MANILA, December 5, 2003 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - Using the battlecry "2010 Para Di Bitin," a group of young congressmen and administration officials will spearhead President Arroyo’s campaign to win a full six-year mandate so she can complete her projects.

"We firmly believe that President Arroyo is the only qualified candidate who deserves the people’s votes," Bukidnon Rep. Jose Miguel Zubiri told reporters yesterday.

"She alone can provide the continuity that the country needs to sustain the momentum for progress and development," he said.

Zubiri said he will be part of the "2010 Para Di Bitin" campaign, along with the other so-called "Spice Boys" comprised of Representatives Robert Ace Barbers of Surigao del Norte, Federico Sandoval of Malabon-Navotas and Mayo Almario of Davao Oriental, and Hernani Braganza, presidential adviser on political affairs.

Meanwhile, three key opposition leaders bolted the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) yesterday to join the pro-administration Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD).

They are House Deputy Minority Leader Constantino Jaraula, and Representatives Hussin Amin of Sulu and Augusto Baculio of Misamis Oriental.

"These are sweeping developments as against these small groups," said Speaker Jose De Venecia Jr., referring to reports that some Lakas partymates are supporting the presidential bid of former education secretary Raul Roco.

De Venecia said the 100 Lakas congressmen remain solid, while the 23 Liberal Party (LP) members in the House have expressed support for Mrs. Arroyo.

Jaraula will become assistant majority leader in the "classic parliamentary movement" from the minority to the majority, said Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II.

Baculio will become Lakas chairman for Misamis Oriental, he added.

Gonzales said the latest political re-alignment will put Mrs. Arroyo in a "position of strength" in Northern Mindanao and the region’s Muslim-dominated areas.

On the other hand, the 1,496-strong League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP) has thrown its support behind Mrs. Arroyo’s candidacy.

"We commit our multi-partisan support to you, Madam President," said Mayor Ramon Guico Jr. of Binalonan, Pangasinan, LMP president.

"The masses of people will soon turn out in throngs to proclaim their support to you. This we promise to do," he said.

Guico said under the Arroyo administration, the internal revenue allotment to municipalities has been automatically appropriated and released.

Mrs. Arroyo has also paid the debt of her predecessors and recalled orders that had impeded the fiscal autonomy of local governments, he added.

Mrs. Arroyo announced Wednesday night the creation of the Municipal Development Fund Corp. (MDFC) to speed up the delivery of government services, particularly to the least developed towns.

Speaking before the mayors at Bahay Pangarap at Malacañang, Mrs. Arroyo said the MDFC will enhance the capability of low-income towns to implement development projects.

Mrs. Arroyo said funds from the MDFC do not have to be included in the national budget deficit to make it more easily accessible to the municipalities.

The MDFC will enable low-income local governments with social and environment projects to deliver basic services to their constituents faster and more efficiently, she added.

Last Wednesday, the Mindanao-based political bloc Padayon Filipino forged a tactical alliance with Lakas to boost Mrs. Arroyo’s chances in next year’s elections.

De Venecia Jr. and Padayon founder Cagayan de Oro City Mayor Vicente Emano along with Jaraula signed a covenant on the tieup among their parties.

"At a time of great peril where survival of the Republic is threatened, and moral values are assailed in an outside government, it is imperative that leaders of government and of society rise to the highest level of nationalism and patriotism demanded of the times," read the document.

Meanwhile, Sen. Ralph Recto urged yesterday Mrs. Arroyo and Roco to come up with a "unity ticket" to enable the administration to have a "better fighting chance" against a looming united opposition.

"There is no harm if President Arroyo and contender Raul Roco talk now," he said. "They have to seriously re-think running against each other. A GMA-Roco unity ticket has a better fighting chance against a looming united opposition ticket."

Recto said only an "administration-Roco ticket" can pre-empt an opposition victory in next year’s presidential elections.

"Winning tickets could still be forged at the last minute, but election is not a walk in the park," he said. "At this point, the administration is racing against time."

Recto said an FPJ-Lacson ticket will "beat the daylights" out of the administration as it becomes clearer day by day.

"The opposition is determined to go through the rigors of their own version of primaries just as they could emerge with a united opposition ticket," he said.

Meanwhile, the LP National Executive Council will meet tomorrow at Club Filipino in Greenhills, San Juan to finalize the mechanics on how to choose its standard- bearer.

"It will be an issue-based process precisely as a little step forward in our effort to change and reform our political party system," said Senate President Franklin Drilon, LP chairman.

"As they say, a journey of a thousand miles starts with one little step. And this is the first step that we will take."

Batanes Rep. Butch Abad, LP president, said presidential candidates will be asked to present their stand on the proposed Charter change, the coconut levy case, the Marcos ill-gotten wealth, the Kuratong Baleleng murder case, the plunder case against ousted President Joseph Estrada, and failed Oakwood mutiny.

"As a party respected for its adherence to issues and platform-based politics, the basis of our choice must be not be limited to sheer popularity or winnability of the candidate," he said.

"While the winnability factor is important, we will have to consider seriously the candidate’s positions on critical issues, platform of government and attitude towards our party."

On the other hand, the Arroyo administration is "unfazed" by action star Fernando Poe Jr.’s lead in the most recent Social Weather Stations survey, said House Assistant Majority Leader Allan Peter Cayetano and Davao City Rep. Prospero Nograles.

"By the time, we expect the President’s ratings to soar," said Cayetano. "Unfortunately, her performance is not communicated well at this point in time."

Nograles said once administration leaders begin to go to the grassroots, Mrs. Arroyo will make "a quantum leap in the surveys." — With Jose Rodel Clapano

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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