MANILA, March 16, 2004
(STAR) By Marichu Villanueva and Delon Porcalla - President Arroyo will still emerge victorious whether or not opposition forces unite behind a common presidential candidate, be it Fernando Poe Jr. or Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Malacañang said yesterday.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye Jr. said Mrs. Arroyo remains the "strongest" candidate in the presidential race along with her running mate, Sen. Noli de Castro of the administration’s Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan para sa Kinabukasan (K-4).

"The survey results show that Mr. Ronnie Poe is one of the other two top contenders," Bunye said, apparently referring to recent releases of public opinion surveys by pollsters Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations showing Mrs. Arroyo and Poe neck-and-neck in the race.

Bunye also downplayed Vice President Teofisto Guingona’s joining Poe’s camp as one of the actor’s "advisers."

He said this development will not affect the chances of the President in the May 10 election. "This has been known all along by the public and this is already factored into the decision of the electorate," Bunye said.

In his daily press briefing, the President’s spokesman shrugged off last-ditch efforts by the camps of Poe and Lacson for their respective contenders to unite in order to unseat the President in the coming polls. Poe and Lacson are scheduled to meet today.

"This is really the concern of the opposition," Bunye said. "As far as we’re concerned, we just would like to go ahead with what the President is doing right now."

"She (the President) is concentrating on governance and bringing forth various issues to be explained to the people," he told Palace reporters.

Bunye stressed the President welcomes a "serious debate" with the opposition on these relevant issues confronting the nation. "The opposition has been fragmented up to this very point and they have not addressed the real issues of the campaign at this time," he pointed out.

Bunye, however, admitted they would closely watch developments in the renewed negotiations for a united front of the opposition.

Poe, standard-bearer of the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP), is a movie actor with no political experience, but has mostly been a front-runner in surveys due to his mass appeal. Lacson, on the other hand, is considered an independent presidential candidate after losing his case with the Supreme Court to be declared opposition standard-bearer. Poe and Lacson’s camps have set several meetings between the opposition bets since late last year but no common ground has been reached.


Administration congressmen meanwhile labeled as "desperate" the likely last bid for unification between Poe and Lacson.

Representatives from the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD) party yesterday said the make-or-break unity talks is an "exercise in futility" since the President would still win in May.

"The FPJ-Ping unity talks is an act of desperation against GMA (Arroyo’s initials). It is an exercise in futility and desperation to contest Arroyo’s strength in the polls," Lakas-CMD Representatives Prospero Pichay of Surigao del Sur, Monico Puentevella of Bacolod City, Willie Villarama of Bulacan, and Augusto Syjuco of Iloilo City said in a joint statement.

They claimed the Poe-Lacson meeting was brokered by Poe’s bosom buddy, deposed President Joseph Estrada. They warned that in a Poe administration, Estrada will be behind the scenes calling the shots to work for his return to the presidency.

"His (Estrada’s) involvement in the talks reinforced fears that he was moving for an actual return to power via a Poe presidency," the administration congressmen said.

Poe earlier said he was informed of the meeting with Lacson by Horacio Morales, president of the Partido ng Masang Pilipino, which was founded by Estrada when he ran and won in the 1998 presidential elections. Estrada has pledged the support of his party — with three million card-carrying members — to boost Poe’s presidential bid.

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

A merger between Poe and Lacson, Pichay said, will "have no bearing" on the candidacy of Mrs. Arroyo, who is seeking to sit as president for a full six years. She only succeeded Estrada following his ouster in 2001 due to corruption charges. "The President is unstoppable because of her superiority as a candidate and (because) of the administration coalition’s machinery," Pichay said.

Puentevella was more mocking. "Now they admit that they cannot beat the President one-on-one. I thought both Poe and Lacson were macho enough to stand up for their conviction."

Villarama said a Poe-Lacson tandem will "bolster" Mrs. Arroyo’s chances to win.

Syjuco meanwhile said Poe would not be in "his right mind" if he replaced his running mate Sen. Loren Legarda with Lacson.

"Lacson is suggesting that Poe double-cross Legarda. (But) why should Poe replace Loren with Ping when she can add more votes to him than Lacson could?" Syjuco said.

Last week, Lacson proposed that Poe slide down as his running mate as the actor can easily beat Mrs. Arroyo’s running mate Sen. Noli de Castro, who is leading 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.

Another administration stalwart belittled Poe and Lacson’s planned unity talks.

Re-electionist Sen. Robert Barbers said unification "will not materialize" because the "bridges for reconciliation" have already been burned.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved