MANILA, March 30, 2004
Hopes for a unified opposition presidential ticket dimmed further yesterday as the campaign manager of the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino aired his frustrations over the failure of talks between KNP candidate Fernando Poe Jr. and independent candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson.

Sen. Vicente Sotto III told The STAR that he had given up on the idea of a unified opposition presidential ticket. "Napaso na ako. Dati inintindi ko pa ‘yan, pero ngayon sila na lang. Bahala na sila (I had been burned. Before it was my business, but now I don’t care. Let the others take care of it)," he said.

Poe and Lacson were supposed to hold unification talks last month. But the meeting was canceled by the KNP at the last minute purportedly because Lacson’s disclosure of the talks to the media did not sit well with Poe.

But Poe’s running mate, Sen. Loren Legarda, disagreed with Sotto’s gloomy assessment.

Interviewed after an allegiance ceremony in Greenhills, San Juan, for administration defectors, Legarda expressed optimism that the differences between the two candidates can still be patched up. "I’m just waiting for FPJ’s go-signal and the parameters for the talks," she said.

Legarda was emphatic that she wasn’t forcing the unification issue but was merely taking the initiative.

A show business insider like Poe and former President Joseph Estrada, Sotto is considered to be part of Poe’s inner circle, unlike Legarda, who was adopted by the opposition after she cut her ties with the administration.

Re-electionist Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, however, denied that there was a cordon sanitaire around Poe. He said that the perception probably arose because some appointments had to be cleared first with those in the actor’s inner circle. "I can understand that because FPJ has to attend to a lot of things," he said, adding that the arrangement is "okay with me."

In a speech before almost a hundred members of the administration Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD), Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) and Liberal Party (LP) who pledged their support to him at the Club Filipino in Greenhills, Poe fired his latest salvo against President Arroyo.

"Today we are facing a government of greed. We are facing a government which lusts for power, a government which thrives on fear, which disguises itself as a wolf in sheep’s clothing," Poe said. "This is a government that breeds hopelessness and despair."

It was the first time Poe hit the President strongly in a speech in English. KNP officials said he dispensed with a prepared speech written by Sorsogon Rep. Francis Escudero and substituted his own.

In their one-page "Declaration of Unity and Support," Poe’s new allies said that the KNP standard-bearer is the only one who has the "capability and political will to fight and eradicate the prevailing culture of corruption." — Nikko Dizon, Paolo Romero, Delon Porcalla, Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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