[PHOTO: PRAYER TIME: President Arroyo is shown with former President Fidel Ramos during the 25th anniversary celebration of the Jesus is Lord fellowship movement at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila last night. — Revoli Cortez ]

DAVAO CITY, OCTOBER 6, 2003 (STAR) By Edith Regalado And Mayen Jaymalin  - Former President Fidel Ramos said yesterday the ruling Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats party remains strong despite the recent resignations of key members Vice President Teofisto Guingona and Sen. Loren Legarda.

"Lakas remains very strong and we are consolidating our forces now with the recent developments," Ramos said. "We are very much one and united."

Ramos, Lakas-CMD chairman emeritus, also said the Lakas-CMD national directorate is expected to meet tomorrow to tackle the recent developments and support President Arroyo’s declared candidacy in the 2004 national elections.

The ruling party is also expected to come up with its final selection of the President’s running mate and its senatorial slate by next month.

The defection of a number of Lakas-CMD members and officials, he said, should not be misconstrued as an exodus. "It was never an exodus. There was no massive movement, so how can you call it an exodus?" Ramos asked.

He expressed confidence that matters of concern will be threshed out by members of the ruling party soon, especially since Lakas-CMD’s path seems clearer with the President’s declaration of her 2004 candidacy.

Davao del Norte Gov. Rodolfo del Rosario, a member of the Lakas-CMD national directorate and the party’s Southern Mindanao regional chairman, said a number of officials of the Lakas-CMD national directorate met Saturday to address prevailing problems affecting the party, including the resignations of Guingona and Legarda.

Guingona quit his post as Lakas-CMD president and said Mrs. Arroyo failed to institute badly needed reforms, which she vowed to focus on when she said she would not join the presidential elections.

However, Ramos said the President should not be the only person to blame for the failure of government to institute reforms, as legislative bodies are tasked to work on these reforms as well.

Ramos also advised Mrs. Arroyo "not to be discouraged and not to panic and not to jump (on) every little issue." The former president said he acts like a big brother to the President and gives her advice, both solicited and unsolicited.

"Things will be indicated by surveys," he said. "What are being taken right now are snapshots of what would really come up. Just look at the earliest point and the end point and think there are ups and downs in between., but look at what you really are in the end. That’s what happened to me."

Ramos also said that "we are into the period of political campaign already — although prematurely because this has been spontaneous and cannot be stopped."

He said he spoke with the President shortly before Mrs. Arroyo announced her candidacy. "Even before coming to Davao, I already threw my support (behind) her, which she knew already," Ramos said, adding has also called on Lakas-CMD members to consolidate ranks with the President.

"There were other (presidential) wannabes, but being president takes a lot of things" Ramos said.

"In the S-learning curve, the other wannabes may be popular, but they are not capable. There are also those who are learned but are not as popular. Others have to be patient and wait for their time," he added.

The voters of 2004, he said, are younger and better-prepared to apply their knowledge of issues that will work in Mrs. Arroyo’s favor.

Ramos also cited the President’s good international and foreign relations. "It is admirable how she won support for the Philippines from different countries and various international organizations like the World Bank and the United Nations," he said.

Malacañang, meanwhile, expects that Guingona and the President will maintain their good working relationship despite the vice president’s resignation from the ruling party.

"They may have policy differences, but they have a good working relationship," Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said in an effort to allay fears that Guingona’s resignation from Lakas-CMD will worsen the rift between him and the President.

Guingona’s decision to bolt the ruling party, Bunye said, was nothing personal, rather it was triggered by differences over policy.

Guingona bolted the ruling party Friday, but did not quit his post as vice president. He also said he would not join the opposition, but would remain independent and play the role of a "fiscalizer."

Despite calls from other Lakas-CMD members for Guingona to also quit his post as vice president, Bunye said there is no legal basis for such demands.

"Under the law, (Guingona) was appointed by the President and (his) appointment was approved by both Houses of Congress. Unless (Guingona) becomes physically incapable of serving as vice president, he will remain in his post," Bunye said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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