Manila, March 15, 2003 -- Presidential aspirant Raul Roco paid President Arroyo a "social call" yesterday at Malacañang, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye told reporters.

But Bunye quickly doused speculation that Mrs. Arroyo’s former education secretary was seeking her endorsement to be her majority coalition’s candidate in next year’s presidential election.

"Secretary Roco came here to pay a courtesy call to the President and they just discussed the latest developments in our country domestically as well as international events affecting us," he said, referring to a possible war in Iraq.

"We could not say if there were talks about politics but all these developments taking place in the country were perhaps taken up at the meeting," he added.

Bunye said Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo was at the meeting.

Roco can be chosen to carry the standard for Mrs. Arroyo’s People Power Coalition because his party, Aksyon Demokratiko, is a member of the political alliance, Bunye said.

Mrs. Arroyo will make an endorsement at the proper time, he said, reiterating her previous statements.

Last January, two other PPC-member parties Reporma and Probinsiya Muna Development Initiative (Promdi) endorsed Roco as the majority coalition’s presidential bet because he consistently topped opinion surveys.

However, the PPC’s dominant party, Mrs. Arroyo’s Lakas-NUCD, may pick someone else who may have a good chance of winning next year’s race, party officials said earlier, but did not rule out picking Roco.

Roco’s visit followed a reconciliation of sorts between him and Mrs. Arroyo, who attended a Roco family gathering in January.

In early August, Roco stunned Malacañang when he resigned in a fit of anger after Mrs. Arroyo endorsed an investigation by the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission (PAGC) into his alleged improprieties for using Department of Education funds to publish posters bearing his photograph.

Roco’s complaint was that Mrs. Arroyo lacked basic courtesy in informing him about the probe. Since then, Roco has remained distant from Mrs. Arroyo.

The PAGC probe stemmed from a complaint by an employees union at the education department accusing Roco of using the posters to advance his bid for the presidency in 2004.

But Roco rejected speculation that Mrs. Arroyo who was then planning to run in 2004 endorsed the investigation to decimate his popularity in case he decided to make a second bid for the presidency.

The speculation followed results of an opinion poll by IBON Foundation released on Aug. 1 the day Mrs. Arroyo endorsed the probe which showed that Roco would trounce her if an election were held at the time the survey was conducted.

Mrs. Arroyo tried but failed to mend fences with Roco by offering him another government post. Roco met shortly thereafter with Mrs. Arroyo at Malacañang for reconciliation talks but did not change his mind about resigning.

Lakas, which Mrs. Arroyo co-chairs with Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., is currently in a quandary after she announced on Dec. 30 that she was withdrawing from the presidential race.

Mrs. Arroyo said she wanted to focus on fixing the country’s sluggish economy during her remaining 18 months in office and avoid being distracted by politics.

She later told a television interview that she will pick her successor in December 2003 or five months before the May 2004 presidential elections.

The former senator was appointed education secretary by Mrs. Arroyo shortly after she replaced Joseph Estrada, who was ousted in a military-backed popular protest in January 2001.

He made a strong showing in the 1998 polls, taking the women and youth votes and placing third despite the lack of a political machinery. He ran for senator in 1992 and was re-elected in 1995. (By Marichu Villanueva, Star)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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