MANILA, March 8, 2004
(STAR) By Jess Diaz - There are no signs that opposition presidential hopeful Sen. Panfilo Lacson is quitting the presidential race soon as his enemies in the camp of front-running opposition candidate, movie actor Fernando Poe Jr., are hoping.

"In fact, it’s full steam ahead for us," House Minority Leader Carlos Padilla, Lacson’s lone senatorial candidate, told The STAR yesterday.

According to Lacson, he and Padilla would quit only when they see people’s support for them waning.

But the opposition senator told journalists who covered his campaign in Isabela province last week that what he and his lone senatorial candidate are seeing "is not waning but widening and encouraging support."

He thanked the people of Isabela for making him No. 2 in the province in the 2001 senatorial elections.

"But in May, please make me No. 1 because No. 2 won’t win the presidency," he appealed to them. Lacson was once the police commander of the province.

If people’s support is not waning, financial aid from friends, especially in the Filipino-Chinese community is apparently not drying up either.

Some prominent Filipino-Chinese businessmen even have the courage to be seen in public with the opposition senator and former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief in some of his out-of-town campaign sorties, unmindful of the possibility of harassment from those in power.

It is perhaps such financial help from loyal friends that makes Lacson and Padilla a highly mobile team.

They can match the air transport capability of his administration opponent, who has at her disposal a newly refurbished Fokker jet and a fleet of Presidential Security Group helicopters, though The STAR has not seen Lacson’s rumored chartered jets.

Poe can be at par with his opposition rival and President Arroyo if one of his senatorial candidates, former defense secretary Juan Ponce Enrile, who has an aircraft leasing firm among his many companies, makes available his planes to him.

Lacson used three rented helicopters in criss-crossing Western Visayas and Romblon and Quezon in Southern Tagalog three weeks ago. They can carry three to four passengers each.

He flew to Lopez town in Quezon from Iloilo and Bacolod City against the advice of his pilots, who feared they could be harassed by communist rebels. In the past, the town had been raided by the New People’s Army.

He also flew to the mountain town of Sampaloc, which he said is controlled by the NPA. It takes two to three hours to reach the town from Lucena City, and only trucks and four-wheel drive vehicles can negotiate the road.

Last week, Lacson and his group that included Padilla and Representatives Agapito Aquino of Makati and Rolex Suplico of Iloilo started their weeklong Northern Luzon swing by arriving in those choppers in Tumauini town in Isabela.

From Tumauini, they led a daily motorcade through several towns that brought them down to Quirino province, Nueva Vizcaya — Padilla’s bailiwick — and Nueva Ecija over the weekend.

From the thinly populated town of Llanera in Nueva Ecija, Lacson’s group boarded their three helicopters again and flew to Norzagaray in the mountainous part of Bulacan to fulfill a promise that they would go there.

They missed Norzagaray in their Bulacan swing two weeks ago, when they motored back to Manila from Baliuag via the San Jose del Monte route, making stops in several towns along the way.

From what journalists have seen, Lacson runs a well-organized campaign that is supported at the grassroots by Ping Lacson for President Movement volunteers who include former colleagues in the PNP and friends in the Filipino-Chinese community.

Save for some mix-ups here and there, his sorties are well-coordinated.

His Women’s Alliance for Peace and Progress supporters coordinate with Filipino-Chinese leaders and businessmen in the areas their candidate visits. WAPP is composed mostly of young Filipino-Chinese women based in Metro Manila.

Lacson quietly makes courtesy calls on local leaders of the bloc-voting Iglesia ni Cristo in the provinces he goes to. However, such calls have not escaped the attention of eagle-eyed journalists hounding him.

This week, the former PNP chief barnstorms Cebu and Negros Oriental. He takes a Philippine Airlines flight to Cebu this morning.

He also once served as police provincial commander there. In fact, the province, considered an Arroyo bailiwick, had adopted him as its son because of his good performance as its police chief.

However, unlike in Isabela, Lacson did not win in Cebu in the 2001 senatorial elections. In fact, none of the opposition candidates made it. The province voted 13-0 for Mrs. Arroyo’s People Power Coalition senatorial ticket. Lacson was No. 19.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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