Manila, July 7, 2003 (Star) President Arroyo is expected to gain "maximum" support from the business community if she decides to run in the 2004 presidential race, the Employers’ Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) said yesterday.

ECOP president Donald Dee said Mrs. Arroyo’s popularity has been improving over the past months and it is highly possible that she will gain the support of a majority of the country’s businessmen.

Dee made his statements based on the results of a survey indicating that 37 percent of Filipino businessmen are in favor of the President’s joining the 2004 presidential derby.

"Thirty-seven percent is already a good showing if ever she decides to run (in the 2004 elections). It means a threshold of support," Dee said in reaction to the survey conducted by New York-based Roper ASW. Some 300 executives working for the country’s top corporations participated in the poll.

The results of the survey showed that 61 percent of businessmen in the Philippines are against Mrs. Arroyo’s running in the 2004 elections, while 37 percent would like her to reconsider her Dec. 30, 2002 declaration in Baguio City that she would not join next year’s presidential race.

Dee added that the 61 percent of survey respondents who do not want Mrs. Arroyo to run should still be divided among other presidential hopefuls.

If the 61 percent were divided up among these presidential hopefuls, including businessman Eduardo Cojuangco and Sen. Panfilo Lacson, then the President would have the plurality support of the business sector, Dee said.

He added that the survey seemed to have been conducted prior to the President’s recent state visit to the United States, adding that Mrs. Arroyo’s popularity has improved significantly since then. "Many people are now more satisfied with her performance," he said.

However, Dee clarified that ECOP has no official position yet on whom to endorse in the presidential elections, saying "it’s too early to tell at this time."

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye downplayed the survey results, which he said had obviously been commissioned by people who have "vested interests."

Bunye also said the survey is a "non-issue," since Mrs. Arroyo already said she would not run for president in 2004. Her term expires on June 30, 2004.

Dee earlier said the business community is expecting the President to reconsider her decision not to run in the presidential derby next year, considering the recent developments.

In the same survey, 63 percent of respondents thought Mrs. Arroyo is doing a good job, while 15 percent of respondents disagreed.

Forty-six percent believe the economy would prosper under Mrs. Arroyo while 38 percent disagreed.

If the President does run, only 23 percent of survey respondents believe she will win, while 52 percent say she would lose. Sixty-five percent say the President is sincere in her vow not to run, while 21 percent believe otherwise. — Mayen Jaymalin

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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