GMA WILL NOT JOIN MARCH 22 DEBATE: "NOT MEANINGFUL WITHOUT POE IN IT"

MANILA, March 17, 2004  (STAR) Without Fernando Poe Jr. on stage, President Arroyo will not take part in the March 22 presidential debate organized by Pulse Asia Inc. and ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp.

Mrs. Arroyo turned down the invitation through her spokesman Ignacio Bunye, who represented her in the initial discussions with the organizers yesterday.

However, Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo might join another debate set on April 13 by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), if the standard-bearer of the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) would face her.

"Much as (Mrs. Arroyo) respects and appreciates the sponsors and organizers of the (March 22) debate, she is being held back by the non-participation of Mr. Fernando Poe Jr.," he said.

"We believe Mr. Poe’s absence would not make the debate meaningful, since it will not differentiate the views of the two top contenders in the polls."

Former press secretary Rod Reyes, head of the KNP media bureau, is set to announce today if Poe would take part in the April 13 debate at the Philippine Plaza hotel in Pasay City.

Slated from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., the two-hour debate will be televised on ABC Channel 5 and Radio Mindanao Network.

Earlier, presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he would not join the debate if Mrs. Arroyo begs off.

It is not known if presidential candidates Raul Roco and Eddie Villanueva would still take part in the March 22 debate without Mrs. Arroyo, Poe and Lacson.

Since the presidential campaign started six weeks ago, Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo has "aggressively" sought a debate among the other presidential candidates so their experiences could be raised as issues.

"The debates are a means to offer the people a choice between the most probable winners, and President Arroyo does not wish to address an empty chair," he said.

Bunye said he would be meeting today at the Comelec with representatives of other presidential candidates to finalize the mechanics of the April 13 debate.

Last week, he met in Sulo Hotel in Quezon City with Prof. Felipe Miranda of Pulse Asia, ABS-CBN senior vice president Ricardo Puno, and representatives of the Philippine Political Science Association and the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) chaired by Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, Bunye added. – Marichu Villanueva


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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