Manila, July 8, 2003 By Marvin Sy (Star)  Make up your mind.

Former President Fidel Ramos made this appeal to President Arroyo yesterday, 10 months before the 2004 elections, saying the ruling Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD) party needs to finalize its list of official candidates.

Ramos, Lakas-CMD chairman emeritus, said the best time for the President to announce her plans would be one week before she delivers her State of the Nation address (SONA) before a joint session of Congress on July 28.

"The week before the SONA would be the time to declare plans and strategies and visions. Before that happens, she must make up her mind how to dish it out. The earlier the better," Ramos said during a press briefing in his Makati City office.

The former president said Lakas-CMD members and the rest of the nation have been left guessing too long on what Mrs. Arroyo plans to do in connection with next year’s elections.

"Only the President knows what will happen," Ramos said, noting that Mrs. Arroyo never consulted any party member when she announced in Baguio City last Dec. 30 that she would no longer run for president in 2004.

Ramos noted that the President said she consulted only her husband, daughter, and God when she made the decision.

"Since none of us are any of those people that she consulted last Dec. 30, then I suppose she’ll be consulting them again for her final decision," said the former president, who founded Lakas-CMD’s precursor Lakas-Tao in 1992 when he ran for president.

Stressing that his "commitment is to support the standard bearer of the Lakas-CMD," Ramos said a party selection committee has been tasked to come up with a short list of presidential and vice presidential candidates by the week of July 21, the week before the opening of the third and last regular session of the 12th Congress.

As agreed during a Lakas-CMD national directorate meeting on June 6, party members would then discuss the short list and choose the party standard bearer around September, Ramos said.

PPC to break up?

At the same time, Ramos hinted at the possible break-up of the People Power Coalition (PPC) because the leaders of the different political parties comprising the coalition are all "maneuvering in their own directions."

While the former president did not specify whom he meant, former senator and education secretary Raul Roco, founder of the Aksiyon Demokratiko party, has already declared his intention to run for president after he had a falling out with the Arroyo administration last year.

Aside from Lakas and the Aksiyon Demokratiko, the PPC consists of the Reporma Party of former executive secretary Renato de Villa, Probinsiya Muna Development Initiative (Promdi) of former Cebu Gov. Lito Osmeña and the Liberal Party.

Lakas-CMD and other supporters of the Arroyo administration formed the PPC for the 2001 local and congressional elections.

It won eight of 13 vacant seats in the Senate and won a plurality of the seats in the House of Representatives, paving the way for the return of Pangasinan Rep. Jose de Venecia, Jr., Lakas-CMD co-chairman, to the House speakership.

De Venecia later forged an alliance, which he called the "Sunshine Coalition," with the opposition Nationalist People’s Coalition, founded by businessmen Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco, to command a two-thirds majority of the chamber.

But the alliance in the House showed cracks last week after some NPC members, known to be very close to Cojuangco, hinted of a brewing coup against de Venecia over pork barrel funds and "patronage" appointments.

At the same time, Cojuangco, who ran for president against Ramos in 1992 with then Sen. Joseph Estrada, began a "listening tour" of the country in an apparent attempt to bolster another bid for the presidency. Estrada was elected president in 1998.

The NPC factor

Ramos said he hopes the PPC and other alliances forged by Lakas-CMD would remain intact but he admitted that the public posturing of some key personalities remained questionable.

He noted that NPC was well represented at the Lakas-CMD national directorate meeting on June 6 but Cojuangco himself said he would make a decision by August regardless of the decision of Mrs. Arroyo and presumably any other party.

Cojuangco, chairman of food and beverage giant San Miguel Corp., also has many supporters within the Lakas-CMD itself and about 60 incumbent party members signed a resolution expressing their support for the businessman.

NPC president emeritus and former ambassador to Washington Ernesto Maceda, known to be very close to Cojuangco, said on Monday that the businessman is 95 percent sure of running.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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