MANILA, March 31, 2004
By Eva Visperas  - Speaker Jose de Venecia rejected persistent rumors that he plans to abandon President Arroyo and join opposition front-runner Fernando Poe Jr.’s camp.

He also dismissed the pledge of support for Poe made last Monday by some officials of the Nationalist People’s Coalition, saying most of the NPC back Mrs. Arroyo.

De Venecia and Mrs. Arroyo co-chair the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas). He is also the party’s president.

De Venecia laughed when asked about the rumors. "Look at what we are doing for Gloria. I am the founder of the party. We are strongly supporting Gloria to victory."

He met with local party leaders in Pangasinan the other day to map out strategy and ensure Mrs. Arroyo’s win there in the May 10 presidential election.

The NPC earlier said it would not back any presidential candidate in the upcoming race but its members would be free to support anyone they choose.

The NPC was part of Mrs. Arroyo’s political alliance, the defunct People Power Coalition, of which Lakas was the dominant party.

The coalition broke up late last year when three parties broke away to support Raul Roco’s presidential bid. Roco’s Akyson Demokratiko was a coalition member.

The NPC, however, remained supportive of Mrs. Arroyo. Lakas and the NPC forged agreements at the local level, promising to help each other in the May elections.

De Venecia also defended Mrs. Arroyo from political opposition accusations that she was using government resources and taxpayer money to help her win a fresh term.

"What the President is doing is not vote-buying. She is just doing her job," he said.

The opposition particularly cited the PhilHealth government medical insurance cards that Mrs. Arroyo distributed in campaign sorties, saying she was virtually buying votes.

Mrs. Arroyo should go on leave while she is on campaign because she has undue advantage being the incumbent, they say.

De Venecia said Mrs. Arroyo needs to do her job whether she is seeking a fresh term or not.

"What do they want the President to do, stop her constitutional duty just because she is running for president?" De Venecia said. "Whether its Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain or Jacques Chirac of France, they have to continue discharging their constitutional duties whether they are running for public office or not."

Local governments could be paralyzed if incumbent officials go on leave, De Venecia said.

"What will happen now to the incumbent mayors, governors, congressmen and other incumbents running for reelection?" he said. "Do you think I should stop the construction of bridges?"

De Venecia conceded that incumbents "must not go beyond the boundaries" and take advantage of their position in the election campaign.

Mrs. Arroyo is facing several lawsuits and petitions seeking her disqualification, most of them for alleged vote-buying and electioneering.

Malacañang dismissed them as "nuisance suits" meant to get media mileage. They were mostly filed by opposition senatorial candidates who are doing poorly in voter opinion polls.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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