BOGO, CEBU, March 10, 2004
(STAR) By Jess Diaz — Opposition presidential aspirant Sen. Panfilo Lacson said yesterday President Arroyo can suffer the fate of two incumbent speakers of the House who lost the presidency in the 1992 and 1998 presidential elections.

"They can have all the machinery, they can have all the money, they can mobilize all the resources of government, but in the end, the people will judge candidates on the basis of their character and track record," he told journalists here.

He was responding to a question put to him by a local media practitioner about what he has to match the machinery and resources of the President, who is seeking a full six-year term in the May 10 elections.

He said he has a good track record as a public servant "because I have been serving our people well as Cebuanos know."

Lacson, who once served as police commander of the region covering Cebu City and neighboring areas, reminded Mrs. Arroyo of the defeat Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. and the late Speaker Ramon Mitra Jr. suffered in 1998 and 1992.

De Venecia lost to then Vice President Joseph Estrada despite the fact that he had the full backing of the Ramos administration. Mitra lost to Fidel Ramos, who broke away from the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino to form Lakas-Tao, which later evolved into the now ruling party. Mitra had the LDP nationwide political machinery to support his candidacy.

House Minority Leader Carlos Padilla, Lacson’s lone senatorial candidate, said Mrs. Arroyo cannot count on the supposedly strong machinery of the ruling party and government resources to win a six-year term in May.

"In fact, the wanton and cavalier use of taxpayers’ money is backfiring on her. The business community and financial markets are noticing that such improper use of funds will bloat the budget deficit. That is the reason why the stock market and the peso-dollar exchange rate are going down," he said.

Padilla cited as a "clear case" of improper use of people’s money the release by Mrs. Arroyo of P728 million for fertilizer and pesticides.

"We all know that this money can go down the drain," he said.

Barnstorming this northern Cebu town, which is three hours away from Cebu City by car, Lacson told students of the Roosevelt Memorial College that he would support a move to shift the present system of government to a presidential-federal type like the one in the United States.

He said he is not in favor of a parliamentary system "because it would perpetuate our present politics of patronage and compromise."

He pointed out that under the parliamentary setup that Mrs. Arroyo and her House allies want to install, all a prime minister has to do to perpetuate himself or herself in office is to "buy" the loyalty of a majority of parliament members.

In an interview later with journalists, Lacson said he is not in favor of the proposal of another presidential aspirant, former senator Raul Roco, that their spouses engage in a debate.

"If we allow them to engage in a debate, does that mean that we will tolerate their interference in government if we are elected to the highest office?" he asked.

He said the spouse of a president should not meddle in governance.

He also reiterated that he does not believe in surveys, including the one whose results were released by his office yesterday and which put him in the No. 2 slot behind Mrs. Arroyo.

The poll was conducted among business executives.

As for reports that the influential Iglesia ni Cristo sect is brokering unification talks between his and his opposition rival, movie actor Fernando Poe Jr., Lacson said he is not aware of such an initiative, if there is any.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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