Manila, June 19, 2003 By Jess Diaz (Star) Sen. Aquilino "Nene" Pimentel Jr. urged the fragmented political opposition yesterday to unite behind a common candidate if it wanted to wrest power from the ruling party in the 2004 presidential elections.

Pimentel said opposition groups should brace for the possibility that President Arroyo would break her Dec. 30, 2002 promise and decide to run and unify all administration forces behind her.

"Because of this, leaders of opposition parties should exhaust all efforts to prevent themselves from being fragmented," he said.

He said the opposition should field only one candidate against the ruling party’s standard-bearer.

Pimentel heads the PDP-Laban, which is presently allied with the opposition. He was formerly Senate minority leader. Like many of his colleagues, he is casting a moist eye on the presidency.

Also yesterday, the expected presidential bid of former education secretary Raul Roco got a boost with the launching of the Women 4 Roco movement at the Philippine International Convention Center.

The gathering brought together some 8,000 political supporters, notably women’s groups rallying behind Roco’s pro-woman causes such as his espousal of the fundamental equality of men and women and legislation promoting the welfare of women and children.

"He is the only presidential candidate who is capable of restoring the rule of law, respect for justice and integrity in public service," said Lorna Kapunan, one of the convenors of W4R.

Roco has been conferred the title "Honorary Woman" for championing women’s issues in the past and has since been identified with women’s crusade for good government.

Meanwhile, Sen. Panfilo "Ping" Lacson is so far the only declared presidential aspirant from the opposition ranks.

But Pimentel said Lacson is not even certain to win the support of his party, the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP), since his party boss, Sen. Edgardo Angara, is rooting for businessman Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco Jr.

Cojuangco is the recognized leader and financier of the pro-administration Nationalist People’s Coalition.

"Nobody at this point can say he or she is the opposition standard-bearer. The reason I’m saying this is because there has been no serious formal talks among opposition groups to choose a common presidential candidate," Pimentel said.

He said the need for these groups to unite would be greater if Mrs. Arroyo decides to be the ruling party’s standard-bearer.

He described the President as a "formidable opponent" since she has "tremendous influence, control of government resources and the ability to dispense favors and raise funds for the election campaign."

In the same breath, the senator stressed Mrs. Arroyo would also lose her credibility if she changes his mind and decides to run.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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