MANILA, March 11, 2004
(STAR) By Paolo Romero - Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr. and independent presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson have entered into a "gentlemanís agreement" to give way and support who between them will be ahead in the March surveys, KNP media bureau chief Rodolfo Reyes announced yesterday.

"There was a gentlemanís agreement (that) once the disqualification (case) is over, whoever is ahead in the surveys by March, (the other) will give way," Reyes said.

"Plus the fact that both of them think that six years more of GMA (President Arroyo) is too much,"Reyes said. "If anybody will renege, itís up to him."

Contacted by The STAR for comment, Lacson said Reyes was lying as there was no such agreement between him and Poe.

Lacson also reiterated his resolve to pursue his presidential bid in May.

Reyes claimed it is "logical" for Lacson to give way, pointing out that the senatorís following "is not large enough" compared to Poeís.

Reyes also doubted Lacson could still catch up with Poe in the surveys. "I doubt very much if he can," he said.

He stressed Lacson has nothing to lose if he withdraws from the presidential race since he can still serve as a senator. His first six-year term ends in 2007 and he is eligible for re-election.

The surveys show Poe and President Arroyo are almost tied with former education secretary Raul Roco a distant third. Lacson is trailing at fourth place with television evangelist Bro. Eddie Villanueva not far behind.

Administration lawmakers, on the other hand, claimed the tactical alliance between Poe and Lacson is a "desperate move" by the opposition forces to beat Mrs. Arroyo in the May polls.

In a joint statement, Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay, Baguio City Rep. Mauricio Domogan and Monico Puentebella of Bacolod City claimed the alliance between Poe and Lacson is primarily aimed at discrediting Mrs. Arroyo.

Under the agreement, Pichay revealed Lacson has agreed to adopt a "good cop, bad cop strategy" where the senator would be responsible for the smear campaign against Mrs. Arroyo.

Pichay said Lacson is aware that his chances of getting elected are slim so he agreed to help the KNP in its bid to crush the administration.

"Their unity will have no bearing on the candidacy of the President who is unstoppable because of her superiority as a candidate and the administration coalitionís machinery," Pichay said.

Pichay claimed Lacson noted the immense popularity of Poe which prompted him to give way. He said the talks between Lacson and Poe are already in a "highly advanced stage," with only the concessions being asked by Lacsonís camp remaining to be finalized.

The terms include reimbursement of Lacsonís previous and upcoming campaign expenses and slots for his nominees in a Poe cabinet, Pichay said.

Domogan, for his part, said Poe and Lacson have agreed to unite to prevent themselves from snatching each otherís votes. "They are cannibalizing their own opposition votes," he said.

Puentebella said Lacson will be insulted by the merger. "For Lacson to give way to Poe would not only be degrading but an outright insult to Lacson since he knows fully well he would be a much more knowledgeable leader than Poe," he said.

Puentebella said the political handlers of Poe, mentioning in particular Sen. Edgardo Angara, have exerted much effort to derail Lacsonís candidacy.

"Even President Estrada had abandoned Lacson even if he had long announced his intention to gun for the presidency," Puentebella said.

"Some people have started to show some respect to Ping for standing up to the insults of the Poe camp. Now he has consented to be second banana in the Poe-Ping alliance, he (Lacson) will be known as the Ping-Pong senator," he said.

Puentebella urged Lacson to stop his smear campaign against Mrs. Arroyo. "Ping is self-destructing with his own fabrications," he said. ó With Jess Diaz

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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