MANILA, March 22, 2004  (STAR) By Delon Porcalla - Three major allies of former education secretary and presidential candidate Raul Roco went over to the camp of President Arroyo, bolstering efforts of the administration to win the Visayan vote in the May 10 elections, an official of the ruling party announced yesterday.

Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats executive director Joey Rufino said former congressmen Jerome Paras of Negros Oriental and Luz Bacunawa of Masbate, and Emil Ong, former National Food Authority (NFA) administrator, have expressed support for the candidacy of Mrs. Arroyo.

"Paras’ defection has further drawn the political landscape in Negros Oriental, where its governor and mayor in Dumaguete City have both declared support for President Arroyo," he said.

Paras is set to take his oath as Lakas member before Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. to replace his brother Jacinto, the incumbent congressman.

Rufino said Paras’ transfer to Lakas will mean 300 more municipal officials, leaders of non-government organizations and agricultural groups will support the administration. Bacunawa has a large following in Masbate and Leyte while Ong has leaders in Eastern Visayas, Rufino said.

Rufino said the defections from the Roco camp "were the most critical" since re-electionist Sen. Rodolfo Biazon left the opposition to join Mrs. Arroyo’s K-4 (Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan sa Kinabukasan) senatorial slate.

Support for Mrs. Arroyo, who is seeking a full six-year term in the May polls, got a further boost up North after 18 town mayors in Ilocos Norte expressed support for the administration and the re-election bid of Gov. Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.

According to Ilocos Norte Rep. Roque Ablan, provincial chapter chairman of Lakas, the expression of support for Mrs. Arroyo was a "major endorsement," since the province is perceived to be the bailiwick of Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr.

Ablan said many of the political leaders in the province saw the capability of Mrs. Arroyo as against Poe’s.

He cited the latest survey ratings indicating the increasing support for Mrs. Arroyo who is now in a statistical tie with the actor. Mrs. Arroyo trailed Poe in the surveys at the outset of the campaign.

"With the province’s political leaders supporting the President, she has mightily surged back and her ratings can only improve when the local campaign begins," Ablan said.

"Ilocano voters are intelligent and will elect a president who will govern through excellent leadership," he said.

Ablan said the 18 mayors of Ilocos Norte who expressed support for Mrs. Arroyo are led by Sarrat town mayor Corazon Abad of Sarrat, president of the Ilocos Norte’s Mayors League.

Baguio City Rep. Mauricio Domogan also assured Mrs. Arroyo of victory in the Cordillera Autonomous Region (CAR).

Domogan said there is overwhelming support for the administration from the provinces comprising CAR, along with other political parties allied with Lakas.

"There is no doubt the President will win in the CAR because the administration coalition is solidly behind her. On the national level, our candidates are supporting the President," he said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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