[PHOTO AT LEFT: THE ROSE OF TACLOBAN: Former First Lady Imelda Marcos welcomes President Arroyo who attended yesterday’s ground-breaking ceremonies for the proposed Tacloban City Astrodome. - Revoli Cortez ]

MANILA, March 24, 2004  (STAR) By Marichu Villanueva - Former First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos and younger brother Tacloban City Mayor Alfredo "Bejo" Romualdez showed up with President Arroyo for an official function yesterday in Leyte, a province that has been dubbed "Romualdez country."

The presence of Mrs. Marcos and Romualdez in the groundbreaking ceremonies for the Tacloban City Astrodome on Real street caused ripples among political leaders in Leyte, especially among officials of the administration Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats.

This was after Romualdez, originally of the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) of Mrs. Marcos, officially joined Mrs. Arroyo’s Lakas—CMD.

Mrs. Marcos’ eldest daughter, Ilocos Norte Rep. Imee Marcos, had earlier expressed support for the candidacy of actor Fernando Poe Jr. and almost ran as one of the 12 senatorial candidates of the opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP).

Mrs. Arroyo, accompanied by running mate Sen. Noli de Castro and the Senate candidates of the Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan sa Kinabukasan (K-4), flew to Leyte yesterday, after their campaign was postponed by tropical storm "Butsoy."

At the groundbreaking rites, Mrs. Marcos and Romualdez were even seen talking with Lupita Aquino-Kashiwara, sister of slain Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., whose assassination on Aug. 21, 1983 triggered the downfall of former President Ferdinand Marcos. Kashiwara is one of the "image handlers" of Arroyo in the campaign.

During a press conference at the Legislative Building at the Carigara town hall in Leyte, Mrs. Arroyo brushed off speculations over Romualdez’s motives in casting his lot with her.

"He’s the best person who can answer that question. I hate to be the spokesman for somebody else," Mrs. Arroyo told reporters. "But what I can say is I welcome the support of those who believe in my administration and want to work for my election. As to why this or that person believes in me, they are the best persons to answer that question."

But a visibly irritated Mrs. Arroyo insisted that no "political deal" was struck with the Marcoses over their pending ill-gotten wealth cases.

"It was under my administration that the government finally won the Marcos wealth (case) after so many years of it being unresolved," she said. "So how can you say that is a political deal?"

The President was referring to the $630 million Marcos Swiss bank deposit which, after the government had won its forfeiture case, was unfrozen from an escrow account and deposited in the National Treasury.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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