MANILA, January 9, 2004 (STAR) The 12-member senatorial slate of the administration’s Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan sa Kinabukasan (K-4) is now complete with the formal entry of former senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago.

Presidential campaign spokesman Michael Defensor, Santiago’s nephew, said his aunt’s inclusion in the administration’s senatorial slate will also formalize the merger of Santiago’s People’s Reform Party (PRP) and the K-4.

PRP will join the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD), Liberal Party (LP) and some members of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) who have allied themselves to support the candidacy of Mrs. Arroyo, Defensor said.

He said the former opposition senator herself will formally announce her decision to join the K-4 slate at a news conference today at Annabel’s Restaurant on Tomas Morato Avenue in Quezon City.

Defensor said Mrs. Arroyo will join the news conference along with LP chairman and Senate President Franklin Drilon, Lakas-CMD co-chairman Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. and the other K-4 senatorial candidates.

"(But) Senator de Castro definitely cannot attend the affair because I understand he will be attending to his ‘panata’ (religious vow) to attend the procession of the Black Nazarene at Quiapo," said Defensor, referring to the annual Black Nazarene procession in Quiapo, Manila.

Defensor said the inclusion of Santiago into the K4 ticket totally shut out former senator and Lakas spokesman Heherson Alvarez.

Alvarez registered his senatorial candidacy at the Commission on Elections (Comelec) as an independent after he was eased out of the K-4 ticket. Santiago, on the other hand, already registered her candidacy late Monday under the PRP.

Santiago, who served the Senate when the President was also a senator, was personally invited by Mrs. Arroyo to join the K-4 senatorial slate.

But Santiago refused to categorically join the administration coalition because she was apparently waiting for developments in the opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) under which she was supposed to have ran as vice president.

When KNP presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr. decided to draft Sen. Loren Legarda for vice president, Santiago was invited to run for senator but the offended former senator declined, saying she could not run in the same ticket with the likes of Legarda.

Santiago’s move was a surprise to many, especially since she is associated with former President Joseph Estrada, whom she supported when he was impeached by the House of Representatives and tried by the Senate.

But Defensor said Santiago’s key role in Estrada’s impeachment had nothing to dow with her inclusion in the K-4 slate.

"Being an ally of Estrada, no. (But) it helps in the reconciliation program of the President. In fact, it fleshes out our call for unity and reconciliation," Defensor said.

He said Santiago "has her own reasons and basis" for joining Mrs. Arroyo.

Defensor though surmised two possible reasons why Santiago decided to move out of the opposition.

He admitted that Legarda’s selection as KNP vice presidential candidate may be one of the reasons.

"Second, she feels that President Arroyo will be the best president to lead us in the coming 2004 (elections) and beyond," Defensor said.

When Mrs. Arroyo and de Castro registered their candidacies at Comelec last Monday, the President formally presented only 11 candidates in the administration senatorial slate.

"I have said it’s not so much that (the) last slot was reserved for her. It was because we’re still discussing the situation and when it was supposed to have been decided, she asked for some more time because of her commitments to former President Estrada," Defensor said.

Defensor told Palace reporters he and Santiago’s younger brother, former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Benjamin Defensor, were those who negotiated with the former opposition senator to move over to the administration side.

Defensor said they were able to convince Santiago to accept the offer only yesterday in a meeting held at the former senator’s home at the posh La Vista subdivision in Quezon City.

He said the former senator’s husband, lawyer Narciso Santiago Jr., was present during the meeting.

"We have had differences with her. In fact, even if I am a relative, I have had my own political differences with her but it’s only political in terms of principles, in terms of ideals. And we believe that Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago will be an asset to this administration," Defensor said.

He brushed aside speculations that a deal was forged with Santiago to allow her husband and younger brother to be appointed to the government.

"But you know, General Defensor is one of our competent soldiers. He became (AFP) chief of staff. There is no quid pro quo but even looking at the person, I think he’s very qualified to help (the government) in any capacity," Defensor said.

Defensor also expressed confidence that Santiago will now be "comfortable" joining former President Fidel Ramos, Lakas chairman emeritus, in the administration.

Santiago narrowly lost to Ramos in the 1992 elections, accusing him of election fraud. She then became the most bitter critic of the Ramos administration.

Asked on the scenario that Santiago and Ramos will brush shoulders during the campaign, Defensor said: "Again, I think unity and healing will surpass political differences of individuals like former President Ramos and Sen. Miriam Defensor, if there are any." — Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved