Villar party: 'No consensus' on 2016 in Japan cruise

MANILA, Philippines – What's the mood meter of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV after a Nacionalista Party (NP) cruise where members discussed 2016 plans? The vice presidential aspirant joked that he was “sad” after the party fellowship. 

Trillanes and party mate Senator Cynthia Villar said that the political party of tycoon and former Senate President Manuel Villar Jr did not reach a decision on its plans for the 2016 presidential election. 

The party gathered in a Japan cruise from April 24 to May 1 to discuss the 2016 polls and other national issues. The NP president, former Senator Villar, sponsored the cruise for his party mates during the congressional break.  

“There was no consensus. The elections are still far away. There are many things that will still happen so we decided not to make a decision,” said Senator Cynthia Villar, wife of the NP head. 

Mrs Villar said that the party was unable to agree on which members to field for president and vice president. 

She pointed out that there are many aspirants in the NP. These include Trillanes; Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, who announced his presidential ambitions; and Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, also rumored to be eyeing higher office. 

“Ang dami-dami diba? Nothing definite. 'Di kami nakakuha ng consensus,” Villar said. (There are so many, right? Nothing definite. We cannot get a consensus.) 

Villar said 18 out 26 NP members in the House of Representatives joined the cruise. Cayetano's sister, Senator Pia, is also an NP member but is not running for a higher post in 2016. 

In past interviews, the Villar couple said that the NP aspirants should first ensure that they fare well in surveys to be considered viable candidates. 

A March 2014 Pulse Asia survey showed that the NP members were trailing behind other possible candidates. Marcos ranked 5th in the presidential race with a 6% rating, while Cayetano took the 7th spot with 3%. Trillanes was 5th in the vice presidential poll with 6%. 

One of the oldest parties in the Philippines, the NP has a well-oiled, established machinery and local membership. The Villars' campaign war chest is perceived to make the party  formidable. 

'Happy-sad' 

When asked about the cruise, Trillanes first said it was “sad,” but then said the fellowship was “happy.” The senator has presented himself to be considered as the party's vice presidential bet. 

Trillanes though was silent on what was discussed in relation to the election, saying a designated spokesperson will be the one to make it public. He did not elaborate on why he said he was "sad" about the gathering. 

“This was an opportunity to discuss, to thresh out issues, and for the members to know each other,” Trillanes said. 

“It was very productive, very fruitful. The fellowship was good,” Trillanes said. 

The NP is a coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Party (LP). In the 2013 polls, it tied up with the LP to mount a 12-member senatorial line-up despite the bitter rivalry between LP chairman President Benigno Aquino III and NP's Villar in the 2010 presidential polls. 

A party member speaking on condition of anonymity said that, in 2016, the NP is still considering whether to field its own candidates, enter into coalition with other parties like the LP, adopt guest candidates, or allow its members to run for office on their own.

Aquino said that the LP will announce its standard-bearer by the end of June, less than a year before the May 2016 polls.   

'No bloc vote on BBL' 

Instead of the elections, Senator Villar said that what the NP agreed on was its stand on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law. 

Known as the BBL, the bill aims to create an expanded autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao with greater powers and resources than the current one in place. 

The bill is a product of the final peace agreement between the Philippine government, and the rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) last year after 17 years of negotiations. It is meant to end 4 decades of conflict and poverty in the southern Philippines. 

A priority measure of the Aquino administration, the bill met stiff opposition after the January 25 Mamasapano clash that killed 44 elite cops, 17 MILF members, and 5 civilians. The police operation to arrest top terrorists in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao was not coordinated with the MILF, and led to a day-long gunfight that killed police special forces. 

Villar said that the NP adopted the stand of Marcos, who chairs the Senate local government committee handling the measure. Marcos recommended to his party mates to reject what he believes are unconstitutional provisions in the bill. 

“Senator Marcos pinpointed 39 provisions. These basically concern the counterparts of the national agencies that the Bangsamoro wants to have like the police, Commission on Audit, and constitutional commissions. That's unconstitutional. It should be an agency reporting to the national government,” Villar said. 

Villar said that the NP members also oppose the provision stating that the areas near the proposed Bangsamoro can join the region through a petition of at least 10% of the qualified voters. 

Despite the meeting, Villar said that the party is leaving it up to its individual members to make their own stand on the bill. The NP will not vote as a bloc on the issue. 

Marcos is set to resume tackling the bill in the Senate on Tuesday, May 5. Leaders of Congress vowed to pass the bill by June, a delay from the initial March schedule due to the Mamasapano tragedy. 

A plebiscite and a year-long transition are necessary before the election of the new Bangsamoro government in 2016. – Rappler.com