TAGBILARAN CITY, BOHOL – When you’re not around, you’ll be the talk of town.
Thus has been the case for Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero, whose absence during the proclamation rally of United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) in Cebu on Tuesday sparked a debate about his allegiance.
Vice President Jejomar Binay raised the probability of Escudero being dropped as guest candidate for UNA after he failed to send a proxy to campaign on his behalf with the coalition.
Binay said the party has no choice but to let go of Escudero if he continues to snub UNA’s invitation to campaign, breaking his promises to join opposition senatorial bets in big rallies and sorties.
“The other two (common candidates) were able to send representatives. How about him? Why was he acting like that? What I understand, he promised to join us (after the proclamation rally),” Binay said.
“We have talked about this during sorties and in this situation, we are the aggrieved party here. We are endorsing him but what about us?” Binay raised.
On Tuesday afternoon, UNA campaign manager Tobias “Toby” Tiangco ordered organizers not to display Escudero’s tarpaulin in the proclamation stage in Plaza Independencia in Cebu.
The Caloocan City lawmaker said he also did not allow to play the video, which Escudero sent as an alternative for his absence.
Tiangco explained otherwise would be unfair to other common candidates – former censors chief Grace Poe-Llamanzares, who sent her son Brian, and Senator Loren Legarda, who sent her father Tony.
Tiangco, Binay, former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada, and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile never mentioned Escudero’s name in any part of the program for UNA’s proclamation rally on Tuesday.
In a radio interview, Escudero said he was not aware that UNA has allowed common candidates to send representatives to campaign on their stead.
“I no longer have a father like Loren, and I’m not like Grace because my children are still 5 years old. I sent a video message but they did not show it,” Escudero explained.
“It’s their call really and I respect their decision not to air it. But Congressman Toby and I talked about it before the rally,” he added.
A staff member from Escudero’s camp confirmed that the re-electionist senator has just arrived in Manila from a five-day vacation with his girlfriend Heart Evangelista in San Francisco on the morning the day the official campaign period began.
Escudero chose to attend Team PNoy’s big assembly at Plaza Miranda in Quiapo, Manila, saying: "It's inevitable given the long 90-day campaign.”
Zambales Rep. Ma. Milagros “Mitos” Magsaysay said UNA will discuss whether Escudero and the other common candidates still deserve to be part of the coalition’s senatorial ticket.
Magsaysay, who is also running for a seat in Senate, explained UNA members want to arrive at a consensus whether they will excuse or tolerate Escudero’s response during the proclamation rally.
“The writing is on the wall already. This means that he would rather join the other side. If he thinks he can win the elections without UNA, then so be it,” Magsaysay told reporters in a separate interview.
“I think the sortie here in Tagbilaran will determine that if they will be here with us today,” she added.
She also urged Escudero, who placed second the latest Pulse Asia and Social Weather Station senatorial surveys last January, to make a categorical decision on which senatorial slate he will join.
“He should have made this decision early on. Perhaps, this is the first step for us to move on. If he does not want to be with us, then we have no choice,” Magsaysay added.
But UNA senatorial candidate, former Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, urged his colleagues to be more understanding to Escudero.
“Kawawa rin naman si Chiz. Namatay ‘yung tatay niya tapos his mom is running for a local position. Sino’ng mapapadala niya?” Zubiri said in a separate interview.
Sorsogon Rep. Salvador “Sonny” Escudero passed away due to cancer last year.
Expressing regret of the chance Escudero could have had in being part of UNA, Zubiri said he could have made an effort in reaching out to UNA.
“Sana pinadala niya na lang si Heart para bongga,” Zubiri said.