Erap snubs Binay's UNA launch

 MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Former president now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada was a no-show at the party launch of his close ally, Vice President Jejomar Binay.

Estrada was absent at the launch of opposition party United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) at the Makati Coliseum on Wednesday, July 1. (WATCH it live here)

Estrada was invited to the party launch but did not appear. His absence raises questions on his support for Binay's 2016 presidential bid following pronouncements that he might endorse the possible candidacy of Senator Grace Poe, daughter of his late best friend, actor Fernando Poe Jr.

Senator Nancy Binay said the Binay family understands Estrada's absence.

May sarili ring partido si Presidente. Ang pinaka-busy na trabaho ay ang pagiging mayor. It's a 24/7 job, lalo na ang hawak na bayan ni Presidente Erap ay ang Maynila. So understandable I guess na mayroon siyang mas importanteng dapat gawin,” Senator Binay told reporters.

(President Erap also has his own party. And the busiest job is that of a mayor. It's a 24/7 job, especially as President Erap leads Manila. So it's understandable I guess that he has better things to do.)

Erap heads the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP), which initially aligned with Vice President Binay's former party, the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) to form UNA in the 2013 senatorial elections.

Yet Binay left PDP-Laban last year, and transformed UNA into a political party.

Senator Binay and UNA spokesperson Mon Ilagan said Estrada's absence will not dampen the UNA launch.

“There will be other events and opportunities for President Erap and VP Binay to finalize their 2016 plans,” Ilagan said.

Poe or Binay?

Still, Estrada's absence puts in doubt his support for Binay as Poe decides whether or not to run for higher office.

A former action star, Estrada has a strong following among the masses.

In an interview on CNN Philippines Wednesday morning, Vice President Binay downplayed Estrada's absence, and credited him instead for his 2010 victory.

Utang ko po kay Mayor Erap ang pagiging Vice President. Kung 'di niya ako kinuhang running mate niya noong 2010, hindi ako magiging vice president.”

(I owe my vice presidency to Mayor Erap. If he did not draft me as his running mate in 2010, I would not have been vice president.)

Estrada's son, Senator JV Ejecito, attended the launch. Ejercito is a member of PMP, not UNA. The former president's nephew, ousted Laguna Governor ER Ejercito was also present. 

'Organization, not campaigning'

UNA's launch on Wednesday is meant to formalize Binay's presidential candidacy, and organize his national and local machinery ahead of the polls.

Binay is expected to be elected chairman of the party. He will deliver a keynote address outlining his platform, and program of government.

Senator Binay dismissed criticism that the Binays were premature campaigning. She said UNA was only accredited as a party in March.

“Among the political parties, we are the baby. This is the first time we are gathering together. Our officers are all interim so this gatheringis more of an organizational meeting.”

Among those present are UNA interim president Navotas Representative Toby Tiangco, interim vice president Senator Gregorio Honasan II, interim secretary-general JV Bautista, and interim treasurer, Margarito Teves, who served as  finance secretary during the Arroyo administration.

Boxing champion and Sarangani Representative Manny Pacquiao received a loud cheer from the crowd. He is expected to be a senatorial candidate of UNA.

Allies of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo graced the launch: former Zambales Representative Mitos Magsaysay, Cebu Representative Gwen Garcia, and former Candaba Mayor Jerry Pelayo.

Delegates from provinces and cities as diverse as Valenzuela, Marawi, Sultan Kudarat, Taguig, and Benguet showed up to express support for Binay.

Mamasapano, Maguindanao Mayor Benzar Ampatuan was among the local leaders present.

The UNA launch had the trademark feel of Binay and Estrada events: a festive atmosphere, bands, and a variety-show type of program.

The embattled Binay is mounting a presidential campaign despite multiple plunder investigations he and his family face. On Tuesday, his son, Makati Mayor Junjun Binay, was suspended over the allegedly overpriced Makati Science High School. – Rappler.com