MANILA, March 15, 2004
(STAR) By Paolo Romero - Barely eight weeks before the elections, the divided opposition is trying one last time to get its act together to unseat President Arroyo in May.

The camps of Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr. and independent candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson will meet tomorrow to try to forge a united front.

In an interview in Cagayan de Oro City Saturday night, Poe said his meeting with Lacson will "hopefully" push through tomorrow, but added that neither camp had initiated it.

"Nagulat nga ako nang ibinalita sa akin ni Mr. (Horacio "Boy") Morales na may meeting kami (I was surprised when Mr. Morales informed me that we have a meeting). It was supposed to be classified," Poe told reporters.

Morales is the president of the Partido ng Masang Pilipino, which was founded by deposed President Joseph Estrada when he ran and won in the 1998 presidential elections. Estrada is Poe’s close friend and has pledged the support of his party — with three million card-carrying members — to boost Poe’s presidential bid.

Asked what the agenda of the meeting would be, Poe said, "Wala pa kaming pinag-uusapan doon (We have not yet talked about that). Nobody initiated it, this came about through a third person."

Poe said he hoped it would be the final meeting. He did not elaborate.

The meeting appeared to have been moved up. Lacson had earlier announced that their next meeting was scheduled on April 15.

Poe’s spokesman, Sorsogon Rep. Francis Escudero, said they hoped the meeting would decide whether the political opposition should unite to ensure opposition victory in the May presidential election.

A united opposition is still possible, Escudero said.

"There’s nothing wrong if they meet," he said. "They can agree to disagree. Nothing has been set and nothing’s preventing them from talking. In fact, there’s no agenda (in the meeting)."

Escudero said Poe has long been amenable for the opposition to unite but reiterated that what is more important is the unification of all sectors after the elections are over.

"There’s nothing wrong if they talk. If they cannot agree, nobody’s gonna walk away hurting," he said.

Escudero said the meeting was arranged through a common friend of the two candidates.

Last week, Lacson proposed that Poe slide down as his running mate as the actor can easily beat administration vice presidential candidate Sen. Noli de Castro, who is leading Poe’s running mate, Sen. Loren Legarda, by a wide margin in the surveys.

Legarda, however, said Poe assured her that there will be no changes in the KNP slate despite unification talks with Lacson’s camp.

Sources from the KNP said the sliding survey ratings of Poe and Lacson have prompted both sides to be more "accommodating" to the idea of a united front.

KNP media chief Rodolfo Reyes said last week that Lacson and Poe entered into a "gentleman’s agreement" wherein whoever will do poorly in upcoming surveys will slide down. Lacson denied this, saying he will pursue his presidential bid.


Meanwhile, Poe reiterated his earlier statements that he is seeking the presidency to restore the people’s trust and confidence in the government.

Speaking at a rally in a jampacked public amphitheater in Cagayan de Oro City Saturday night, Poe said he decided to join the world of politics because of his desire for change.

"Kahit butas ng karayom papasukin ko para sa inyo," he said, stating that he’d pass through the eye of a needle for the people.

Poe said he, Legarda, and the KNP’s 12 senatorial candidates are running on May 10 so they could institute change in the government.

"Kami po na naririto ay mga kinatawan lamang para sa pagbabago," he said, adding that unless government changes the culture of corruption, the public will be deprived of primary needs like food, shelter, education.

"Pagbabago po para maibalik ang tiwala at kumpiyansa sa gobyerno. Pagbabago sa ating kultura. Pagbabago ng kultura ng katiwalian, ng inpluwensiya, ng palakasan at ng lagayan.

"Nang dahil po diyan, hindi nila naibibigay sa taongbayan ang mga pangunahing pangangailangan tulad ng pagkain, edukasyon, pabahay, kalusugan, siguridad at peace and order."

On the other hand, Poe’s buddy, actor Eddie Garcia, said there is need for change in the country’s leadership because recent reports have placed the Philippines as the fourth most corrupt country in the world.

"Nakakahiya na!" he said of the dubious distinction.

Garcia, who almost always played the villain in Poe’s movies, said other Southeast Asian countries have already overtaken the Philippines because of massive corruption in government.

"Dapat yang katiwalian ay mawala na," he said.

Garcia said Vice President Teofisto Guingona had defected to Poe because he has lost all trust and confidence in Mrs. Arroyo.

"Kailangan national lider na hindi nananamantala sa taongbayan, isang pinunong hindi nangungurakot," he said.

Poe said he could not do everything alone, and that he needs the people’s help in getting rid of graft and corruption and improving government service.

Poe said his rivals are exhausting all means to destroy his person and his family, but that he and his senatorial candidates are taking these all in stride.

"Lahat po ng ginagawang paninira ay matitiis namin dahil hindi pa puno ang salop," he said. "Kapag puno na ang salop bibweltahan namin sila."

Poe said Guingona’s entry as part of his panel of advisers will further reinforce his powerhouse team tasked to help him resolve Mindanao’s pressing economic, social and political woes.

"Nung mga nakaraang linggo ho, nakikipag-ugnayan po ako kina (senatorial candidates) Digs (Dilangalen), Amina (Rasul), and (Sen.) Nene Pimentel, at ngayon po na andito na si Vice President Guingona, we can address the biggest problems of Mindanao," he said.

Earlier, Poe said the social and economic woes of Mindanao will be among the top priorities of the united opposition ticket under a post-Arroyo administration.

"What Mindanao needs are not tanks and bullets, but housing and schools," he said. "Among (my) goals is to open (avenues of) peace in Mindanao."

Poe said his administration would prioritize the poor agricultural regions of Mindanao, Eastern Visayas, Western Visayas and Bicol in the allocation of budgetary support for infrastructure, irrigation, and post-harvest facilities.

A portion of Official Development Assistance (ODA) funds will also be tapped to finance special low-interest credit windows for small farmers and fisherfolk in Mindanao and other agricultural and coastal areas of the country, he added.

"(My) administration will also immediately reach out to all groups that have taken up arms against the government, including military rebel groups, communists and Muslim secessionists, and engage them in genuine dialogue to hear their concerns and come up with mutually acceptable arrangements for them to return to the fold of the law," he said.

In just eight minutes, Poe was able to outline his platform of government, which he pointed out was change for the betterment of the country.

Poe started his speech at 11:35 p.m. and ended at 11:43 p.m. — With Bong Fabe

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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