MANILA, March 8, 2004
(STAR) By Delon Porcalla - Two pro-administration congressmen accused presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson yesterday of "character assassination to boost his sagging popularity" after he accused President Arroyo of releasing P758 million in agricultural funds to favored politicians.

Bulacan Rep. Willie Villarama said Lacson is showing himself to be "a one-dimensional candidate" who has disregarded the concerns of marginalized sectors of society, especially those in agriculture.

"This is a cheap political shot from an anti-peasant, war-freak presidential candidate," he said.

"The President releases equally CDFs for all senators and congressmen regardless of party affiliation. Is this any attempt to buy the opposition? How sure is Ping that his list is final?

"How sure is he that subject to availability of funds, the President will not release to anyone, friends and foes?"

On the other hand, Davao City Rep. Prospero Nograles said the actions of Lacson show that he is unfit to become president because he engages in black propaganda and character assassination.

"Lacson’s tale conforms to his style of making charges without evidence, which is his known tactic to prop up his poor ratings and hopeless candidacy," he said.

"His ploys make him unfit to become a leader of the nation. Lacson is a hypocrite for he too received SARO (Special Allotment Release Order) notice of cash allotment for projects he identified as priority."

Nograles said Lacson had stopped receiving development funds for his projects as a "publicity stunt" for the May 10 elections.

"Does this mean Lacson was also trying to buy votes with his own pork barrel before?" he asked "These are for projects to help our people, not for political gain."

Quoting Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo, the two congressmen said the Department of Agriculture (DA) has not released any money from the SARO being cited by Lacson.

"The (DA) is still fine tuning the guidelines for the fund release to ensure their proper use," they quoted Lorenzo as having said.

Local leaders of the opposition Nationalist People’s Coalition and Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino would be beneficiaries of these agricultural fund, he added.

Meanwhile, Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. said Mrs. Arroyo must continue providing good governance to the people even during the electoral campaign.

"The wheels of justice must not stop because the President cannot shirk from a constitutional duty," he said. "(Funds) are released by the government with or without elections ...and to follow what the opposition wants is to paralyze the government."

Deputy Speaker for the Visayas Raul Gonzalez described as "pure canard" the allegations of Lacson that Mrs. Arroyo had misused agricultural funds.

"We categorically deny his accusations," he said. "I have not seen even one centavo of what he is saying."

Gonzalez said Lacson has no right to moralize because he is facing murder and other criminal charges before the courts.

"(He ) should first explain the sources of his election campaign funds," he said.

On the other hand, Tarlac Rep. Benigno Aquino III said he had not received the P5 million supposedly allotted to his district for "farm inputs," as Lacson had alleged.

"We are just in the process of making inquiries," he said. "We have not even applied for farm inputs. So how can funds be allocated or released to us?"

Aquino said he is wondering what kind of politics Lacson is practicing since he is "antagonizing" everybody.

Lacson had released records from the Department of Budget and Management showing that Aquino has been allotted P5 million, and another Tarlac congressman, Jesli Lapus was supposed to have received P3 million. – With reports from Jess Diaz

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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