MALACANANG, December 4, 2003  (STAR) By Marichu Villanueva - President Arroyo is not backing down from the May 2004 presidential race even if she is lagging behind three other candidates based on the latest survey of the Social Weather Stations (SWS).

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye yesterday dismissed the SWS survey, which also showed that 56 percent of respondents expressed their preference that the President should stick to her Dec. 30, 2002 vow not to stand for the presidency.

Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) chairman Michael Defensor, the President’s official campaign spokesman, rejected suggestions that Mrs. Arroyo withdraw from the presidential campaign despite the SWS survey results.

"Definitely, the President is running and, definitely, the supporters of the President, as well as the Cabinet and the political leaders and allies, including civil society, feel that she is still the best president to govern beyond or up to 2010," Defensor said.

The survey results of the SWS ranked the President fourth — behind movie actor Fernando Poe Jr., broadcaster Noli de Castro and former education secretary Raul Roco — which Defensor said is "almost even" given the survey’s margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

"Statistically, it’s a tie," he said. "But in the listing, it’s not (former education secretary Raul) Roco anymore."

"If you analyze the different candidates, like, for example, Fernando Poe Jr. and Roco, they have not experienced the kind of lambasting and criticisms that the President is experiencing — not only in past months, but for the past two years," he said.

The SWS survey was conducted from Nov. 8 to 24 and the President came in fourth with 17 percent — during the "most controversial period" at the height of the impeachment controversy between the House of Representatives and the Supreme Court.

The controversy, spurred by the filing of a second impeachment complaint within a year against Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., dragged down the ratings of the President and almost all institutions.

The President, Bunye said, took the "principled but unpopular" stand of remaining neutral during the impeachment controversy.

"Sometimes people read weakness into statesmanship and the President has to pay the price in terms of a drop in survey ratings," he said.

He also believes the surveys will be "subject to some amount of volatility as the election fever heats up and we are already getting used to it."

Defensor did not rule out the possibility that Mrs. Arroyo might again change her mind and withdraw from the presidential race if "national interest" dictates that she do so to "heal the wounds" of the nation.

Speaking in a radio interview with former Senate president Ernesto Maceda over dwIZ, Defensor said that while he "cannot speak for the President," his personal view is that if dropping out of the presidential race "would serve the greater national interest, the President will not turn her back on that."

Defensor said this in answer to Maceda’s queries of whether or not there is a chance Mrs. Arroyo will drop out of the presidential derby.

However, presidential adviser on overseas Filipino communities and official spokesman for the ruling Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD) Heherson Alvarez said the President will no longer change her mind about running in next year’s polls.

"When you keep harking back to that Dec. 30 decision, which (has) already (been) set aside because of (her) decision to run, that issue has already been set aside and put to rest," he said.

Alvarez said it is the other presidential candidates who have a chance to change their minds, not Mrs. Arroyo, whose campaign platform is good governance, reform and reconciliation.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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