MANILA, December 19, 2003  (STAR) SKETCHES By Ana Marie Pamintuan - You couldn’t miss her elation when President Arroyo told the opposition yesterday to get its act together. The best Christmas gift candidate Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo can receive is an opposition ticket split between Sen. Panfilo Lacson and action king Fernando Poe Jr., both of whom have announced they are bent on running for president.

As far as Ping Lacson is concerned, there is only one person standing in the way of a unified opposition ticket: Sen. Edgardo Angara, president of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP).

Lacson told me yesterday that he was still open to further negotiations with FPJ, despite public statements from both of them that there was no turning back in their bids for the presidency.

"When we come to our senses, we will still talk," Lacson told me, although he admitted he was "not enthusiastic anymore" because of FPJ’s pronouncements before Muslims last Tuesday.

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Lacson believes FPJ issued that statement because of "misrepresentation" by Angara. The night before, Lacson said, FPJ held a meeting with Angara that lasted until 3 a.m. of Tuesday.

In two one-on-one talks with FPJ, Lacson said they had a "very reasonable" gentleman’s agreement that they would go through a selection process in the LDP to pick the party’s standard-bearer. Lacson thinks Angara had persuaded FPJ that the selection process was over and the actor was the party’s choice. Thus that statement from FPJ last Tuesday.

Angara may be president of the party, Lacson said yesterday, but "he is not the LDP." So who is Angara representing? "Si Tito Sotto at si Angara, period," Lacson replied.

He insists he won’t leave the LDP and will file his certificate of candidacy as a member of the party. Any serious presidential candidate needs a party to be entitled to poll watchers, apart from the other benefits that can be derived from party machinery. If the LDP fails to resolve soon which faction truly represents the party, then Lacson is willing to be considered as an independent candidate until the controversy is settled.

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I asked Lacson why he was having a tiff with Angara. Lacson said he had asked Angara a similar question. Angara told him it was nothing personal, but the LDP president said he didn’t like some of the people around Lacson.

"Well now, he also doesn’t like me," Lacson said.

And since they don’t like each other, Lacson might as well come out with his long-held suspicion: that Angara is acting as an "agent" of Malacańang to ensure a divided opposition come May 2004.

Angara dismisses this as rubbish. But Lacson believes Angara cut a deal with the administration earlier this year, when the Senate was rocked by rumors of a coup being engineered by Malacańang together with Angara’s bloc.

"We have a suspicion that he may really be trying to mess up the group," Lacson said. "Is he after dividing the opposition?"

Lacson’s suspicion was bolstered by the results of a meeting last Wednesday at the Commission on Elections head office in Manila, attended by three representatives each from the Lacson and Angara factions in the LDP. The meeting was called by the Comelec in response to a petition filed by Angara, which effectively asked the poll body to consider his faction as the only legitimate LDP.

Present at the meeting, on behalf of Angara’s group, were Enrique Zaldivar, Frank Abalos and Demari Raval. Representing Lacson were Butz Aquino, Rolex Suplico and Felix Carao Jr.

Lacson said that at the end of the meeting, both groups agreed with the Comelec that the question should be settled internally by the LDP.

But when Zaldivar reported the results to Angara, the LDP president scolded them, Lacson said.

"So now we’re back to square one," he told me.

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Lacson is aware that a divided opposition increases their chances of defeat at the polls, although he insists that someone other than President Arroyo might emerge as the winner.

"That’s why we’re aiming for a unified opposition," he said.

He thinks that if he talks to FPJ, the actor will realize that the LDP selection process is not yet over. As of yesterday, however, both camps had sent no emissaries to propose further negotiations. But they have agreed on a common conduit who is aware of Lacson’s willingness to discuss a unified opposition ticket.

Lacson told me: "Huwag siyang kasisiguro. Pag nag-usap kami ni FPJ, baka magkasundo kami." Loose translation: Angara shouldn’t be so cocksure. If FPJ and I talk, we might still forge an agreement.

Be warned as well, President Arroyo. With recent developments in the opposition, however, candidate GMA must be constantly singing Joy to the World.

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CHRISTMAS BLUES: Do we always have to put up with more than the usual traffic, more than the usual pollution and filth, and more than the usual number of beggars during the Christmas season?

The nature of my work allows me to miss the rush hour, and yet my driving time to the office has doubled. In the Christmas rush, there are simply too many vehicles in the streets of Metro Manila. But often the reasons for the traffic snarls are the lack of traffic aides and sheer stupidity on the part of traffic managers.

I know this is supposed to be the season of charity, that we are supposed to give love on Christmas Day (the one who crooned that tune, by the way, will soon face trial for child molestation). But there must be a way of being charitable without having old women and children running in the middle of the street, rapping on car windows with tin cans, begging for alms. The other day I saw a young beggar actually dancing in the middle of Roxas Boulevard amid high-speed traffic, daring harried motorists to run her down.

As for pollution, we should hold a contest on the filthiest city in this season of joy. Garbage keeps piling up on both sides of the street in Baclaran. On Roxas Boulevard, you can tell when you leave the city of Manila and enter Pasay: the grass on the traffic island is overgrown, and all around there’s garbage.

To make this country a better place to live, we need better local executives as much as we need a good president.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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