EXCLUSIVE: President Aquino calls for united front against Duterte

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — President Benigno Aquino III called for a "united front" against what he described as a future threat to democracy from presidential survey frontrunner Rodrigo Duterte.

In a statement, administration presidential bet Manuel “Mar” Roxas II called for unity with independent candidate Sen. Grace Poe amid the “uncertainty and the specter of a dictatorship.”

Aquino referred to several statements made by Duterte threatening, among others, to padlock Congress.

With Duterte accounting for about 30 percent of the votes according to the surveys, Aquino told CNN Philippines it would make sense to unite the four other presidential contenders who account for the remaining 70 percent to defeat the Davao City mayor.

"Therefore, it behooves everybody to try and get together and ensure, instead of thinking what we should do if everything he says is exactly what he intends to do, why don't we remove that problem or threat or insecurity by uniting the 70 and defeating the 30," he said in an interview.

"I'm trying to get all of these different voices from so many sectors together and in that sense perhaps help our candidates get together and have that united front," he added.

Also read: Let’s talk, Roxas tells Poe

In his statement made during a hastily called meeting with the press at his campaign headquarters, Roxas said that what is more important now is the future of the country than the political careers of any candidate.

“Uncertainty and the specter of a dictatorship are looming over our country once again,” he said. “I call for unity, I call for decency, I call for democracy, I call for the rule of law.”

Roxas called for a meeting with Poe. “Sabihan mo lang ako kung kailan at saan at darating ako.” [Just tell me when and where, and I’ll be there.]

Aquino said he spoke with Roxas about his proposal over the past three days and he exchanged text messages with Poe Thursday night but that was "inconclusive."

Without referring to Duterte by name, Roxas said the tough-talking mayor has no regard for honesty, integrity, transparency, responsibility, and “even basic decency.”

Poe insists she won't withdraw

In a post on his Facebook page, Duterte’s spokesman Peter Lavina said deals among the mayor’s rivals are like negotiations among “thieves dividing the loot, by the wards of the discredited sections of the elite.”

“They want to ‘save the country.’ Oh my goodness. Haven't they realized up to this very end that the Filipino people have resolved to save themselves from these greedy wolves? … Truly sickening. This is not democracy at all,” he said.

Reacting to Roxas call for a meeting, Poe told reporters in Los Banos that she has always been open to talks with the administration standard bearer.

Pwede naman kaming mag-usap anytime. Pero pangungunahan ko na ... kung iniisip nila ay pag-uusap sa pag atras, ako ay hindi aatras,” she said.

[Translation: We can talk anytime. But I would like to say upfront, if what they want to talk about is withdrawal (from the presidential race), I will not withdraw.]

In a separate interview with CNN Philippines, Poe said it’s not important who Duterte’s main rival is based on the surveys and indicated that withdrawing from the race should not be a decision solely of the candidates.

“I'd like to remind the Secretary and whoever else is running it's never just about you. It's always about what you can offer the public, and it's the public's right to choose so there's nobody that can dictate who should remain or who should leave the race,” she said.

A spokesman for Binay said Aquino should focus on ensuring a clean elections rather than forming an alliance with anti-Duterte forces.

“Besides, such a call for unity sounds hollow considering that the President has been hitting the rivals of Roxas throughout the campaign,” said Joey Salgado, communications director of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).

Basta't nahalal sa malinis na eleksyon, dapat igalang ng lahat ang hatol ng taumbayan dahil yan ang diwa ng demokrasya,” he said.

[Translation: As long as one is elected in a clean election, everyone should respect the people’s judgment because that is the spirit of democracy.]

 

CNN Philippines Chief Correspondent Pia Hontiveros contributed to this report.