ARROYO STEPS UP CHALLENGE TO POE: FACE ME IN DEBATE

MANILA, March 24, 2004
 
(STAR)
By Marichu Villanueva - President Arroyo challenged anew leading opposition candidate Fernando Poe Jr. to face her in a presidential debate to present and explain his program of government to Filipino voters.

Mrs. Arroyo hurled her latest challenge in a Pulong Bayan (town meeting) she conducted with running mate Sen. Noli de Castro at the Sto. Niño College gymnasium in Ormoc City in Leyte.

Mrs. Arroyo and De Castro, together with the 12 senatorial candidates of the Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan sa Kinabukasan (K-4), flew to Leyte yesterday for a campaign that was scheduled for last Sunday but was postponed because of tropical depression "Butsoy."

Without mentioning her rival by name, Mrs. Arroyo minced no words in criticizing the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) standard-bearer.

"Of course, if you run for President, you have to present your platform. But they (Poe’s camp) have no platform, no experience, so they don’t want any debate. So they have no Pulong Bayan," Mrs. Arroyo told her audience in their native Waray dialect.

The President would later translate her comments into Filipino for the benefit of the radio audience in Manila. The campaign rally was being broadcast live by the government-run Radyo ng Bayan.

De Castro, a veteran broadcaster before he turned to politics, assisted the President in hosting the rally and even had broadsides of his own.

"Kasi ito programa na, tinutupad na. Eh kung siyempre bago, magpaplano pa lang. Eh hanggang plano lang kung minsan (What we have is a program that’s already being implemented. With a new government, you still need to plan. Sometimes you never get past the plans)," De Castro said.

The President’s tirades against Poe came even as the KNP candidate refused to confirm attendance in a new presidential debate being organized jointly by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV).

The debate will be held on April 13 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Westin Philippine Plaza hotel and air over ABC-5 and the Radio Mindanao Network.

While not spurning outright any proposals for a debate, Mrs. Arroyo has made Poe’s presence a condition for her participation.

On another front, two administration congressmen have criticized the opposition for using "movie industry-style intrigues and telenovela plot-lines" in their campaign.

‘Telenovela’ Hit

In a statement released yesterday, Rep. Mayo Z. Almario (Davao Oriental) and Rep. Willie Villarama (Bulacan) accused the opposition of stirring up controversies in an effort to "derail the rise in the President’s ratings" in recent polls.

Among the controversies the congressmen cited were the decision by the ABS-CBN media network to cancel the TV show of comedian Dolphy, allegedly because of his support for Poe, and the alleged government bailout of the cash-strapped Maynilad Water Services.

ABS-CBN and Maynilad are both owned by the Lopez clan, who are seen by some quarters as the chief backers of administration vice presidential candidate De Castro.

"Apparently, the handlers of Mr. Poe are conducting their campaign just like a telenovela, complete with fantastic and sweeping accusations and scenarios tailored to make their candidates look good. But the public is not stupid. They know that there is more to governance than just hurling irresponsible accusations," said Almario.

Villarama added that "slinging mud at the administration" is "easy" for the opposition "because the incumbent will always be more vulnerable to intrigues."


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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