Francis Tolentino, the embattled chairman of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) who is aspiring to run for senator under the Liberal Party (LP), was a no-show in Leni Robredo’s coming out party on Monday.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, an LP stalwart, noted that Tolentino’s absence was not surprising because of the controversy stirred up by the allegedly lewd performance of an all-female dance group in a recent local LP event in Laguna.
The MMDA chief was tagged as the one who brought the performers to the party oath-taking and birthday celebration of Rep. Benjamin Agarao.
He had denied the claim.
The usually visible Tolentino had since made himself scarce to the media.
“Everybody is invited [here]. He just wants to be prudent. I’m sure you’ll be surrounding him with microphones like what you are doing to me right now,” Abad told reporters.
Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, the acting president of the LP, denied speculations that the announcement of the senatorial line-up was moved to a later date because the party is mulling whether to drop Tolentino from the slate.
“The decision to announce on Friday has nothing to do with the unfortunate Laguna event. Again, we emphasize the importance of the events today,” Abaya said in a text message.
The LP said it has launched an internal investigation of the incident.
Groups and individuals within and outside the LP denounced the incident and called for Tolentino’s exclusion from the administration party’s senatorial ticket.
“We were outraged. [President Benigno Aquino 3rd] agreed that there has to be an investigation, and it was [LP standard-bearer] Secretary [Manuel] Roxas who initiated the probe because it is his [Senate] line-up. Chairman Tolentino will undergo due process,” Abad said.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., vice chairman of the LP, was more candid on Tolentino’s case.
“Sa tingin niyo ba nadagdagan ang tsansa niya [Do you think the incident would boost his chances]?” Belmonte told reporters.
“I don’t think the decision was delayed because of what happened in Laguna. Quite a number are being considered. There’s just too many of them applying for a slot,” he said.
The LP had adopted a resolution authorizing Roxas to select the party’s 12 senatorial candidates.
Only four are considered as shoo-ins in the LP ticket. They are Senators Franklin Drilon, Ralph Recto and Teofisto Guingona 3rd and former senator Francis Pangilinan.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and former Energy secretary Jerico Petilla were the only other aspirants present in Monday’s LP event.
“I was told [by the party]that I would be included [in the Senate slate],” said de Lima, who also confirmed to reporters via text message that she is resigning her Cabinet portfolio on October 12, the start of filing of certificates of candidacy (COC) for those who want to run in the 2016 elections.
A party-list coalition has called on the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to prohibit political parties and candidates from presenting lewd intermission numbers during the campaign period.
Party-list groups Sanlakas, Bukluran ng Manggggawang Pilipino (BMP) and Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM) said violators should be immediately disqualified.