MINDANAO TOUR TO BOOST GMA'S 2004 PLANS - NENE

Manila, May 25, 2003 -- Sen. Aquilino "Nene" Pimentel yesterday said 
President Arroyo's scheduled one-week stay in Mindanao "reeks of political 
motives."

Pimentel said the Mindanao stay, which is from June 10 to 17, could be 
intended at buoying Arroyo's popularity in the South following her order 
for the military to launch fresh offensives against the Moro Islamic 
Liberation Front.

"I have a sneaking suspicion that President Arroyo is going to Mindanao and 
stay there for a week to make amends for the large-scale military 
operations on so-called terrorist cells, which have wreaked havoc on the 
lives of thousands of innocent civilians," he said.

Pimentel said the "punitive" attacks ordered by Arroyo in Mindanao proved 
costly to civilians. He noted reports from non-government organizations 
based in Mindanao that up to 318,000 persons from Zamboanga del Norte, 
Lanao and Cotabato provinces have been displaced from their homes by the 
fresh military attacks.

Pimentel noted that with the President apparently reconsidering her Dec. 30 
pronouncement that she was not seeking the presidency in 2004, it is likely 
she wanted to counter the negative impact of the military operations on her 
political plans.

"There is a lot of resentment now in Mindanao ... calling for the stoppage 
of the assault on civilian communities where so-called terrorists are 
imbedded. This would be bad for the political plans of the President next 
year," Pimentel said.

At least two other senators, Joker Arroyo and John Osmeņa, have said that 
Arroyo's actions show she is running in 2004.

Pimentel said he expects the military operations to wind down after Arroyo 
returns today from her state visit to the United States.

He said the aerial and artillery attacks have served their purpose, which 
he said was to show US President Bush that she is tough on terrorists.

He noted Arroyo issued her order shortly before she left for the US.

"The President, along with Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes, having impressed 
President Bush with her supposedly tough stance against the terrorists, 
will now wind down military operations in the Moroland to appease the 
locals," he said.

Arroyo said Thursday the "punitive" attacks she ordered against the MILF 
have been successful and she could "call it off anytime now."

It was on the same day she blew her top over talks that she would break her 
Dec. 30 promise and run in 2004.

Lakas leaders are planning to meet with Arroyo after her US trip to urge 
her to change her mind, according to Heherson Alvarez, Lakas spokesman.

A group calling itself Promotion of Church People's Response said it sees 
Arroyo losing in 2004 if she runs.

The group said Arroyo has failed to stop corruption in government; scrap 
the PPA and other anti-poor economic policies, grant higher wages, provide 
job security, among others.

Conrado Limcaoco, presidential adviser on media and religious affairs, said 
Arroyo is still the strongest candidate of the administration coalition, 
that is, if she runs.

"Siya ang glue kung bakit nagsasama-sama ang coalition," Limcaoco said in 
an interview on Radio Mindanao Network/

He said the People Power Coalition (PPC) is holding consultations to 
determine who would be the administration's standard bearer if Arroyo does 
not run. He declined to name names. (Malaya)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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