MANILA, March 17, 2004  (STAR) By Jess Diaz - The supposed make-or-break meeting between opposition presidential rivals Sen. Panfilo Lacson and movie actor Fernando Poe Jr. did not materialize yesterday, dimming chances for the two factions to ever merge forces.

A fuming Lacson told journalists that the meeting, scheduled for 4:30 p.m. yesterday, was scrapped Monday night for no apparent reason.

He said a Poe emissary who set the dialogue informed him of its cancellation.

Later yesterday, after speaking before a group of Chinese-Filipino businessmen in Binondo, Manila, Lacson said Poe’s political handlers canceled the meeting "because it had become public knowledge."

"The one-on-one talks between Mr. Fernando Poe Jr. and I were initiated by his camp. Later last night, the emissary of Mr. Poe called to say they were canceling the meeting because it had become public knowledge. But this matter is imbued with public interest, and I have always chosen to be transparent," he said.

Lacson, who belongs to the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino, did not name the movie actor’s political handlers, but he was obviously referring to his party bosses — Sen. Edgardo Angara, who is LDP president, and Sen. Vicente Sotto III, LDP executive vice president and Poe’s campaign manager.

The opposition senator and former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief surmised that the movie actor’s camp scrapped the meeting because it attracted media attention after he leaked it to journalists who covered his campaign sortie in Cebu and Negros Oriental last week.

Besides making the revelation, he purposely announced that he would not abandon his presidential campaign to test the Poe camp’s objective in initiating the meeting.

"I wanted to test their intention. If they wanted me to withdraw, they would want the meeting to be a secret. Obviously, that was the intent, so the meeting was canceled. It’s better that way, rather than waste time," he said.

On the eve of his supposed one-on-one dialogue with Poe, Lacson said he would go to the meeting with one thing very clear in his mind: that he would not slide down to be a vice presidential candidate or abandon his presidential campaign.

The former PNP chief reiterated for the nth time his determination to pursue his candidacy.

"Let me make this clear: I am running for president because I want to pursue a set of programs, and principles that are needed to turn this country around, and give our people a change for the future. A politics without compromise, a leadership without fear. I will pursue this quest until its imminent conclusion — victory on May 10, 2004," he said.

He wondered whether his opposition rival is in control of his campaign.

"Is he in control?" he asked.

He said he would be glad if it was the movie actor who would choose to be his vice-presidential running mate.

The former PNP chief does not have a vice presidential candidate and has only one senatorial bet in House Minority Leader Carlos Padilla.

He said yesterday’s meeting would have been their fourth since before the movie actor declared his availability to run for president late last year.

He recalled that they had agreed on several things in their previous meetings, including a fair and just selection process and adopting his lone senatorial bet, Padilla, as a common candidate.

None of these materialized because Poe’s handlers overruled him, he said.

Lacson also complained that Poe’s camp apparently did not have respect for his schedule.

He said he had to cancel some appointments to give way to the planned dialogue which was scrapped almost at the 11th hour.

"If you set a meeting, don’t just cancel it. It doesn’t give a good impression," he said.

Asked if a future meeting could still be held, Lacson said, "I’m no longer optimistic about it."

He said he and Padilla would just concentrate on their campaign.

Poe’s teammates were evidently not aware that the dialogue between Lacson and the movie actor was canceled.

Sen. Loren Legarda, the actor’s vice-presidential running mate, said in a radio interview that she would abide by whatever decision the two would arrive at in their planned meeting.

But she said she was confident that her standard-bearer won’t slide down or would junk her in favor of Lacson, assuming that the former PNP chief was willing to be a vice presidential candidate.

In a separate radio interview, Poe spokesman Sorsogon Rep. Francis Escudero said he did not know what his candidate and Lacson would talk about.

Asked if the movie actor would slide down or offer Lacson the KNP vice-presidential slot vice Legarda, Escudero said it was only Poe who could answer the question.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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