MANILA, December 6, 2003  (STAR) By Ann Corvera - Afraid of "Da King" of Philippine movies?

According to President Arroyo’s official campaign spokesman, it’s action star Fernando Poe Jr. who the incumbent president fears the most among her possible political rivals in next May’s elections.

This is because of the giant leap of Poe in the latest surveys, Housing Secretary and campaign spokesman Michael Defensor said the other night on GMA-7’s current affairs program "Debate."

On the other hand, lawyer Hector Villacorta, Poe’s supporter, said he believes the action star considers Mrs. Arroyo also his strongest opponent.

The latest survey of pollster Social Weather Stations (SWS) conducted from Nov. 8 to 24 showed that 25 percent of the 1,200 respondents said they would vote Poe for president if elections were held today. Sen. Noli de Castro was close behind with 24 percent.

Mrs. Arroyo placed third followed by her former education secretary, Raul Roco, and Sen. Panfilo Lacson.

The survey ended two days after Poe announced his presidential bid.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye, however, dismissed the SWS survey, which also showed, among other things, that 56 percent of respondents preferred that Mrs. Arroyo should not have broken her promise last year not to run for president in next year’s elections.

Aside from Poe. the other aspiring presidential candidates also consider Mrs. Arroyo as their strongest opponent.

In the same television program, Villacorta, who is also legal adviser to Sen. Vicente Sotto III, a staunch Poe ally, and Lacson’s political adviser Lito Banayo, both agreed that Mrs. Arroyo is the most feared by candidates because of the power and influence of her office.

Mrs. Arroyo herself shunned political questions by reporters and has kept mum on Poe’s candidacy.

Meanwhile, supporters of Roco said they fear no one among the contenders.

"I think our weakest opponent would be the President," broadcaster Jay Sonza, who is aspiring for a Senate seat, said.

Defensor admitted it is to Mrs. Arroyo’s "advantage" to be the incumbent leader in terms of visibility to the public but denied the President is moving around the country on a campaign sortie.

"In the course of her work, politics gets somewhat included but not to campaign. People see and appreciate her hard work," Defensor said.

Defensor also said he was "not privy" to information on the amount of campaign contributions the President has received so far. He said pro-Arroyo cause-oriented groups have been helping in preparation for the official start of the campaign period this month.

Banayo, however, retorted that "Jose Pidal" might know how much the Arroyo camp is receiving in campaign contributions. "Jose Pidal" is the alias allegedly used by First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo in laundering millions in campaign donations to the President through secret bank accounts.

Banayo also said that while Mrs. Arroyo has the experience to bank on in the May elections, the Filipino people had a "bad experience" during her presidency for almost three years.

"If you had been president for some three years and you need six more years to prove yourself, was her learning curve merely an experiment on her part?" lawyer Lorna Kapunan, another Roco supporter, asked.

But Defensor maintained Mrs. Arroyo should continue to run the nation, citing her accomplishments and dedication to help uplift the lives of Filipinos.

If the President has been perceived as temperamental, it is only an expression of displeasure over the poor performance of certain government agencies and officials because she wants improvement in government services to the public, Defensor explained.

Banayo disclosed that Lacson’s campaign funds, which come in "trickles," are donated by people whom the senator had helped when he was police general during the Estrada administration.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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