LEGAZPI CITY, August 27, 2003 (STAR) By Cet Dematera  - President Arroyo will be running in next year’s elections and the announcement will be made not later than November, former justice secretary Hernando Perez said here yesterday.

"GMA (President Arroyo) will run. She will make the announcement between Oct. 15 and Nov. 15," Perez said.

Perez, secretary-general of the ruling Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats, made this pronouncement after attending a meeting of Bicol party leaders calling on Mrs. Arroyo to seek a full mandate next year.

"With the growing support coming not only from Lakas, but even from non-Lakas politicians and private groups, we see no reason for the President not to run this coming elections. In fact... her (Mrs. Arroyo) not running is now a very remote possibility," Perez said.

Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye suggested for the first time yesterday that Mrs. Arroyo may reconsider an earlier pledge not to stand in next year’s presidential election.

"The President acknowledges the fact that many of (the members of administration Lakas-CMD party) including former President Fidel Ramos are really urging her to run," Bunye said.

"But the President has not given any indication either way what her final answer will be. I’m sure that if she does decide, I would be among the first to know," Bunye said.

Their comments followed the release of a July 25-Aug. 6 national survey by Pulse Asia Inc. that showed Mrs. Arroyo running a close second to administration Sen. Noli de Castro as favored president.

If elections were held now, 21 percent of respondents said they would vote for Mrs. Arroyo compared to 26 percent for De Castro.

In a similar survey in March-April, De Castro was tops at 20 percent while Mrs. Arroyo was a distant fifth with nine percent.

But the same survey also showed that 51 percent of Filipinos want Mrs. Arroyo to keep her word not to run.

The President surprised many of her supporters and her critics after declaring in Baguio City on Dec. 30 last year that she would withdraw from the 2004 presidential elections.

Originally elected as vice president in 1998, the 56-year-old economist came to power in a military-backed popular revolt that swept out the elected President Joseph Estrada in January 2001.

Under the Constitution, Mrs. Arroyo would still be qualified to seek a full six-year term.

Bunye, however, said "the major decisions of the President do not depend on surveys."

"I was analyzing the poll results (of Pulse Asia) and I noted the biggest change of perception and a big improvement (came from) classes D and E," the spokesman said.

He said Mrs. Arroyo has previously stated that she would decide sometime in December who among in the administration party would be their candidate.

Perez, for his part, claimed an overwhelming majority in the party are urging Mrs. Arroyo to run.

He said that in the Bicol Region for instance, all the six provincial governors, including those from the opposition, unanimously endorsed Mrs. Arroyo as the administration’s presidential bet.

"And this is a very positive indication that President Arroyo will be left no other option but to run. So I’m assuring you that she is running," said the former justice secretary.

In a resolution, the Lakas Bicol chapter cited reasons for Mrs. Arroyo to seek a full mandate citing her "strong leadership" and her "good winning chance."

"President Arroyo took extreme political sacrifice when she renounced her intention to run for President in 2004, in the same token she would now make an even greater sacrifice to continue serving her country beyond 2004," the resolution said.

Among those non-Lakas political leaders who endorsed the resolution were Governors Raul Lee of Sorsogon and Luis Villafuerte of Camarines Sur, both from the opposition Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP).

For his part, Lee said he signed the resolution because Mrs. Arroyo is the "fittest candidate."

Perez said other Lakas officials considered the possibility of forming a tandem with former education secretary Raul Roco — a Bicolano — as running mate for Mrs. Arroyo.

"But there is no formal effort yet towards this possibility," Perez clarified.

On the other hand, opposition Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said Mrs. Arroyo would suffer from a credibility problem should she reconsider her earlier decision not to run.

"As far as I am concerned, if the President wants to run, that would be okay. But the moment she makes that decision, the people would think they could not rely on the pronouncements of the President anymore. Her credibility is irreparably impaired," Pimentel said.

"She will have a problem on how to justify her breaking her word last December. Can you trust a national leader who cannot keep her word?" he said.

Pimentel said the scandal over the alleged Jose Pidal secret bank accounts would definitely hurt Mrs. Arroyo as her husband, First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, was the one directly accused.

However, Pimentel claimed there is no indication that the controversy has dampened Mrs. Arroyo’s "obvious inclination to seek a fresh mandate." -With Bong Fabe, Marichu Villanueva, AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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