MANILA, February 27, 2004
(MALAYA) By JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR President Arroyo will beg off from the scheduled presidential debate on April 13 if Fernando Poe Jr. is not there.

The debate sponsored by the Commission on Elections and the Philippine Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting will be aired live by IBC-13.

"I will only go to the debate if ... only if Fernando Poe is in the debate," Arroyo said in a press conference at Marawi City.

The KNP said Poe wants only a one-on-one debate with Arroyo.

Poe also said that the debate would be unproductive since this would only provide candidates a forum for braggadocio.

Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said the administration hopes the Comelec and the PPCRV would able to convince Poe to change his mind.

Bunye said Arroyo is not belittling the other presidential aspirants. "We know who the front-runners are, and the front-runners based on all the surveys that came out are President and Mr. Ronnie Poe."

Bunye said he would be having dinner with the management of GMA 7 and the Philippine Daily Inquirer which would sponsor another debate next month.

Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr. said "Malacañang (is) wrong" for disregarding the other presidential candidates.

He also said that Arroyo must not snub the event. "As the incumbent president, kailangan mag-participate siya. She has been working for three years. She should have something to report. She should report the good news and the unfortunate news."

Besides, Magsaysay said, "those who do not want to attend the debate are not serious candidates. They have nothing to tell the people so they do not want to attend the debate."

"No talk, no mistake. Less talk, less mistake," Magsaysay said, obviously taking a jibe at Poe.

Magsaysay said: "Access to candidates is of utmost importance. Kung ang kandidato hindi malapitan, hindi matanong, there's something substantially wrong with him."

In Batangas City, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said it is better to postpone the debate if Arroyo does not show up.

"The debate is primarily called for to clarify issues confronting the administration. Without GMA's presence, those issues will not be addressed at all," Lacson said.

He said: "I want a debate with President Arroyo precisely because I want her to answer many questions including the worsening condition of the country. She has a lot of explaining to do."

Lacson said he hopes that Poe will change his mind.

"If I may advise him, dapat sumama siya kasi 'yung debate ... will give him an opportunity to disprove that he has no platform ... to disprove na hindi niya kayang i-confront yung mga issues," Lacson said.

In Roxas City, Raul Roco said Poe should face his rivals in a debate. "I hope he will show himself as "Da King" and not somebody who'll lose a kingdom just because he is afraid to be a man in a debate."

The KNP yesterday reiterated that Poe would not be trapped into going to a "divisive debate."

"As FPJ had stated, participating in public debates will only promote antagonism and divisiveness among the people," the KNP statement said.

The KNP also welcomed Arroyo's statement that she would rather not participate in a debate without the participation of Poe.

"FPJ would rather spend his time listening to the concerns of the various sectors, especially the masa, by participating in productive dialogues than join in discordant voices of public debates," said Sen. Vicente Sotto III, speaking for the KNP executive committee.

Sen. Loren Legarda challenged her rival for the vice presidency, Sen. Noli de Castro, to a debate.

She said the Arroyo government has to answer allegations of corruption and the growing disenfranchisement of the people.

KNP senatorial candidates said the presidential debate was meant to embarrass Poe.

Former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile said it would only "entertain" the so-called civil society. "May agenda sila, they want to embarrass the guy."

Former Ambassador Ernesto Maceda said: "It's a waste of time when in the same two or three hours of being there, he (Poe) will use it to go to Payatas or Tondo where he will get 100 times more votes than having to waste time with a group that will not vote for him."

Amina Rasul, former head of the National Youth Commission said: "If I were FPJ who is loved by people and who is used to working quietly, why has he to debate anybody? To do what? To gain more points?" (With Joan Dairo, Peter Tabingo, Wendell Vigilia and JP Lopez)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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