CEBU CITY, March 28, 2004
President Arroyo said Friday night that she is "very careful" in doing her "homework" to make sure her political opponents have nothing to throw at her except black propaganda and harassment suits.

She said her lawyers have studied "precedent" cases of incumbent presidents in other countries and re-electionist governors and mayors in the Philippines, all of which allow her to continue in office even when she is in the thick of her campaign to seek a full six-year term in the May elections.

Mrs. Arroyo, during a one-on-one interview with STAR publisher Max Soliven in his "Impact 2004" talk show on ANC, took exception to persistent accusations that she has an undue advantage over other presidential candidates since she has all the government funds and resources at her disposal. Her opponents have been calling for her to resign to even out the playing field.

She noted that there have been at least nine cases filed against her before the Commission on Elections, the Office of the Ombudsman and the Supreme Court (SC) on her alleged misuse of public funds and resources to bankroll her campaign.

"Iím very, very careful. My lawyers are very, very careful. There have been rulings already, on some of these nine (cases), there are even presidents all over the world, there are even re-electionist mayors and governors, there are plenty of precedents on what can be done or cannot be done," Mrs. Arroyo said.

Though she did not mention it, Palace officials have insisted the President enjoys immunity from suits while in office, as mandated in the Constitution, even as Mrs. Arroyo herself said the cases filed against her are nothing but "harassment" and "nuisance" suits.

Mrs. Arroyoís statement prompted Soliven to remark that she obviously does her "homework" on these issues.

"If you are going to be a good president, you have to do your homework," she quickly replied.

The President did not identify the lawyers who did her "homework" for her on the legal and constitutional issues that may be raised against her during the campaign.

But on the same show, Mrs. Arroyo belied the alleged influence and clout held in her administration by the law firm formed by lawyers Pancho Villaraza, Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo, and former chief presidential legal counsel Avelino "Nonong" Cruz, who resigned from his post in December last year to focus on being her campaign lawyer.

"Nonong Cruz is my legal counsel. So of course, why do I need a legal counsel if Iím not gonna believe him. So I follow his advice," she said. "They were my lawyers, therefore I know them, and I know their capabilities and theyíve been good lawyers to me."

In Marceloís case, Mrs. Arroyo said he did well as one of the private counsels during the impeachment trial of deposed President Joseph Estrada.

Earlier in the day, Mrs. Arroyo said she would rather "go to jail" than leave thousands of ordinary Filipino famiies in Metro Manila without any access to clean, potable water.

This was the Presidentís response to one of the graft complaints filed against her on her alleged "sweetheart deal" with Maynilad Water Services Inc., a firm owned by the Lopez family.

One of the complainants in the case include the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP), which is fielding actor Fernando Poe Jr. as its standard-bearer in the May elections.

The KNP camp earlier accused Mrs. Arroyo of having coerced the Lopezes, who also own the ABS-CBN television network, to ax the weekly sitcom of comedian Dolphy, who had been vocal in his support for Poe.

"Not true, not true. Itís only the opposition that is saying it," the President said.

She laughed off these charges when told that Dolphy was still seen in his sitcom on ABS-CBN, contrary to charges made by the opposition.

"There you are, just to show you! Watch their news, do you think (ABS-CBN) is supporting me?" she said, adding, "They hit me so much of the time!"

Mrs. Arroyo renewed her challenge for her political opponents to elevate the campaign to debating on platforms and issues instead of resorting to mudslinging and grandstanding.

"Especially now, what they often use is black propaganda," she said. "What they should talk about is (their) platform of government. Thatís the problem with them they just try to cover up their lack of a platform by throwing black propaganda."

The President warned her opponents and critics that Filipinos "donít like destructive politics."

"I would not offer my advice (to my opponents) because itís against my interest. But what I can say is the people, the electorate, I think are becoming quite discerning. Everything we do, what a candidate has to offer, is what matters most to them," she said. Ė Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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