MANILA, March 10, 2004
(STAR) Opposition front-runner Fernando Poe Jr. revealed yesterday his long-awaited platform for the May 10 presidential election, promising to restore trust and confidence in government and fight poverty.

Poe added an anti-globalization platform to his election campaign as he sought to revive flagging fortunes in a popularity battle ahead of the May 10 presidential elections.

Poe’s outline, which stressed the need to restore trust in government and help disadvantaged sectors, was a clear attempt to answer persistent questions on what the inexperienced politician had in store for the country’s economy.

"There is only one thing I can promise you if I am fortunate enough — I will be a true servant of the people," the actor-turned-politician said during the launch of a booklet containing his six-point program of government.

He said he will work to "restore trust and confidence in our government" and change the country’s "culture of corruption" and "destructive politics."

"What we need is a leadership that will truly implement the law, a leadership that will give comfort instead of fear," he told about 500 supporters cheering his nickname "FPJ" in a rally at the University of the Philippines’ Quezon City campus.

The 64-year-old high school dropout and political neophyte has been under pressure to disclose his platform since announcing his candidacy last November.

His presidential bid has unsettled the markets and business people, who fear a repeat of the failed presidency of friend and fellow actor Joseph Estrada, now on trial for plunder.

Estrada was replaced by President Arroyo following a military-backed popular protest over massive corruption allegations.

Appealing to the poor — Poe’s main electoral base — the 24-page booklet promises to provide Filipinos with "minimum basic needs," ensure that the government "lives within its means" and protect the "most vulnerable sectors."

It also promises land reform, 20 percent of the national budget for rural infrastructure, credits for small farmers and fishermen from foreign aid, "safety nets" in agriculture and industries affected by global trade and a nationwide employment program.

To control a budget deficit, Poe’s platform also calls for "drastic cost-cutting measures" in government, particularly travel and intelligence expenditures.

He would "look into the possible imposition of a balanced budget rule or a budget deficit ceiling to ensure that government does not overspend."

Income tax collection would be improved partly by abolishing the internal revenue service and replacing it with a private revenue agency.

He also promised a "depoliticized environment" for the energy sector to encourage more investment in power and transmission plants while vowing to "strengthen the regulatory mechanisms to protect the consumers."

It also said his administration would "look into the possibility" of restructuring the government’s foreign and domestic debt, which amounted to about $59 billion last year.

To ensure transparency, citizens’ groups would be authorized to monitor public bids for government projects.

Poe would encourage foreign investment by promising to minimize judicial intervention in major projects, and vows to review constitutional provisions on foreign equity participation, a reference to the 40 percent limit on foreign capital in some industries and the ban on foreigners owning land.

The platform promises to renew focus on "economic diplomacy" by opening new markets for Philippine exports and attracting foreign investment and tourists.

It also will "invigorate" the country’s role in the global fight against terrorism, while implementing a "national peace policy" of dialogue and negotiations with rebel groups.

A Poe government also would "review the possibility" of amending the Constitution to switch to a parliamentary government under a federal system, a plan also supported by Mrs. Arroyo.

Poe has lost an early opinion poll lead to fall in alongside Mrs. Arroyo — an economist who played a key role in the Philippines’ 1995 accession to the World Trade Organization.

Poe has since lost a nine percentage-point lead as the surging Mrs. Arroyo drew level two months before the vote.

He has avoided events where he might be questioned on his economic policies, preferring massive rallies where he is largely mobbed by fans.

But while the outline covered wide-ranging issues, it failed to address the specific concerns troubling many businessmen.

"We will not claim to have the solution for all the maladies afflicting our nation. We shall instead extend our hand to all sectors of Philippine society and as one country we shall work together to remedy these ills and walk united towards a better and brighter tomorrow," Poe said. — Mike Frialde, Nikko Dizon, Paolo Romero, AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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