DUMAGUETE CITY, April 6, 2004
By Nikko Dizon — Allies of Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr. find it hard to believe that Poe’s lead over President Arroyo in the latest Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey is only a marginal 0.6 percent, which locks the two contenders in the presidential race in a statistical tie.

"A virtual tie is vulnerable to cheating, which I believe will be done by the administration," KNP senatorial candidate Francisco Tatad said. "This survey has been done for propaganda purposes."

KNP vice presidential candidate Sen. Loren Legarda said the survey results were "unbelievable."

The scores of Poe and the President are separated by a wafer-thin margin that puts them in a dead heat and prompted warnings of "chaos" if no candidate wins a decisive mandate on May 10.

"I’m really afraid of a Taiwan or a Florida scenario," said Jose Leviste of the Manila-based risk consultancy Polistrat International, referring to recent controversial elections in Taiwan and the disputed 2000 US presidential poll.

"Our people would not accept either case and that is frightening," Leviste said.

Electoral campaign strategist Tony Gatmaitan said there would be "total chaos if the result is going to be decided by 30,000 or 40,000 votes" out of an electorate of nearly 40 million. "We never had a presidential race that close."

"We really cannot afford a close election," Leviste said. "The winners must have a real mandate to govern later... We really need a Malaysian-type result," he said, referring to the sweeping victory of Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi.

Gatmaitan said the presidential contest has boiled down to a battle between Poe’s "charisma" and Mrs. Arroyo’s "machine," adding that "these last few weeks will be a contest between voter enhancement and voter protection."

The latest SWS survey covering the period March 21-29 was commissioned by the broadsheet Manila Standard, ABS-CBN television and Polistrat.

A KNP-commissioned SWS survey covering the period of March 11-19 showed that Poe obtained a rating of 34.9 against Mrs. Arroyo’s 32.9 percent.

KNP spokesman Sorsogon Rep. Francis Escudero, meanwhile, said in a statement that he is buoyed by Poe’s two percent lead on the President.

"(Poe) is pulling away despite all the dirty tricks to pull him down," Escudero said, adding that the KNP is very near the "tipping point" that will "irreversibly tilt the contest in Poe’s favor."

Both Tatad and Legarda said the best indicator of candidates’ chances in the May 10 elections is the support and reception people give them during campaign sorties.

Tatad said the KNP ticket visited over 30 provinces since the national candidates’ campaign began on Feb. 10 and described the people’s show of support for the opposition candidates as overwhelming.

"The real survey is the one we see on the ground," Legarda said. "We see the real score there."

Legarda received a rating of only 36 percent in the latest SWS survey, compared with the 50 percent rating garnered by Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan sa Kinabukasan (K-4) vice-presidential candidate Sen. Noli de Castro.

Legarda said people should also take into consideration the personalities or groups that commission surveys before accepting the survey results.

She remains unperturbed by her poor showing in the surveys, saying that she never led in the surveys during the run-up to the 1998 elections, yet she topped the senatorial race when all the votes were in.

Escudero said that the President’s ratings have "bottomed out" while Poe’s ratings "have yet to gear up."

A day earlier, in Guihulngan town also in Negros Oriental, Poe said he was not bothered at all by his slim edge over Mrs. Arroyo.

"Well, they tell me I am ahead by two points," Poe said. "That’s good enough, so I’ll keep on working. We can’t do anything if that’s what the survey says. We’ll continue working. "


Meanwhile, housewife Evangeline Lim asked SWS to stop conducting its surveys on the presidential candidates "because they are so obviously intended for political trending... The SWS must stop this trending... They are just causing confusion among the Filipino voters."

A first-time SWS survey respondent, Lim said she is speaking as a concerned private citizen as she warned Filipino voters not to fall prey to survey groups "that are not capable of presenting to the public the true sentiments of the people."

"The true survey is between (independent presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo) Lacson and Poe," she said, adding that the SWS survey results could be manipulated in Poe’s favor.

With regards to "political butterflies" who shift party allegiances, Poe said he has nothing against the practice of political turncoatism "if (the politicians concerned) have the interest of their constituents in mind."

However, he added that he would be turned off by this type of political maneuvering if the politicians concerned were switching loyalties to ensure their own survival in the political arena.

With these statements, Poe defended the new KNP recruits, mostly local officials who defected from the ruling Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD), which is part of the administration coalition.

"What they did was not exactly a defection," Poe said. "I call it joining us for the better."

Legarda, it will be recalled, was a member of the ruling party until she resigned from Lakas-CMD and was eventually "invited" by Poe to be his running mate.

Also, 85 stalwarts of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), Lakas-CMD and the Liberal Party — all parties affiliated with the K-4 — deserted their respective parties on March 29 and expressed support for Poe.

Poe welcomed the latest KNP recruits in ceremonies held at Club Filipino in Greenhills, San Juan town and assured them of his support should the ruling party and other allied political groups strike out at them.

The KNP’s host in Negros Oriental, Rep. Jacinto Paras, only recently defected from the ruling party to the KNP.

Poe added that he still will not join any political party if he is elected. He is presently not a member of any of the political parties that comprise the KNP, adding that he "would be the first president to do so, if ever."

He said the country has better chances of moving forward if its leaders would focus on the people’s interests rather than on serving the interests of political parties.

Gatmaitan said "the local (political) machines will determine the outcome of the elections," adding that it is the local politicians who would have to pay for the hundreds of thousands of poll watchers to guard against cheating.

He also warned that the President’s political machinery was "subject to attack" in the vote-rich central provinces of Cebu, Negros Occidental and Iloilo.

Escudero also justified Poe’s backing of the new KNP recruits, saying that "if local political leaders have committed support for the opposition but cannot come out for fear of reprisals... the people who look up to them would have the same disposition."

Poe said his team will be working double-time now that the campaign is nearing the homestretch, though they will be taking an early break from the campaign trail to observe Holy Week.

He said the period after Holy Week will be "crucial" for the KNP, because that is when the opposition coalition will be able to determine the extent of the local government candidates’ support for the KNP ticket.

He also said the KNP will welcome all the support it will receive from all other sectors of society as well.

He told reporters over lunch Sunday that he would skip the KNP sortie to Baguio City today and tomorrow. The rest of the KNP ticket, meanwhile, is unsure of whether it will push through with its campaign this week.

Most KNP candidates, like Legarda, said they would be sending representatives in their stead.

Poe will be observing the Holy Week in Antipolo City by going on his panata (devotional) walk from his home to the Antipolo church, which is over a kilometer away.

When asked if he could still make his devotional walk now that he is a presidential candidate, Poe said he would do his best to keep up this annual devotion.

His wife, actress Susan Roces, also told reporters during a campaign sortie in Bacolod City that she would host their family’s annual pabasa (reading a narrative of Christ’s passion and death) at their home, as has been their custom for over two decades.

"Our activities would be centered on religious practices. If (Poe) can’t walk to Antipolo Church, as is his devotion every Holy Week, he would just stay at home," she said.

Legarda, for her part, told reporters that she intends to go on a visita iglesia (consecutive church visits), as is her practice each Holy Week.

"The Holy Week will be spent in contemplation, prayer and reflection," Legarda said. "It’s going to be a quiet time for us." — With Paolo Romero, Jose Rodel Clapano, AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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