DENR Secretary and former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza stuck out like a sore thumb when he moaned that he and his Liberal Party (LP) faction were left out in last Monday’s election of Senator Mar Roxas as the new LP President.
Prior to last Monday’s LP big event, there were indications that the LP Drilon and Atienza factions were going to reunite to propel the presidential bid of Mar Roxas in 2010. It would have been the logical consequence of political events.
The assumption of the LP presidency by Mar eases the task of reconciliation which would have been more difficult if former Senate President Frank Drilon was still LP top honcho. It would have been easier for Atienza to smoke the peace pipe with Mar Roxas than with Frank Drilon, the man who derailed his plan to steal the LP.
For Atienza, re-joining the LP would have been the smart political move. A new era is unfolding and he would have a foot in the door on a strong bid for the 2010 presidency. Even Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ally, Sen. Miriam D. Santiago, agrees that Mar is one of the three giants (she labeled them elephants) vying for the 2010 presidency.
Thus, when Atienza insisted that his faction remains outside the LP fold and that no reconciliation happened, I was surprised and immediately sought clarification with LP leaders Chit Asis and Butch Abad.
LP Vice President Butch Abad gave me the following clarification:
"1. It is not true that he (Lito Atienza) was not invited. The truth is: he was invited but only as guest and not as a member of the National Executive Council (NECO). Sen. Roxas even met with him twice, as well as, with the rest of the Congressmen identified with him.
Technically, he is no longer a member of the LP as he had been considered resigned by the last NECO meeting for holding an illegal assembly and electing himself President. (The COMELEC made this finding and subsequently this was affirmed by the Supreme Court). Under our Constitution and By-Laws, his rump session was an act inimical to the Party which act he was considered to have resigned himself from the Party.
For the sake of creating an atmosphere conducive to reconciliation, President Drilon and Sen. Roxas were willing to set that aside and invite Atienza as guest. But he insisted on being in the NECO. Even if he was not deemed to have resigned, he still cannot sit in the NECO. He used to sit in the NECO because he was Mayor of Manila.
Under our rules, if you are an incumbent Senator, Congressman, Governor or City Mayor and, of course, a member of the Party, ex officio, you automatically get to sit in the NECO. The other ways he could sit in the NECO is if he is an officer, but he is not; or, if he is a person of national standing.
Under the latter, as DENR Secretary, he can fall under this category. But under this category, he must be nominated and elected by the NECO; it is not automatic. We were willing to consider that in the first NECO that Mar will call as new President, in the spirit of reconciliation. But with his recent statements and actions, I do not know if the new leadership will still be open to that.
2. It is also not true that the people identified with him were not invited. The guy closest to him, his super alalay, Mr. Eli Quinto, was invited as NECO member and so with a number of other Reps like Rep. Danny Suarez, Rep. Joben Miraflores, Rep. Rey Uy, Gov. Mila Tan.
3. It is not true that the Party is divided. Only a small splinter group led by Atienza did not sign the Resolution nomination and electing Sen. Roxas President. In fact, about 16 of his 22 or so allies in the NECO signed the Resolution and we have their signatures to prove that.
4. How come some other incumbent Representatives were not invited in the NECO, like Reps. Defensor and Chungalao? They fall under a grey area. When they ran in the last elections, they ran under another Party, many of them with KAMPI and some with LAKAS.
5. Some of Atienza's allies even requested that they be allowed to join much later as they did not want to antagonize President Arroyo and risk losing their pork barrel, knowing how vindictive Arroyo is.
6. As to the SC decision calling for the status quo, again that is a lie. In effect, the SC said that President Drilon was validly elected under an amended Constitution for which he was entitled to sit as President until November 30, 2007."
Butch Abad's clarification jibes with the decisions of the Comelec and the Supreme Court which in effect favored and sustained the Drilon wing of the LP. The situation would now leave Lito Atienza with but one option — join Kampi.