MANILA, January 1, 2003 (STAR) 
By Marichu Villanueva  - Malacañang revealed yesterday that exploratory talks with leaders of the political opposition have been launched toward the attainment of a so-called "government of national unity" to redeem the country from economic and political stagnation.

Presidential Spokesman Rigoberto Tiglao told The STAR that President Arroyo has seriously considered the proposal to allow members of the various opposition camps to serve in the government.

"She is open to the idea of inviting them (opposition leaders) even into her Cabinet," Tiglao said.

"Her frame of mind is to really get our country out of this poison of politics to ensure we could go forward and advance as a nation. So she really might do it," Tiglao added.

He also said the President, in her capacity as national chairman of the ruling Lakas-NUCD party, would convene a party caucus on Jan. 8 to discuss the proposal.

The move came on the heels of Mrs. Arroyo’s stunning declaration that she would not seek a second term in next year’s elections.

Tiglao said House Speaker Jose de Venecia, as chief architect of the government of national unity, has been alerted about the Jan. 8 meeting of top Lakas-NUCD leaders.

As proof that Mrs. Arroyo was sincere in her pronouncement that she would not run in the forthcoming polls, Tiglao said she would eventually announce her personal choice of likely successor.

Tiglao declined to confirm reports that Lakas leaders have been wooing former education secretary Raul Roco as a probable standard-bearer of the party in the 2004 elections.

"That would depend on the Lakas leadership. (Former) Secretary Roco is not Lakas, but he is with the People Power Coalition (PPC)," Tiglao said.

The PPC is an umbrella alliance of various political parties organized by De Venecia.

Roco, head of the Aksyon Demokratiko, has been getting good ratings in recent poll surveys.

Tiglao also refused to comment on reports that Roco has been seeking an endorsement from jailed former President Joseph Estrada for his presidential aspirations.

Justifying the President’s reluctance to identify her favored presidential contender, Tiglao quoted Mrs. Arroyo as saying the elections "are too far away yet," adding that she made the announcement not to run "to clear the air of political concerns."

"What she really desires now is for our political and economic elites to answer her call for reforms," Tiglao stressed.

Opposition Sen. Teresa Aquino-Oreta urged the President to give top priority to consumer welfare to regain the trust and confidence of the masses.

Citing results of the latest survey by private firm AC Nielsen, Oreta noted that most Filipinos expect a gloomy economy in 2003.

In a statement, Oreta said the situation has been aggravated by a slew of anti-consumer measures that the people faced in 2002, such as high power rates, the series of increases in fuel prices, the specter of another water rate hike, a possible tax on text messaging, steeper tollway fees, rising prices of basic goods, hike in premium payments by state workers and worsening unemployment rate.

Meanwhile, pro-administration Davao City Rep. Prospero Nograles called on Mrs. Arroyo to start the year with a major Cabinet revamp to pave the way for the formation of the coalition government by the fourth quarter of the year. – With reports from Sammy Santos

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