CEBU CITY, March 27, 2004
By Nikko Dizon - A cordial greeting wouldn’t have hurt.

Opposition front-runner Fernando Poe Jr. said he would’ve said "hi" to President Arroyo, his main rival in the May elections, if they had bumped into each other in Cebu City yesterday.

Mrs. Arroyo and Poe both had a campaign stop in Cebu, the first time their campaign sorties met on the road.

The press were expecting the two to meet by chance after it was initially reported that they would be billeted in the same hotel.

However, Mrs. Arroyo stayed at Waterfront Hotel while Poe went to the nearby Marriott Hotel. Leaders of Poe’s Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino stayed at Waterfront, however.

"I’ll greet her and I’ll be wishing her the best," Poe told reporters when asked what he would say to Mrs. Arroyo. "We are rivals in the campaign but of course we wish everybody the best."

Poe said he always stayed at the Marriott whenever he was in Cebu.

KNP spokesman Mike Romero said common courtesy dictated that Poe and other opposition members greet the President if they meet.

"Naturally because as President of the country she should be given due respect. As for the issues of corruption against her, it’s nothing personal," Romero said. "Bumping into her in a hotel is different. She’s still the President and should be given respect."

Mrs. Arroyo is facing a strong challenge from Poe, who is expected to win the contest because of his movie star popularity even though he has no experience in holding public office.

Opinion polls showed Mrs. Arroyo and Poe are in a dead heat in the campaign that has become a bitter exchange of criticism between both sides.

Mrs. Arroyo warns the country’s economic recovery efforts would suffer if Poe wins the election.

She has been challenging Poe to face her in a televised debate over their respective programs of government but the political novice has demurred.

Critics say Poe has been avoiding any discussion about his plans to run the country to hide his shortcomings.

Poe’s camp accuses Mrs. Arroyo of vote-buying and claims the economy did not improve during her three years in office.

Mrs. Arroyo took over the presidency in January 2001 after former actor Joseph Estrada, a close friend of Poe, was booted out by a military-backed popular uprising.

Estrada is being detained while on trial for plunder, a capital offense punishable with death, and other massive corruption charges.

He denies the charges and claims he was illegally ousted from office.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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