MANILA, February 2, 2004
(STAR) By Marvin Sy - After repeatedly questioning Fernando Poe Jr.’s qualifications to seek the presidency, Malacañang yesterday avoided getting into a word war with the political neophyte.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye refused to comment on Poe’s criticism about what he called a lack of "rule of law and transparency in government."

However, some administration lawmakers yesterday fired back, saying Poe should outline his plan on how he intends to run the country instead of making criticisms.

After taking several hits on his lack of experience in holding public office, Poe finally threw his first punch at the Arroyo administration during a Saturday rally of the Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino in Pasay City.

He said President Arroyo has largely failed to deliver on promises she made after taking over from scandal-tainted Joseph Estrada, a close friend of Poe who was toppled by a popular uprising in 2001.

Poe particularly scored the struggling economy as well as the ongoing wave of kidnappings.

"I entered politics because of the people’s clamor. They are crying out that they no longer have trust and confidence in the government," he told party leaders and members.

"We must bring back the trust and confidence of the people. We must have leadership that will apply the rule of law and transparency in government."

Poe’s criticism followed Mrs. Arroyo’s remarks before a gathering of businessmen Wednesday, telling that foreign businessmen prefer an experienced leader who knows how to manage the country and help their businesses grow.

"You have a clear choice. You can help unify the nation around sound economic leadership, a concern for average Filipinos and enhanced standing in the international community," she said.

"Or you can gamble on untested leadership towards governance and the prospects of the Philippines once again being the laughingstock of the world."

Bunye yesterday insisted that Mrs. Arroyo was not referring to any particular candidate.

"She was just emphasizing her own abilities, her experience and her accomplishments during the past three years and she said it would be a shame if this is not continued," he told a radio interview.

Poe is called "Da King" of Philippine movies and, like Estrada, is seeking to bank on his celluloid success in seeking the presidency.

He is considered as Mrs. Arroyo’s closest rival in the presidential race because of his movie star popularity.

His lack of experience in holding public office has rattled the local financial markets and has made the business community nervous.

Mrs. Arroyo is banking on her experience in public office and her achievements in the past three years to win the May 10 presidential race.

Critics and disgruntled Arroyo allies, however, accuse her of betraying the ideals of the 2001 popular uprising that catapulted her to office.

The influential Roman Catholic Church, which led Estrada’s ouster, strongly rebuked Mrs. Arroyo during a Mass commemorating Mrs. Arroyo’s third anniversary of her rise to power last month, saying she failed to deliver.

Reacting to Poe’s criticism against the Arroyo administration, some administration congressmen urged the political neophyte to add some substance in his statements.

"He should show a little more sense," House Deputy Speaker Raul Gonzalez told The STAR. "It’s easy to criticize but he has not answered the fact that he knows nothing about running the country."

Poe "entered politics because his directors… told him to. They and a host of others are his political baggage despite him claiming none," Gonzalez added.

"The people should look at the competence, capability, vision and compassion in candidates, and FPJ will only pass in compassion," Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said. "FPJ will not measure up." — With Paolo Romero

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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