DUMAGUETE CITY, March 12, 2004
(MALAYA) By JOAN DAIRO - LACSON says momentum is on his side.  "When I start an undertaking, I always intend to finish it," Sen. Panfilo Lacson said yesterday as he belied reports attributed to the camp of Fernando Poe Jr. that he has agreed to withdraw from the presidential race.

Rod Reyes, head of Poe's media bureau, was quoted as saying Lacson broke a "gentleman's agreement" with Poe. The agreement, it was reported, was that after the disqualification case against Poe, whoever was behind in surveys this month would give way.

If the reports are true, Lacson said in Dumaguete City, Reyes was "lying."

"Poe and I have not discussed that," Lacson said. "Besides, why are his spokesmen mentioning it when no one else was present when Poe and I held our talks?"

He said any announce-ment should be believed only if and when it comes either from him or Poe.

Lacson also said talks about his withdrawal were being spread because Malacaņang and the Poe camp are starting to "panic" over reports his camp is set to merge with that of Raul Roco and Eddie Villanueva.

"Are they afraid that I'll have a vice presidential bet soon?" a smiling Lacson told reporters at a reception here.

"There is clearly panic in both GMA (Arroyo) and Poe camps. Both wish I would withdraw. They can talk their heads off but I am not withdrawing because I am gaining on them fast and I will beat them. They are now running scared," he also said.

Rep. Carlos Padilla, Lacson's lone senatorial bet, said he has been told that Roco was "willing" to slide down to the vice presidency in favor of Lacson, and Villanueva to senator.

Lacson said the only agreement he entered into with Poe was for both camps to keep communication lines open until mid-April when they will hold their final unity talks.

The talks, however, have been sidelined by what Lacson said was the arrogant pronouncements of Poe's "high-handed handlers" that the Poe camp could easily win the elections.

Lito Banayo, Lacson's political adviser, said Lacson's withdrawal from the race will "never happen."

"I think they are feeling the pressure ... because Lacson is gaining strength. Their only hope to win is to get us to withdraw. He is definitely not withdrawing, certainly not for someone like him," he said.

Lacson said based on the reception he got in the city, he has a "good fighting chance" especially since "I feel at my best when the odds are stacked against me."

He recalled that when he campaigned here in 2001, he got a chilly reception from Dumaguete folks but now "it felt very different" with people chanting his name and looking forward to meeting him during his campaign motorcade.

"I only need determination and God. Let's leave it to God. Do your part but much of it depends on him," Lacson said.

"In 2001, many people believed the vicious black propaganda. Now I'm again calling on our countrymen to be the judge. With all the resources and powers this administration used against me, I'd surely be behind bars if the charges against me had basis," he said.

Lacson said he was willing to adopt Roco's advocacy to eliminate corruption in the education sector.

He said one of his priorities will be to return to the old system of education where the eldest child can pass on textbooks to his or her younger siblings.

"At present, what is being changed in the textbooks is just the table of contents. Everyone is making money all the way to the top," he said.

In Davao City, KNP senatorial bet Jinggoy Estrada said it was Lacson's handlers, not Poe's, who are arrogant and blocking the unification talks.

"It's the other way around because the key men of Lacson kept on pushing him to run although they fully well know that he is far behind in surveys," Estrada said. (With JP Lopez)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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