Lito Atienza said he's "very seriously" considering quitting the vice presidential race so that his partner Manny Pacquiao may find a stronger running mate and have better chances to upset survey leaders Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte-Carpio.
"Very seriously," Atienza told reporters on March 31 when asked if he plans to withdraw from the May 9 elections.
Atienza, who is still recovering from his knee surgery, clarified that his plan has nothing to do with his health. He has been absent in Pacquiao's sorties and has missed the debates organized by CNN Philippines and the Commission on Elections.
“I can handle my affairs via Zoom," he said, "but the thing is, if it’s not helping anymore, a man like Manny Pacquiao, you give him a clean break."
Atienza also urged presidential candidate Ping Lacson to likewise back out, so that his running mate Tito Sotto can be with Pacquiao.
"He already knows the realities of his political position," Atienza said of Lacson. "I hope he backs out too, and that could change the whole structure that could completely demolish the Sara-Bongbong tandem."
Lacson is already running as an independent candidate after leaving his political party Partido Reporma, which later on endorsed the presidential bid of Leni Robredo, who's also running as an independent.
Lacson, however, didn't take Atienza's "insulting" proposal kindly, telling him to "go back to school" and study good manners and right conduct.
"Who is he to tell me to withdraw?" Lacson said during a March 31 press conference in Zamboanga del Norte. "I’m not backing out."
"Kabastusan to say the least, for somebody like him na mas matanda pa sa akin, na magsasabing mag-back out ako," he added, noting that Atienza didn't consult with him.
Atienza said he already reached out to Pacquiao and Lacson. Pacquiao, meanwhile, said he has yet to talk to Sotto.
On March 30, Pacquiao told reporters covering his campaign trail that Atienza wants Sotto to be his new running mate, if ever.
Ma-So Tandem? MAnny Pacquiao at Tito SOtto, posibleng mabuo oras na hindi raw kayanin ng runningmate ni Pacquiao na si Cong. Lito Atienza. Yan mismo ang request ni Atienza. Pero giit ni Pacquaio, wala pang pinal na pag-uusap. @News5PH @onenewsph pic.twitter.com/r4zo8ekd6u— Mon Gualvez (@mongualvez) March 30, 2022
That same day, Sotto welcomed Atienza's seeming endorsement.
"I AM HUMBLED."— News5 (@News5PH) March 30, 2022
Ito ang reaksyon ni Senate Pres. Vicente Sotto III sa tila pag-endorso sa kanya ng kapwa vice presidential candidate na si Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza. pic.twitter.com/ScxTx1nrjn
"I am humbled and will certainly appreciate such a move," Sotto said in a statement. "Lito Atienza has, is and will always be a true statesman!"
Based on the latest Pulse Asia survey conducted among 2,400 respondents last Feb. 18 to 23 and released March 14, Marcos Jr. and Duterte-Carpio have maintained their respective pole positions at 60% and 53%.
Lacson was lagging behind with 2%, down from the previous 4%. Pacquiao maintained his 8% from last time.
Sotto, meanwhile, trailed Duterte-Carpio with 24%, a 5% decrease from his 29% earlier.