MANILA, November 27, 2003  (STAR) By Marichu Villanueva - President Arroyo adamantly refused to be drawn into commenting about Fernando Poe Jr.’s presidential candidacy during a news conference in Manila yesterday.

Asked to comment on Poe’s declaration, the President snapped: "I am not talking politics."

However, she reiterated her offer of reconciliation to the opposition when asked about her reaction to the report that businessman Eduardo Cojuangco, titular head of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), has expressed his support to Poe.

"Your premises are quite doubtful. But nonetheless, reconciliation is a moral imperative," Mrs. Arroyo told the reporter.

"I said that from the very first day of my presidency that it is time for healing. It is time for building, which has been what I’ve been trying to do all these years," she explained.

And to obviously underscore her clear advantage of experience in government against Poe, she recalled her stint at Malacañang the past two and a half years.

"And all the more now in my two and a half years as President, my learning curve has told me you cannot move our country forward and with the basic reforms that we need unless we have principled reconciliation," she stressed.

Presidential Liaison on Political Affairs Jose Rufino, who is executive director of Mrs. Arroyo’s ruling Lakas-CMD party, welcomed Poe’s formal entry into politics.

"He will run? That will be a good fight with GMA," Rufino said.

Other Palace officials similarly welcomed Poe into the political arena. "We welcome Mr. Ronnie Poe to the world of politics. We wish him the best," Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said.

Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) Secretary Michael Defensor told The STAR that the People Power Coalition (PPC) remains confident that Mrs. Arroyo will win against Poe if pitted against each other in next year’s presidential derby.

"The surveys speak for themselves. It showed that 20 percent would vote for her as against five percent for FPJ. So malayo talaga siya (he is far behind)," Defensor cited.

Defensor, a Liberal Party stalwart, has been handling the provincial sorties of the President since she declared her intention to run in next year’s elections. He was with Mrs. Arroyo yesterday in Nueva Ecija where they distributed government housing and land tenure titles to poor beneficiaries.

Presidential Legislative Liaison Office Secretary Gabriel Claudio, one of the designated campaign managers of Mrs. Arroyo, told The STAR yesterday that a newcomer in politics like Poe would have his hands full in his entry into the presidential race.

"He will be a worthy adversary. What needs to be seen now is how well and how he intends to unite the opposition," Claudio said.

"That is his first order of business and acid test. I expect it to be a baptism of fire," he added.

In another development, Mrs. Arroyo watched the premier showing of "Chavit," the film based on the life of former Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis Singson, at SM Megamall on Tuesday night.

It was also attended by Mrs. Arroyo’s political allies and Singson himself but there were few movie and TV personalities who attended the affair.

Other than the actors and actresses involved in the movie, led by Cesar Montano and his wife Sunshine Cruz, other entertainment personalities who graced the premier showing included Nora Aunor, Pinky de Leon, Vivian Velez and Gloria Romero.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved