CAGAYAN DE ORO, March 19, 2004  (STAR) By Jess Diaz  — Opposition presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson said yesterday political handlers of his opposition rival, movie actor Fernando Poe Jr., would most likely run the government for him if he is elected president in May.

"We should all be worried. If a candidate cannot even tell the nation his platform of government and lets other people do the talking for him, it is ominous that we will have problems with him (if he gets elected)," Lacson told journalists covering his campaign sortie here.

From what he has seen, Lacson said people "whose interests and intentions we do not know" are apparently making decisions for Poe, including the last-minute cancellation of what was supposed to be their one-on-one meeting last Tuesday.

Lacson urged Poe to stop hiding from the issues and start revealing to the public his program of government that can help solve the country’s problems.

"Why is he not willing to participate in a debate or even a talk show? People will somehow see through that," Lacson said, pointing out that Poe’s refusal may also betray an inability to make decisions for himself.

"Even the masa, those who belong to the poorest segment of society, deserve a discussion of the issues affecting their daily lives. Poe owes it to them to explain his vision and program for the upliftment of their lives," Lacson added.

Poe refused to join the debate of presidential candidates sponsored by Pulse Asia on Monday next week at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City.

Poe’s refusal prompted President Arroyo to back out from the debate. Lacson maintained that he will not also join the debate without Mrs. Arroyo because he has many questions which only she can answer.

Lacson also raised the issue of Poe’s political handlers on Tuesday night in an interview with Gene Orejana on ABS-CBN News Channel’s "On-Line" talk show.

He said none of several agreements he and Poe had arrived at in their three previous meetings materialized because the actor’s handlers overruled him.

"If Mr. Poe gets elected in May, would they still do the work for him? Would they still do the decision-making for him? I think Mr. Angara and company should answer those questions," he said, referring to LDP president Sen. Edgardo Angara, who is backing Poe’s candidacy.

Lacson is being supported by the LDP wing of Makati Rep. and LDP secretary-general Agapito Aquino.

Lacson’s camp is now awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision on the motion for reconsideration they filed seeking a reversal of an earlier ruling which declared Angara’s LDP wing as the legitimate opposition group.

Until the SC issues a final ruling on the issue, Lacson said he will continue to use the LDP in his campaign.

In the interview with Orejana, Lacson stopped short of labeling the movie actor as a puppet of Angara and other "trapos" or traditional politicians around him.

Lacson also emphasized he would never slide down to the vice presidency under Poe. He said his aim is the presidency and nothing else.

"I would rather remain as a senator than become a vice president," he told reporters during his campaign stop at the Dynasty Hotel here yesterday.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. asked Lacson to give way to Poe to ensure victory of the opposition against administration bets President Arroyo and Sen. Noli de Castro.

"I do not speak for the united opposition but to me, it no longer matters whether Poe and Lacson will unite because that will not significantly affect the victory of Poe. That victory is a foregone conclusion whether Lacson will support him or not. But it will be good if Lacson will withdraw in favor of Poe because politics is addition," Pimentel said.

Lacson also dismissed calls for him to quit the presidential race on the grounds that he has no chance of winning against survey frontrunners Mrs. Arroyo and Poe.

"I think it is becoming even more pronounced that the people are backing Poe. I think the last survey findings in favor of Mrs. Arroyo will be reversed in subsequent surveys, as well as in the elections. I don’t think there is any doubt about it," Pimentel said.

He added that Vice President Teofisto Guingona’s open endorsement of Poe’s candidacy will be a big factor in persuading many of the undecided voters to cast their lot with the KNP standard-bearer.

Lacson said though that his camp is still open to unification talks with Poe’s camp but he is no longer "optimistic that it would push through."

Sen. Vicente Sotto III, Poe’s spokesman, on the other hand, said that the door between Poe and Lacson has been shut while Angara claimed there is a possibility of uniting the opposition.

"Of course that is how discordant their voices are," Lacson said, admitting that these conflicting statements dampened his enthusiasm in meeting one-on-one with Poe on or before April 15.

KNP senatorial candidate Juan Ponce Enrile blamed Lacson for the failure of the unification talks, saying his uncompromising stand is a major hindrance to its success.

"There could never be a win-win outcome in any talks if the other party maintains a hardline position," Enrile said in an interview last Wednesday at the Pryce Plaza Hotel here.

But yesterday, Lacson said he is just being consistent. He also denied offering concessions to the Poe camp, saying that "on the contrary they were the ones who offered concessions which I refused."

"At tsaka (And) it’s not true na ako ‘yung (that I am) responsible sa mga (for the) overtures to talk," he added. "Maraming sinungaling doon sa kampo nila (There are many liars in their camp." — With Bong Fabe, Jose Rodel Clapano

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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