SISON, PANGASINAN, March 8, 2004
(STAR) By Sheila Crisostomo — Presidential aspirant Raul Roco is eyeing the possibility of setting up a coalition government with the camps of Sen. Panfilo Lacson and Eddie Villanueva to curb corruption in government if elected.

Roco said he has observed during the campaign that Lacson and Villanueva share his view on the urgency of combating corruption.

"From what we have seen among the presidential candidates, Lacson and Villanueva… have reached the conclusion that fighting corruption is the way to turn the country around, and fighting incompetence in leadership is something we should all work for," Roco told a press briefing after a campaign sortie here and in nearby towns.

Roco’s camp is already threshing out the idea with the two other sides, the former education secretary said, adding that he was looking forward to sitting down with Lacson and Villanueva.

"A coalition government is something being discussed on a technical level. We cannot give details," he said. "We owe it to Filipinos to give them a choice for an honest and credible leadership."

Aside from improving the country’s public school system, Roco promises more effective reforms if elected.

During stops in schools and universities, Roco — who has the backing of the youth and women sectors — has urged youths to become leaders of change.

"The youth has always been the trigger for change. There must be a youth revolution," he said, also urging them to ensure that the May 10 elections remain clean and peaceful.

"We rely and we have every reason to hope that the young people will help us," he added.

Various international agencies have expressed concern about massive corruption in the Philippines, which analysts say has discouraged foreign investors.

Mrs. Arroyo launched an anti-corruption campaign in January last year that included "lifestyle checks" on government officials.

Widespread corruption was hampering her administration’s efforts to revitalize the country’s poverty-stricken economy, she said.

When she took over the presidency in 2001, Mrs. Arroyo pledged to curb corruption, which has hounded past administrations and even brought down her predecessor, Joseph Estrada.

Estrada was toppled by a military-backed popular revolt in early 2001 following allegations of massive corruption. He was replaced by then vice president Arroyo.

Estrada is now on trial for allegedly running an illegal gambling protection racket and pocketing state funds during his aborted 31-month presidency. He denies the charges.

Independent estimates suggest at least a fifth of the government budget is lost through graft.

One local watchdog group, Procurement Watch Inc., estimated that the Philippines loses P21 billion a year to corruption in the procurement of government goods and services alone.

About 15 percent of the cost of all government contracts is also lost to corruption, it said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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