MANILA, April 1, 2004
By Jess Diaz - If he cannot catch up with his opposition rival, movie actor Fernando Poe Jr., in surveys, presidential hopeful Sen. Panfilo Lacson can at least beat him in raising funds.

Lacson did just that Tuesday night when he raised P10.5 million during a "friendship dinner" with Filipino-Chinese friends at the Sheraton Hotel in Manila, which is owned by billionaire taipan Lucio Tan.

The former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief told journalists covering his campaign sortie in the Bicol Region yesterday that he felt "so loved, so blessed and every inch a winner" during the fund-raising event organized by his supporters in the Filipino-Chinese community.

"This shows that the people and my supporters are slowly getting out of their closets, and rightly so. Each day during the campaign, my support grows stronger," he said.

There were 120 tables in three functions rooms reserved for Lacson’s friendship dinner, of which 105 were occupied by contributors, mostly Filipino-Chinese businessmen whom the opposition senator rescued from kidnappers and other criminal elements during his time as PNP chief and head of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force.

Each of the 105 tables had 10 plates costing P10,000 apiece. Many of the guests came prepared with cash, while others promised to remit their contributions soon.

On Tuesday noon, just hours before Lacson’s friendship dinner, Poe had his own fund-raising in Chinatown in Binondo, Manila.

According to House Minority Leader Carlos Padilla, Lacson’s lone senatorial candidate, half of the 40 tables reserved for the fund-raising event were occupied by entertainers brought by the actor’s camp, and only half were occupied by potential contributors.

In the Sheraton affair, "there were 120 tables, and all of them were filled by supporters and none by entertainers," said Padilla, who attended the friendship dinner.

Also present during the affair were business leaders, including Donald Dee, Miguel Varela and Sergio Ortiz Luis of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Employers Confederation of the Philippines.

"Lagot kayo bukas kay GMA," Lacson warned Dee, Varela and Ortiz Luis of a possible dressing down from President Arroyo. He was of course joking.

Gov. Ireneo Maliksi of Cavite, Lacson’s home province, and Representatives Agapito Aquino of Makati and Gilbert Remulla of Cavite attended the event.

As he has repeatedly told the people in his campaign sorties, Lacson promised his supporters no-nonsense leadership in case he wins the presidency in May.

"For as long as a leader is willing to sacrifice for the next years, for as long as a leader is no-nonsense and strong-willed, for as long as he leads by example, I think we have a bright future ahead of us," he said.

He said the days of corrupt officials, law enforcers and government personnel would be numbered once he gets elected.

"We will expand the campaign against kotong from the police organization to the entire bureaucracy," he added.

Lacson was scheduled to address the convention of the National Prosecutors’ League in Naga City yesterday but the invitation to him was canceled at the last minute for no apparent reason.

He said he suspected that Malacañang had something to do with the cancellation.

On Monday, the President was in Camarines Sur and promised prosecutors a salary increase.

The former PNP chief also revealed that the Palace has recalled the ambassador to Saudi Arabia due to suspicion that he is helping Lacson.

Lacson said Bahnarim Guinomla was also ordered by Malacañang to explain why he is supporting Lacson’s presidential bid.

"The government recalled Bahnarim Guinomla from Riyadh to explain why he is supporting me. I never knew him to support me, but I know I have strong support in Saudi Arabia," Lacson said. — With Jose Rodel Clapano

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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