DAGUPAN CITY, DECEMBER 1, 2003  (STAR) By Eva Visperas — President Arroyo will have an "easy fight" for the presidency in next year’s elections even against action star Fernando Poe Jr. because of her track record, Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. predicted yesterday.

"(Mrs.) Arroyo has an extremely good chance in the presidential race," he told reporters during an inspection of dikes being built here to block mudflows that wreak havoc during the rainy season. "This is a politics of performance."

Asked if he considered Poe as Mrs. Arroyo’s closest rival in the May polls, De Venecia said: "There’s no worry. The arithmetic is in our favor."

Mrs. Arroyo would get the most votes because votes for the opposition would be split if both Poe and Lacson stand for election, he said.

"There are only two votes in the Philippines — the pro- and anti-administration votes," he said. "I don’t want to sound boastful but, in the end, it will be an easy fight."

He predicted that Mrs. Arroyo would rake in 35 to 40 percent of the vote and the rest would be split among opposition Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Poe and former education secretary Raul Roco. who launched his candidacy in Manila yesterday.

Mrs. Arroyo could corner 40 to 47 percent of the vote in a three-way derby, De Venecia added.

Poe, who was relentlessly wooed to run for president, said he would submit himself to a selection process. Lacson, meanwhile, earlier said he would push through with his bid whether or not he had the opposition’s backing.

Lacson and Poe are expected to meet in a few days to resolve the issue.

Poe’s candidacy is seen the greatest stumbling block for Mrs. Arroyo’s chances of winning the presidential race in the May polls.

Poe is consistently one of the top five preferred candidates cited in recent national surveys but, so far, has trailed the competition despite his iconic status.

On the other hand, legislators from the ruling Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD) party said the President’s effective governance will translate into her victory in the 2004 presidential derby.

Reps. Rodolfo Albano of Isabela, Willie Villarama of Bulacan and Aurelio Umali of Nueva Ecija said the masses’ strong support for the President can be gleaned from the recent Pulse Asia survey. The President topped the survey’s list of presidential candidates favored by the class E sector with a 32 to 43 percent rating.

"The good works done by the President will have definitely benefited the Filipino masses. Come election day, they will translate their appreciation into vote(s)," Albano said.

He added that the President’s slogan of "food on the table, diploma on the wall, job for everyone" is slowly but surely being fulfilled.

The Pulse Asia survey, he said, has disproved the perception that Poe is the top choice of the Filipino masses for president. Poe ranked second in the survey standings, with 32 to 39 percent, followed by Roco with 22 to 33 percent.

Villarama said "rain or shine, the President has never failed to be with the poor to let them know she cares a lot about them."

Umali said the coming elections will prove that the masses want the continuity of the President’s programs, as these have benefited them.

"The Filipino masses have made known their sentiment in the survey, which showed their preference for the President," he said.

Poe, however, commands the poorest classes of Philippine society, which account for four out of 10 Filipinos.

Millions of poor Filipinos idolize him, awed by his movie roles portraying him as a champion of the underdog who conquers all odds to triumph in the end.

His lack of political experience has caused concern among financial analysts, who point out that a Poe election victory could come at a time when the Philippines is facing huge economic problems, including a faltering peso and a massive budget deficit.

Markets were already rattled by the recent announcement of Finance Secretary Jose Camacho, who said he would quit by the end of the November, complaining about the slow pace of reforms.

Poe is a staunch friend of former President Joseph Estrada, himself a former movie idol, who was ousted in a popular revolt in January 2001 and is now on trial for economic plunder, a capital offense which carries the maximum penalty of death.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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