MANILA, March 14, 2004
(STAR) By Marichu Villanueva - So?

President Arroyo and her allies in the administration yesterday belittled the reported alliance between Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr. and the opposition saying it was "not surprising."

"This is not surprising as the Vice President and I have had principled disagreements, (although) there has never been any rancor between us," Mrs. Arroyo said.

Even as she welcomed Guingona’s joining the opposition, Mrs. Arroyo expressed hopes the Vice President would be able to help clarify the platform of government being espoused by opposition presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr.

She also urged Guingona to encourage Poe "to join the debates now that he has an experienced adviser in the person of the Vice President."

Mrs. Arroyo, who is seeking a full six-year term in the May 10 elections, said Guingona must now fulfill his role as an adviser to Poe and let the movie star participate in the presidential debate being organized by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and concerned groups.

Mrs. Arroyo pointed out that in an election, "it is not so much a matter of who joins whom, but what one has to say about the issues affecting the lives of the average Filipino."

She said that while she is bringing the issues to the people everyday, "the opposition seems to be caught in an endless storm of bickering and infighting."

"The people deserve more than this from their claimed leaders," the President added. "The people deserve service and enlightenment, not petty fights and recriminations."

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said Guingona’s move had not been unexpected as "we have long known of the disagreements between the president and the vice president."

"There is no personal bitterness between the two and this is just a matter of differences in principle and their personal beliefs," Bunye said.

Administration lawmakers led by Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. also belittled the defection of Guingona.

"This will have a very, very insignificant effect on Lakas and the administration coalition," De Venecia said.

He noted Guingona has resigned as president of the ruling Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrat (Lakas) last year without any effect and leaving the party still intact.

"His leaving did not cripple the party as many had predicted," De Venecia said.

For his part, Davao City Rep. Prospero Nograles dismissed the alliance of Guingona with the opposition saying the move has no political value.

"The Vice President is unlike a blue chip in the stock market — he has been discounted a long time ago," Nograles said.

"Many of us in Lakas has long accepted that Vice President Guingona is no longer with the administration," he said.

‘Long Anticipated’

Guingona resigned as foreign secretary in 2002 over his opposition to the presence of US troops in the country.

Last year, he quit Lakas in which he once served as party president, citing Mrs. Arroyo’s alleged unfulfilled reform promises. Nevertheless, he retained the vice presidency.

A staunch nationalist stance which often brought him into conflict with the strongly pro-American Arroyo, Guingona said yesterday he accepted Poe’s request to serve as an adviser on governance and public policy.

Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay said Guingona’s defection to the opposition has long been anticipated.

Pichay said Guingona’s move would have "minimal impact" on the prospects of Mrs. Arroyo’s presidential bid.

The administration lawmakers also laughed off claims by the opposition that Guingona will also trigger the mass exodus of Lakas members joining the opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP).

They said Guingona’s endorsal for Poe had long been anticipated due to his estrangement with Mrs. Arroyo and other administration officials.

In a statement, the lawmakers led by Pichay, Nograles, Cebu City Rep. Antonio Cuenco, Baguio City Rep. Mauricio Domogan and Willie Villarama of Bulacan said the administration coalition had already taken steps of putting in place its own supporters to supplant Guingona’s followers in his area of influence.

They pointed out that even in Guingona’s own area, Region 10, the administration has already secured the support for Mrs. Arroyo for the May 10 polls.

"If Guingona cannot carry his own region to his new anointed candidate, then how can they say that his defection is a factor?" Nograles asked.

He said it was ironic that Guingona opted to join Poe who has yet to present a clear platform of government.

"Vice President Guingona is a very intelligent man and it really strikes me that he joined FPJ (Poe) who up to now, doesn’t seem to know what to do if and when he becomes president," Nograles said.

Insignificant Move

Other presidential candidates downplayed Guingona’s coming over to the opposition camp, branding it as insignificant.

Independent presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the transfer of Guingona to the KNP camp does not have any face value.

"I don’t see any significance except that he is the Vice President. But he is not even elected," Lacson said.

Lacson said he has yet to find out the effect of Guingona’s transfer to Poe’s camp.

"Politics is always addition. I respect Vice President Guingona and we will find out what is the effect of the transfer. But I don’t really see the impact of his transfer because the move was expected in the first place," he said.

Alyansa ng Pag-asa presidential candidate Raul Roco said Guingona crossing over to Poe’s camp "is a very practical move."

"...Let’s leave it to his conscience because he could have a reason that we don’t realize," Roco said.

Roco noted Guingona being the founder and one of the principal convenors of Bangon! (Rise!) espousing advocacies in governance.

Roco said he was surprised by Guingona moving over to Poe, despite his advocacies. He said the move might have indicated that Guingona had gone to the "episode" of his life from being idealistic to turning pragmatic.

"Some have maintained their idealism while others have decided it is more practical to do things in a certain manner," he said.

Bangon Pilipinas Movement presidential candidate Bro. Eddie Villanueva said Guingona could also mean a check and balance to a Poe administration, just like what he did on criticizing the Arroyo administration.

Villanueva said he is still optimistic that Guingona would change his mind and seek a presidential candidate who would really work for genuine changes in the country.

Villanueva also took note of Guingona playing the key role in the impeachment of former President Joseph Estrada.

Poe is a close friend of , also a former actor, whom Guingona accused of corruption in a speech to Senate in 2000.

Guingona’s speech started a chain of events leading to the aborted impeachment of Estrada, who was forced to step down in January 2001 amid massive anti-corruption protests.

Mrs. Arroyo - then vice president - took over the presidency, and appointed Guingona as her second in command.

"I worry about what people would think about him," Villanueva said. "He initiated the impeachment of Estrada and now he would join Estrada’s group." - With reports from Perseus Echeminada, Jose Rodel Clapano, Edu Punay

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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