Philippine Daily Inquirer, Feb. 8, 2007

Angara finally casts lot with Team Unity senatorial ticket
By Cynthia Balana, Michael Lim Ubac, Jerome Aning

Finally, Sen. Edgardo Angara Wednesday accepted President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's offer for him to join the administration coalition's Team Unity ticket for the May senatorial elections.

At a press conference in the Senate, Angara said he arrived at his decision after nationwide consultations with supporters and leaders and members of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP), which he heads.

"I did not switch political affiliation. I shall continue to be and remain in LDP, the only political party I have been with during my entire political career," he said.

The releectionist senator said he was joining the administration ticket in which people of different opinions come together for the sake of national progress and unity.

"Politics is deteriorating, stuck in hate and negativism, which I reject.

Politics should be relevant to the lives of people and not be seen as a destructive force," he said.

With Angara now part of the administration coalition's slate, nine senatorial aspirants have made it to the Team Unity.

Speaker Jose de Venecia said the administration's senatorial candidates were Representatives Prospero Pichay Jr. of Surigao del Sur and Juan Miguel Zubiri of Bukidnon, Presidential Chief of Staff Michael Defensor, reelectionist Senators Angara, Ralph Recto and Joker Arroyo, former senators Vicente Sotto III and Tessie Aquino-Oreta, and Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis "Chavit" Singson.

About Richard Gomez, De Venecia said there was still "questions" surrounding the actor's inclusion in the Team Unity.

Zubiri on Wednesday became the first member of the Team Unity's slate to file his certificate of candidacy.

"I filed to avoid intrigues and speculations. The other administration candidates will follow," said Zubiri, 37, when he filed his certificate at 5 p.m. at the Commission on Elections headquarters in Manila.

He was accompanied by his wife, model Audrey Kaye Tan.

Zubiri's certificate of candidacy was accompanied by his formal nomination by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and De Venecia, chair and president of the ruling Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats party, and a document showing that he underwent drug testing and passed it.

Asked what his platform would be, Zubiri said he would concentrate on agriculture, the industrialization of the countryside, education and youth welfare.

He said he would also work for more benefits for farmers, a total log ban policy and a more stringent drive against illegal drugs.

Angara said he, along with his political party, joined Team Unity on the understanding that the coalition would focus state resources on education, health, infrastructure, agricultural modernization, job creation, and environmental protection.

He said the coalition would adhere to good governance and a stepped-up effort to combat corruption, which was also in accordance with the LDP program of government.

Angara said the President first made the offer for him to join the administration senatorial slate as early as last year and reiterated this when they saw each other in Malacañang at a forum on Monday.

He said he did not give it serious thought then because he was involved in negotiations for the formation of a so-called Third Force in the 2007 elections to be composed of "moderate" reelectionist senators.

The negotiations, however, collapsed, he said, because its core group -- the Wednesday Group -- composed of Senate President Manny Villar, Francis Pangilinan, Joker Arroyo and Ralph Recto seemed to have gone separate ways.

Angara said he was informed that Arroyo and Recto would join the Team Unity while Villar was joining the United Opposition (UNO) ticket.

He said he was not aware of Pangilinan's choice.

Justifying his coalition with the administration that was responsible for the ouster of his former boss, former President Joseph Estrada, Angara said he had nothing to explain to the voters because they were aware of what really happened during all these years.

Angara was executive secretary of Estrada when the latter was ousted by a people power revolution and succeeded by Ms Arroyo, Estrada's vice president.

Angara explained that it was not the first time that he coalesced with the administration in pushing for meaningful legislation.

He engaged in "critical collaboration" with the administration of then President Fidel Ramos, when he was an opposition leader and Senate President.

That collaboration, he said, produced several landmark legislation, which laid the foundation for the country's near-tiger economic status.

"The one lesson I learned early on was that of Manuel Quezon, the star of Baler, a great nationalist and patriot who always placed the country above personal and partisan interest. They were true during Quezon's time, and remain true and relevant today," he said.

Speaker's wife

As the administration scrambled to complete its 12-member Team Unity slate, the wife of the Speaker emerged as a potential senatorial candidate.

Gina De Venecia said she would decide before Feb. 12, the deadline for all senatorial bets to file their certificates of candidacy, whether she would run.

"I'm still thinking about it. Still praying for discernment," said De Venecia, known to her colleagues as "Manay Gina."

Legarda joins NPC wing

In a related development, former senator Loren Legarda has joined the Nationalist People's Coalition (NPC) to formalize her acceptance of the United Opposition's offer for her to lead its senatorial ticket.

Legarda became a member of NPC-Francis "Chiz" Escudero (opposition) wing on Wednesday night.

The NPC is currently part of the administration but Legarda said NPC leaders had allowed its members to be independent in their stand on many issues.

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