MANILA, April 3, 2004
By Marichu Villanueva - As far as Malacañang and the administration party are concerned, it is still a "virtual tie" between President Arroyo and opposition standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr. in the latest survey of the Social Weather Stations (SWS).

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye and official campaign spokesman Michael Defensor sought to downplay yesterday the latest nationwide survey of SWS, which showed Poe regaining his slight lead over Mrs. Arroyo.

According to the SWS survey commissioned by Poe’s Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) from March 11 to 19, the actor obtained a rating of 34.9 percent as against Mrs. Arroyo’s 32.9 percent.

The survey had 2,000 respondents and a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.

"It’s still a virtual tie. It’s still within the margin of error," Defensor told The STAR.

In his daily press briefing at Malacañang, Bunye said neither the Palace nor the Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan sa Kinabukasan (K-4) campaign headquarters could vouch for the survey’s authenticity.

"We have not received a copy but we believe the paper that printed it is credible," Bunye said, referring to yesterday’s headline story of The STAR.

In a media release, the SWS confirmed the figures released by the KNP the other day, which showed Poe leading the President by two percentage points.

The SWS said the survey was commissioned for private use and could be released to the public by the sponsor at its discretion.

It also confirmed the accuracy of the KNP report, saying that Poe was ahead of Mrs. Arroyo by as much as 25 to 35 percent in Luzon and by 36 to 45 percent in Mindanao. But in the Visayas, Mrs. Arroyo was ahead of Poe by 22 to 51 percent.

The SWS pointed out though that Poe’s national lead is not statistically significant.

"The perceptions of voters could swing from day to day," Bunye explained. "But we believe, in the end, the President and her K-4 team would be able to convince the Filipino people that theirs is the better program, that theirs is a better team."

"We believe that Filipinos are more mature and in the end, they would choose better programs rather than better personalities," he added.

Meanwhile, Defensor pointed out that the Poe camp has more reasons to complain regarding the results of the new SWS survey "because what they had projected as a comfortable lead (over) President Arroyo did not materialize."

Defensor said the KNP had expected a "2-to-1 scenario," or two Poe votes for every one for Mrs. Arroyo. He said this is in order to reverse the onslaught of the administration campaign and the growing support for Mrs. Arroyo.

But since the survey period covered the 31st to the 39th day of the campaign, Defensor said that it did not factor in yet the effects of the campaign for Mrs. Arroyo by the K-4 candidates at the local level.

"This is really a problem for the opposition because the only way they will get campaign fund support is if they can really get a good showing (for Poe) in the survey," Defensor said.

"So what they (opposition) are doing is, if you notice, they have been filing cases against President Arroyo in their bid to get the Filipinos to shift their support to their candidate," Defensor charged.

He said more "harassment" cases and "nuisance" suits would be filed against the President to slow down growing support for her.

The Palace has so far counted eleven cases filed against the President before the Commission on Elections (Comelec), the Supreme Court (SC) and the Office of the Ombudsman.

"We are prepared to answer any charges in the proper forum. We remain confident that these accusations will eventually be junked by the Comelec or any other tribunal because they are absolutely baseless and utterly bereft of merit," Bunye pointed out.

Administration lawmakers also expressed confidence that Mrs. Arroyo will regain her lead in the next surveys following the dismissal by the Supreme Court of the disqualification suits against the President.

Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) Rep. Vincent Garcia of Davao City and Lakas-CMD Rep. Prospero Pichay Jr. of Surigao del Sur said in a joint statement that they foresee Mrs. Arroyo trouncing Poe in the next surveys.

Garcia said the start of the local campaign would also swing the momentum to the President as the local contest for governor down to the councilors is dominated by administration coalition bets.

Meanwhile, Alyansa ng Pag-asa standard-bearer Raul Roco appeared unperturbed by the results of the latest SWS survey.

"The election is not yet decided. Whatever the surveys show, we see otherwise when we go to the markets. The people are supporting us," he said during a campaign sortie in Cardona, Rizal.

Roco placed third in the SWS survey with 13.1 percent while Sen. Panfilo Lacson, evangelist Eduardo Villanueva and disqualified presidential contender Eddie Gil got 11.5 percent, 2.4 percent and 0.5 percent, respectively.

According to Roco, surveys are not credible as confirmed by a mayoralty candidate who claimed to have witnessed how a group of interviewers conduct a survey.

In a press briefing yesterday, Reynaldo Bernardo, who is running for mayor in Cardona, said the interviewers asked residents about their choice for president but they filled up the questionnaires themselves.

"We are not sure if they wrote the correct answers given to them. They were the ones who filled up the questionnaires. They just asked the people but never showed them the accomplished forms," he noted.

Roco added that there are still undecided voters and he is hoping they would choose him on election day. — With Paolo Romero, Sheila Crisostomo

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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