Ambassador Eduardo Cojuangco, chairman emeritus of the Nationalist People’s Coalition, yesterday denied allegations that he is acting like a dictator in Negros by choosing candidates himself and discarding the others.
“That is farthest from the truth. I have never dictated to anybody here in Negros, in fact, we have always followed the decision of the majority,” he said at a press conference at L’Fisher Hotel in Bacolod City, where he stressed his support for the gubernatorial bid of Vice Governor Genaro Alvarez Jr.
The formidable United Negros Alliance, the local political party he founded, that for more than 10 years has dominated Negros Occidental politics, and allowed many of its members to run unopposed has broken up.
Two of the top UNA leaders, Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr. and Alvarez, have announced that they are running against each other in 2013.
Both have also said they are fielding full slates from congressmen down to the councilors.
Cojuangco is supporting the bid of Alvarez, who is running under the NPC ticket.
Marañon is running for governor under UNA, which he chairs.
At the press conference, Cojuangco presented a video of the August 30 meeting in Manila attended by himself, the six congressmen of Negros Occidental – Julio Ledesma IV, Alfredo Marañon III, Alfredo Abelardo Benitez, Jeffrey Ferrer, Alejandro Mirasol and Mercedes Alvarez, Gov. Marañon, Vice Gov. Alvarez and former governor and present Kabankalan Mayor Isidro Zayco.
At the meeting, the ambassador explained to those present how he came to support Alvarez for governor.
‘BENITEZ TOLD ME’
The ambassador said his support for Alvarez was triggered after Benitez, Liberal Party Negros chairman, met with him on May 2 to inform him that they had a problem in UNA. Benitez told him that UNA would disintegrate because a lot of the congressmen and mayors would not support the governor anymore, the ambassador said.
The report of Benitez was echoed by Ledesma of the first district, and Zayco, Cojuangco said.
Cojuangco also said he did not expect Ferrer to be helping Marañon, as the governor lost in Bago City and La Carlota in the fourth district in the last election, and he was told he would also not get the support of the sixth district.
So he asked Marañon to see him and informed him of what had been relayed to him. At that meeting, Marañon said he would no longer run for governor, Cojuangco said. The ambassador also recalled that when Marañon first ran, he had said he was only good for one term.
Marañon agreed that on June 19, he would inform the UNA members that he was not running in the next election, Cojuangco added.
However, on June 15, Benitez, Ferrer, Mirasol and Mercedes Alvarez met in Bacolod and agreed on the status quo for the provincial ticket, he added.
Rep. Alvarez said they agreed because they did not know that Marañon had already told Cojuangco that he would not run.
Cojuangco said the reason he proposed that the vice governor be the gubernatorial bet with Rep. Marañon as vice governor, is that Benitez wanted Ferrer to run for governor.
If Ferrer would run for governor, Cojuangco said he told Benitez they could do it on their own, he would not join them. “I said we gave Ferrer his post as congressman (of the 4th district) without an opponent, he should finish his term before he looks for another post,” the ambassador said.
Cojuangco said he pointed out that the gubernatorial bet should be Alvarez since he is the vice governor. “I don’t think he has done anything disgraceful to make us believe he should not be the candidate…He has been in public service for 25 years and I think that is enough for him to become governor…that is why I committed to him,” Cojuangco said.
But Marañon, at the August 30 meeting, told the ambassador that he changed his mind and had decided to run for governor because majority of the mayors of Negros are supporting him, and the congressmen had informed him that they agreed to a status quo. He asked that Negros be made a free zone in 2013.
However, Cojuangco said he had already committed to support Alvarez, he had not been told about the status quo agreement or that Marañon changed his mind, so he could not go back on his commitment.
The proposal of the mayors for La Carlota Mayor Juliet Ferrer to be the common candidate for governor to solve the impasse was moot, since Marañon has said he is running for governor, Cojuangco added.
Cojuangco said they would not have been in the present predicament if Benitez did not inform him of Marañon’s lack of support, and if the governor had told him he still wanted to run.
The governor changed his mind and decided to run for governor. “He might be right and I might be wrong, let’s see what the people say. In the end, they are the final judge,” Cojuangco said.
“I’m sorry that these things have to come to pass. He has a right to change his mind, that is his prerogative,” the ambassador added.
“This fight is politics, it’s nothing personal…that is the way politics is, the best of friends go against each other, it happens, and I guess this is not something different,” he said.
Cojuangco said while he was the one who founded UNA, he understands the governor is going to use it as his party. He said he will not contest this, so there will be no fight.
It pains him to see that the unity that they had in UNA will end, he said, “but it seems it cannot stay that way because there are interests today that cannot be put together.”
What matters are the people who run, whether the people like them or not is what is important, it does not matter what party they run under, he also said.
“Everybody is free to do what they want and who they will support, we cannot dictate upon people,” he added.
Cojuangco said he hopes his endorsement of Alvarez will mean his winning, but it is hard to assure victory when it comes to an election, he said, adding that his advice to the vice governor is, “he better work hard.”
Cojuangco said he cannot hit the campaign trail with Alvarez as his health will not allow it, but he will help by asking people to support the vice governor.
“I won’t campaign anywhere, my health will not allow it,” he said.
Asked if he would consider running for governor of Negros Occidental to end the stalemate, Cojuangco said he is already 77 and is ill.
On the question that he is perceived as a kingmaker in Negros, the ambassador said “I’ve never created any king that I know of, in fact, there is no king in the Philippines.” He said he has just supported the candidates he believes in, and has not asked for any favors in return.
Cojuangco said he has not dictated on candidates on Negros, he is not from the province, he is from Tarlac. He just married a Negrense (Gretchen Oppen) whom he found “really beautiful and good, and got stuck here.”
The recent development in Negros Occidental will be good, it will give people more choices, he said.
Asked if he has chosen Benitez as his successor in Negros, Cojuangco said he is not endorsing anybody.
But he said “I think Albee is interested to be the leader of Negros. I suppose he is very capable, he has the means to support his ambitions. It is really up to the Negrenses. I think nobody can make himself the leader if he is not acceptable to the people that he has to work with.”
Also present at the press conference with Cojuangco, the vice governor and Zayco yesterday were Rep. Alvarez and Board Members Dino Yulo, Mae Javellana and Manuel Ko.
Marañon, when reached for his reaction on the Cojuangco press conference, chose not to comment.*CPG