MANILA, March 26, 2004
By Paolo Romero - Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr. aims to shatter what his handlers call the "myth" that Cebu is President Arroyo’s bailiwick when he and his senatorial candidates go on a campaign sortie in the province today.

KNP campaign manager Sen. Vicente Sotto III and Poe’s spokesman Sorsogon Rep. Francis Escudero said they have proved in previous sorties that Poe is a candidate to reckon with even in areas reportedly supportive of the administration coalition.

"We expect the Cebuanos’ reception to be very warm," Escudero said. "Maybe even warmer than in Pampanga, Surigao and Pangasinan where they (administration) claim they are strongest."

He admitted, however, that more show business personalities will be joining the sortie to spice up the KNP rallies. Observers earlier noted that there are more celebrities in rallies held in the bailiwicks of Poe’s rivals.

Sotto said during their three-day sortie in Cebu and Bohol — reportedly Mrs. Arroyo’s strongholds — that they would "go directly to the people. We have no hakot (paid crowds), no barangay officials."

He explained that Western Visayas is among the three areas identified by the KNP where Poe has to campaign more to win support.

Sotto said their own baseline survey indicated they have to intensify their campaign in several areas in Western and Central Visayas as well as in Northern Mindanao.

"Poe is strong almost everywhere but there are areas where he is not weak but other candidates are strong," he said. "We are optimistic that by the first week of May, Poe will be strong in these areas."

Sotto added that their own survey is closer to reality so they do not depend on the results of surveys conducted by top pollsters even if these show Poe in the lead.

Meanwhile, Sotto hit the Arroyo administration for blaming the country’s economic problems on Poe.

"They blame everyone but themselves," he said. "If the KNP is running the country and if anything goes wrong, we will take the blame."

Sotto said he will not be surprised if the Arroyo administration blames comedian Dolphy for the peso’s continued decline against the dollar.

Meanwhile, a group of Poe’s supporters said they agree with a previous statement by Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye that capability is the real issue in the presidential campaign, but pointed out that voters are not concerned with Poe’s lack of experience but Mrs. Arroyo’s "gross ineptitude" in running the country.

"Mrs. Arroyo has obviously reached her level of incompetence as Chief Executive," said Freedom, Peace and Justice Movement chairman Manny Portes.

"Our people are already aware that they have to select between an untested but sincere, honest and dedicated candidate who (can) inspire and lead them towards a new dawn for the nation, or a political veteran who claims to have a (doctoral degree) in economics, but who only succeeded in sinking the country deeper in debt and who had done nothing to stop rising electricity and water rates, spiraling fuel prices and escalating prices of basic commodities," he added. — With Antonieta Lopez

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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