GINGOOG CITY, March 14, 2004
(STAR) President Arroyo’s estranged Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr. announced yesterday his support for opposition candidate Fernando Poe Jr. in the May 10 presidential election, saying the movie actor can "rebuild the nation."

Guingona formally broke his ties with Mrs. Arroyo to join the team of Poe, announcing his support at a rally in this city, saying he made the move because "the nation must change."

"I do so mainly because almost everyone agrees that the nation must change, that the socio-economic downturn must reverse," Guingona said in a statement released during the rally, at which he joined the movie star and his running mate Sen. Loren Legarda on stage.

"I gave him the essence of a program of action by our civic movement (Bangon!). He adopted the same and based on said program, I have humbly accepted to become his adviser," he said.

Poe, for his part, said Guingona’s acceptance of the offer to become his adviser "will be the biggest step to unity."

"This is a welcome hope for the people in Mindanao," Legarda, for herself, said.

Poe invited Guingona to become one of his advisers in February and the Vice President had already indicated he would accept.

Guingona has long been politically estranged from Mrs. Arroyo and resigned from her Cabinet as foreign affairs secretary nearly two years ago over differences on national security issues, while staying on as vice president.

Guingona’s jump to Poe’s camp is the culmination of growing division between himself and Mrs. Arroyo over the past two years centered on his criticism of the government’s close security ties with the United States and its support for economic liberalization.

Surveys show that Poe and Mrs. Arroyo are neck and neck in the race for the May 10 presidential elections.

Poe is a high school drop-out with no experience in government and his candidacy has unnerved the business community. The movie star has been presenting prominent figures as his advisers in an attempt to ally such concerns.

Guingona has agreed to become Poe’s adviser after the movie actor sent a letter saying the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) was adopting several advocacies of Guingona’s Bangon! (Rise!) reform movement.

Among them are reforms in the pork barrel system, a law banning political dynasties, greater autonomy for local officials, protection of the national patrimony, a strong drive against crime and corruption, creation of a fund for Filipino overseas workers, and efforts "to make us proud to be a Filipino."

Guingona said he would be an adviser on governance and public policy to Poe. He also agreed to become Poe’s adviser on foreign policy.

"FPJ asserts that he is his own man. If so, coupled with the right political will, he can chart a meaningful change to rebuild the nation under God," Guingona later said.

Legarda, for her part, said Guingona’s defection to the opposition ranks may be "the last straw that may have broken the camel’s back."

Legarda earlier resigned from Lakas, days before Guingona also decided to bolt out, citing differences with the party leadership.

She said Guingona’s accepting a position in the KNP as adviser has inspired the opposition ranks.

"We are honored by his company. His experience as a public official, his nationalist orientation and above all, his honesty, his sincerity and his transparency are qualities that our coalition could learn from," Legarda said.

KNP spokesman Miguel Romero said the defection of Guingona will trigger a mass exodus of support toward the tandem of Poe and Legarda.

"Guingona has opened the floodgates of Lakas congressmen, governors and mayors who have long wanted to break their links with the administration and transfer to the KNP which has been campaigning on a platform of unity and the elimination of corruption in government," Romero said.

KNP senatorial candidate Juan Ponce Enrile added people would see major shifts in political realignments in the next two weeks. He said most of the shifts will come from Lakas and allied coalition parties toward the opposition.

Former Lakas spokesman and independent senatorial candidate Heherson Alvarez said Guingona will be a boost to the KNP.

Alvarez said Guingona will enfuse nationalism into the platform of Poe and the KNP senatorial candidates.

"He is a known nationalist, He is a genuine nationalist. I suspect that his decision (to defect to the KNP) has something to do with his nationalist platform," Alvarez said. — AFP, Bong Fabe, Mike Frialde

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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