MANILA, April 12, 2004
By Delon Porcalla and Paolo Romero - "Begging bowl in hand," presidential hopeful Fernando Poe Jr. has asked his bosom buddy, ousted President Joseph Estrada, for help in replenishing his campaign finances, an administration lawmaker claimed yesterday.

Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay said officials of the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) flew by helicopter last Holy Thursday to Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal — where Estrada is detained — ostensibly for "urgent consultations" about the campaign.

Citing "impeccable sources within the opposition," Pichay claimed the focus of the meeting was Poe’s dwindling campaign finances.

"The main concern of their trip was money. All their plans will come to naught without funding," he said.

Among those who visited Estrada, Pichay said, were Sen. Edgardo Angara, Caloocan City’s Luis "Baby" Asistio, businessman Carmelo Santiago and former agrarian reform secretary Horacio Morales.

Pichay said that Poe’s campaign was suffering from the lack of substantial contributions from the business community.

"Poe has failed to muster the crucial major campaign contributions from businessmen. Now that they (KNP officials) are desperate, they have dropped all pretense of independence and gone back to their patron for funding and political support," Pichay said.

KNP officials reportedly asked the deposed leader to take a "more active hand" in making sure that "Da King" of Philippine movies makes it to Malacañang. They asked the 66-year-old Estrada for help in enlisting the support of local political leaders, whose support will be crucial in the presidential elections, Pichay said.

Pichay said that Poe, a high-school dropout who has no experience in public office, is far from being "an Erap Estrada in terms of political and leadership abilities."

Before he became president in 1998, Estrada served as municipal mayor, senator and vice president.

"Poe has decisively shown a lack of the temperament needed to lead the country, with several incidents showing his heavy-handedness and hair-trigger temper. Baka magka-giyera pa tayo sa ibang bansa kung akalain niya Poe) na tiningnan siya ng masama ng pangulo nito (We might get involved in a war with another country simply because Poe thought its president had given him a mean look)," he said.

Pichay also claimed that unification talks between Poe and Sen. Panfilo Lacson had "taken a turn for the worse" after the former PNP chief decided to forgo his plan to give way to Poe by the third week of April.

"Lacson is now dead serious about staying in the presidential race, given the chaotic and fractious campaign of Poe," he said.

He said that Lacson’s "giving way in favor of Poe" was premised on the "sure winnability of Poe against President Arroyo."

With Mrs. Arroyo holding Poe to a statistical tie in a number of recent poll surveys, Pichay said the premise "failed to unfold."

"But perhaps the most telling reason for Ping not to give way to Poe is that, in his heart, he knows he will make an infinitely better leader than Poe. He knows that the infighting and disorganization of the Poe campaign is just a microcosm of what the Philippines would become in the unlikely event of an FPJ win," he said.

Even sources from the KNP itself appear to confirm the trouble brewing within the opposition coalition.

A KNP source said yesterday that a move to ease out Sen. Vicente Sotto III as campaign manager came to light during a KNP executive committee meeting last month which the senator attended.

The source said Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, whose PDP-Laban party is a member of the KNP, was proposed as Sotto’s replacement.

Sotto was reportedly open to the proposal and even offered to resign following complaints that the KNP campaign was in a slump as shown by some recent surveys that had President Arroyo taking a slight lead over Poe.

But it wasn’t clear if Binay accepted the offer to take over the campaign.

"He (Sotto) doesn’t know or have any experience in running a campaign, and he has made some bad calls," the source said. "He also has been dropping remarks that have offended a lot of people."

The source said that Binay is the "hands-on type" when compared to Sotto’s lackadaisical manner of running Poe’s campaign.

Sotto is scheduled to arrive today with his wife Helen Gamboa from the United States, where they spent their Holy Week break. Binay could not be reached for comment.

But a key official of Poe denied that Sotto was on the way out.

"We have been hearing those reports for some days now and (Poe) denied them," the official said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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