MANILA, March 17, 2004  (STAR) By Paolo Romero and Nikko Dizon - The Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino blamed independent presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s "talkativeness" for the cancellation of his "make-or-break" talks yesterday with KNP standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr.

KNP leaders Sen. Edgardo Angara and Sen. Vicente Sotto III said Lacson’s garrulousness scuttled efforts to come up with a united opposition ticket.

But KNP spokesman Miguel Romero said the talks between Poe and Lacson would continue.

"We expect a meeting anytime by the first week of April and hopefully by then, we will have a united opposition," Romero said.

At a news conference held in a restaurant in Makati City, some KNP senatorial candidates stressed the need for the opposition to unite.

They said the talks would also focus on creating a common front against possible attempts by the administration to "engage in massive cheating and derail Poe’s imminent victory."

KNP senatorial bet Juan Ponce Enrile said one major factor that the two presidential bets should consider in determining who should give way is their "relative strengths."

Former senator Ernesto Maceda added the survey results show the "clear trend in voter’s choices for president" between Poe and Lacson.

He said the best time to hold the talks is around April 15 because "they (Poe and Lacson) will decide on the matter based on the latest survey results."

Escudero, for his part, pointed out the possibility of a repeat of the 1992 elections when presidential candidates Eduardo Cojuangco and the late Speaker Ramon Mitra failed to unite against the lone administration bet Fidel Ramos.

He said both remained committed to run independently against Ramos but ended up as losers.

Escudero and Maceda said they are willing to sacrifice their senatorial ambitions should a unified opposition require adjustments in the KNP senatorial slate.

"For the sake of the unification, I am willing to sacrifice my candidacy," Maceda said.

However, Maceda clarified this does not mean dropping KNP vice-presidential bet Sen. Loren Legarda since it would not be a precondition for a unified opposition ticket.

"As for Loren’s standing, only FPJ (Poe) can decide on that. But I personally will fight for Loren because she is our choice," Maceda said.

Senatorial candidate Francisco Tatad said the meeting between Poe and Lacson should be made at a "more opportune time" without much publicity.

"All negotiations like this should be done in secret and the parties will agree to release the fruits of their discussion," he said.

Tatad said it was unfortunate the planned meeting between Poe and Lacson was leaked to the media.

The meeting was apparently called off after the still unidentified mediator reportedly got irked by Lacson’s statements and demands.

Poe, for his part, had to call off his campaign rallies in Novaliches, Quezon City and in Caloocan City for the planned meeting, according to Angara and Sotto.

Both said Poe had kept his word to keep the one-on-one talks under wraps but it was Lacson who kept talking about it to media.

"He (Poe) was true to his word as a gentleman (not talking about it). I think it would be useless to talk (to) them," Sotto said. "He’s (Lacson) trying to attract attention maybe because he lacks attention."

Sotto said Poe has refused to talk about the details of the meeting even to his closest advisers, including him and Angara.

He said it was Lacson’s camp that demanded that the talks should be kept secret, yet they are imposing preconditions and demands in public.

Angara, for his part, claimed Lacson merely wanted to gain "mileage before the public ahead of the talks," as he slammed Lacson’s spokesman Lito Banayo for "doing a bad PR job for his boss."

"Just to prove his sincerity in uniting not only the opposition but all sectors and parties, he (Poe) agreed to meet with Senator Lacson," Sotto said.

"To tell you the truth, Mr. Poe has only been accommodating Senator Lacson’s overtures," he said.

Sotto added Lacson has much more to lose if the talks collapse, pointing out Poe has been pacing the surveys while the senator remains at fourth.

Poe’s spokesman Sorsogon Rep. Francis Escudero said the talks had to be aborted since too many people knew about the meeting between the two presidential candidates.

"Maybe the right time will come for them to (hold a) meeting," Escudero said. "After all, I think the communication lines (are) still open."

Administration lawmakers, on the other hand, said the aborted talks are doomed to fail since both opposition camps cannot even agree on how to unite to defeat President Arroyo.

The lawmakers led by Bacolod City Rep. Monico Puentevella, Davao City Rep. Prospero Nograles and Bulacan Rep. Willie Villarama said it would be futile for both opposition figures to meet since they would end up losing their credibility if they unite "and formalize the admission that the President is too strong to fight one on one."

"Lacson has a future agenda to protect and will not allow an upstart (like Poe) to upstage him," Puentevella said.

Nograles said the aborted meeting was expected because their handlers are trying to unite "two incompatible elements."

Nograles pointed out that Poe cannot even decide for himself since he is being dictated on by his advisers.

"Poe’s handlers and advisers control the game and Lacson won’t talk to his proxies," he said.

Javier, for his part, said the talks are useless anyway since Mrs. Arroyo would get her six-year term on May 10.

Villarama added the aborted meeting only raised false hopes among the opposition’s supporters.

He said the aborted meeting will backlash on Poe and Lacson since their disappointed supporters might just abandon both candidates for being too disorderly and disunited. Ping’s Complaint: FPJ Has Cell Phone But It’s Always Off If businessmen are complaining that Koalis-yon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr. cannot explain his platform of government to them, opposition rival Sen. Panfilo Lacson has a different complaint: he can’t even talk to his rival because Poe’s cellular phone is always off.

After his supposed one-on-one dialogue with Poe was canceled yesterday, an angry Lacson complained that he could not reach his rival on his mobile phone.

"Palaging nakapatay ang telepono. Bigay siya nang number, pero di naman makontak (His phone is always off. He gave his number, but he could not be reached)," he said.

He said in one of their previous meetings, they had swapped mobile phone numbers so they could easily talk to each other.

But on Monday night, when a Poe emissary told him that the planned meeting set for 4:30 p.m. yesterday had been scrapped, he repeatedly tried to reach the movie actor on his cellular phone.

He said all he heard on the other end was the recording that the phone subscriber’s unit was either off or out of coverage area.

Makati Rep. Agapito Aquino, a Lacson supporter, said it was just right that yesterday’s meeting was canceled "because nothing will come out of it anyway."

"The first time they met before FPJ filed his certificate of candidacy, they agreed that there would be a fair and a credible selection process. That agreement was disregarded by Mr. Poe’s political handlers who just anointed him," he said.

Aquino said in the second Lacson-Poe meeting, the two candidates decided to adopt House Minority Leader Carlos Padilla as a common candidate.

"As we all know, his political handlers overruled Mr. FPJ. Carding Padilla was dislodged from his senatorial ticket," he added.

By "political handlers," Aquino, who is secretary-general of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino, was 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 Angara-Sotto and Aquino-Padilla factions have been locked in a bitter quarrel on their choice of a presidential standard-bearer.

The feud has reached the Supreme Court, which has ruled that the Angara group is the "rightful LDP faction." — Jess Diaz

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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