will always lend my support to measures introduced in the Senate, whether by the administration or by the opposition, if to my mind the country will benefit from them,” he added. UNO, he clarified, “is not all about being antiadministration.”
Roces said she would campaign for Escudero because she believes he represents the better breed of young politicians.
The actress said she prayed for “clean and honest” elections.
Asked to for her reactions on the Senate reelection campaigns of lawmakers who stonewalled on the opposition’s electoral protests, Roces took the high road.
“My personal feeling will remain personal. I don’t harbor any grudge or hatred towards anyone,” said Roces.