Quezon City, Jan. 29, 2003 - Former President Estrada yesterday denied published reports that actor Fernando Poe, Jr. has already turned down the opposition’s offer to run for president in 2004.

“FPJ has not made any decision yet, but when he does, I will respect it,” Mr. Estrada said from his detention room he has been sharing with his son, former San Juan, Metro Manila Mayor Jinggoy Estrada, for one year and eight months at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) in Quezon City.

Mr. Estrada, however, said that in the remote possibility that FPJ would not be interested, then he will push for Sen. Panfilo Lacson as the opposition’s standard bearer.

He noted there is no question that FPJ has been consistently polled in private surveys as the man to beat for president in the 2004 elections with Lacson slightly behind him.

“No amount of electoral fraud nor intervention from Cardinal Sin and the so-called civil society could stop FPJ from being elected as president but the decision remains solely with him and his wife Susan,” Mr. Estrada said. The detained leader added that surveys done privately, not by other “highly rated” pollsters whose questions are finely crafted not to pinpoint to FPJ as a possible presidential contender, continue pointing to both FPJ and Lacson as the most popular candidates for the top position.

Mr. Estrada, whose popularity continues to soar specially with the masses even under government detention and away from the public glare, also said that there is no stopping the public romance with FPJ whom he described as “a very humble but shy person.”

FPJ and wife Susan do not fail to visit Mr. Estrada at the military hospital to offer moral support and comfort. Estrada’s friendship with FPJ dates back to their first years in the movies spanning over three decades. The special bond Estrada’s shares with FPJ, according to mutual friends, “is not only beyond the commerce of man, but is written in stone.”

“From the moment they met, there has been no turning back through all the good and bad times,” they said. Both Estrada and FPJ call each other “pare,” the Filipino term for friend. Spelled backwards, “Pare” is “Erap,” the name Estrada came to be called by thousands of friends, supporters, and admirers.

When Mr. Estrada ran for president, FPJ rose to the occasion by campaigning for him across the country in the May 1988 elections where Estrada won by a majority of 11.8 million votes, the largest in the country’s electoral history. Mr. Estrada said that when the elections were over, FPJ simply “vanished.”

“Not a single friend or relative was ever recommended by FPJ to me, not even for janitor,” Estrada said. However, the popularly elected president gave FPJ the distinct honor of being by his side in Malolos at his inauguration as the duly elected president of the country. (Bulletin)

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