MAASIN, ILOILO, April 13, 2004
By Jess Diaz and Jose Rodel Clapano - Sen. Panfilo Lacson urged yesterday his opposition presidential rival, movie actor Fernando Poe Jr., to oust Senators Edgardo Angara and Vicente Sotto III from the Poe camp for allegedly derailing the opposition’s unification bid.

"That is our suggestion before we can unite," Lacson told a news conference in Iloilo.

Lacson supported the view of House Minority Leader Carlos Padilla, his lone senatorial candidate, that Angara "is the one blocking the unification of the opposition and causing its problems."

Reached by The STAR for comment, Angara, president of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP), said "it is Lacson and his lackey Padilla who are the problem."

"The overwhelming number of opposition leaders, supporters and followers are united under the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) and Lacson’s group is only a small faction," Angara said.

He said Lacson’s statement "reflects juvenile thinking and a mind unfit for a president," adding that the KNP was organized largely through his efforts.

Lacson and Padilla are Angara’s party mates in the LDP. They parted ways because Angara decided to support Poe, a political outsider, instead of Lacson.

Lacson also grudgingly confirmed in Iloilo that he and Poe met Sunday afternoon.

"Yes, we met. We had agreed to deny our meeting, but I cannot lie to you," Lacson said. "Except to say that we both saw an opening for a possibility of unifying the opposition, I won’t give any details."

He added that there will definitely be more talks between himself and Poe in the future.

He also denied that it was El Shaddai leader Mike Velarde who arranged their meeting and refused to say who got them together, claiming that he and Poe had agreed not to identify their "common friend" who had been trying to bring them together.

He said it was the same friend who tried last month to arrange a meeting between them.

A meeting had been set then but Lacson, invoking transparency, leaked it to journalists covering his campaign sortie in the Central Visayas. The leak prompted Poe’s camp to scrap the meeting at the last minute.

Lacson clarified that Angara’s ouster from Poe’s camp is not a "condition," only a suggestion for the opposition’s unification to "proceed smoothly."

Padilla said that before unification talks between the Lacson and Poe camps can begin, "the first order of the day is the ouster of Angara... it appears that the problem is Angara."

During his campaign in Pangasinan last week, Lacson said opposition unity can only take place with him as the presidential candidate and Poe sliding down to be his running mate. Lacson does not have a vice-presidential candidate.

Lacson said he can beat President Arroyo, while Poe, if he agrees to slide down to the vice-presidential race, can give Sen. Noli de Castro, Mrs. Arroyo’s running mate, a run for his money.

He also said Sen. Loren Legarda, Poe’s running mate, can seek re-election and win handily.

If this scenario is not acceptable to Poe, Lacson said he and the movie actor might lose to Mrs. Arroyo, while De Castro would beat Legarda.

Asked about the Lacson-Poe meeting on Sunday, Lito Banayo, Lacson’s political strategist and spokesman, said Lacson has not revealed details of the meeting, even to him.

Informed that Lacson called on Poe to oust Angara, Banayo said, "that might have been discussed in their meeting."

He echoed Lacson’s assertion that it was not Velarde who arranged the meeting.

However, the KNP described Lacson’s revelations about his latest meeting with Poe as another leak, which could again derail unification talks.

Sorsogon Rep. Francis Escudero said Lacson’s statements "can definitely hurt (the chances of opposition unification) because, whenever other people talk, they can preempt whatever agreement has been arrived at (by Poe and Lacson)."

Escudero declined to discuss the meeting between Lacson and Poe, though he confirmed that the two opposition presidential bets did meet in an undisclosed place in Makati City. He also denied that Velarde brokered the meeting.

"They talked, but whatever they talked about will be known only to them until an announcement is made," he said, though he was unsure of whether there would be any announcement at all.


Poe has overhauled his campaign team as he seeks to recover lost ground ahead of next month’s polls.

He has named Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay as his "overall campaign manager," KNP media bureau chief Rodolfo Reyes said over dzBB radio.

The move comes as Poe tries to regain the initiative in time for the May 10 elections, after seeing a nine percentage-point lead over Mrs. Arroyo evaporate. Poe and the President are now neck and neck in the opinion surveys.

Reyes said Poe’s campaign was previously run by a committee of senior advisors but it now needs someone to take charge, while denying that the decision was linked to Poe’s losing his wide lead over the President.

Sotto, who previously acted as spokesman for the collegial Poe campaign team, "remains involved in the campaign and has not resigned," Reyes added.

He also said opponents of the President were trying to persuade Poe or Lacson to withdraw from the election in order to avoid splitting the anti-Arroyo vote.

The Social Weather Stations (SWS) said surveys showed Poe would gain a net 3.5 points if Lacson were to stand down, while Mrs. Arroyo would add 1.3 points to her poll numbers if Alyansa ng Pag-asa standard-bearer Raul Roco were to withdraw.

Roco campaign spokesman Jaime Galvez-Tan rejected rumors that Roco was abandoning his campaign.

"This is absolutely untrue. Roco is not backing out," he said in a statement.

More K-4 defections?

The KNP said in a statement that it expects more waves of wholesale defections from the administration Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan sa Kinabukasan (K-4) to the KNP camp after the Holy Week break as the KNP pushes into the homestretch of the campaign.

KNP spokesman Miguel Romero issued the statement as he debunked reports about supposed funding problems besetting the KNP and said the Poe campaign is running smoothly.

"So far, so good for the campaign. We’re proceeding full steam ahead," Romero said in a radio interview.

He said the exodus of stalwarts from K-4 parties, including the ruling Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD), the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) and the Liberal Party (LP), on March 29 and the unprecedented outpouring of support for Poe in the Visayas before the Holy Week "shattered the myth of invincibility of (Mrs. Arroyo) in Regions VI and VII (Western and Central Visayas)."

Freedom, Peace and Justice Movement (FPJM) chairman Manny Portes said the K-4 senatorial candidates are now bankrupt due to lack of funds, "proof that the government is now bankrupt."

Portes has invited K-4 candidates to join the "victory-bound" KNP. "Let’s join hands to save the country from the mess caused by dozens of sweetheart deals... particularly the abuse of the P12 billion road user’s tax," he said.

According to Portes, the administration coalition’s local candidates have become desperate because they have not yet received the P10 million to P20 million campaign funds allegedly promised them by the President.

Portes’ issued his invitation a day after nine K-4 candidates lashed out at K-4 campaign manager Conrado Limcaoco Jr. for not providing adequate funding support, flawed strategy and hitches in transportation services.

This lack of funds, Portes said, prevented K-4 senatorial bets from joining the President’s provincial campaign sorties.

Sen. Robert Jaworski and his brother-in-law, former Videogram Regulatory Board (VRB) chairman Ramon Revilla Jr. go to the K-4 sorties on their own, Portes said.

Jaworski and Revilla, however, have denied reports that they shunned the K-4 campaign schedules and have parted ways with the administration coalition.

"We try our best to be present in all scheduled K-4 campaign sorties, but there are times that we had to skip some event because of prior commitments," Jaworski said. "This does not mean that we’re out of the coalition."

The K-4, however, said the opposition is in "panic mode" and is "muckraking" to derail the administration coalition’s victory.

Reacting to Portes’ statements, Limcaoco did not deny that the K-4 machinery has encountered problems during the course of the campaign, but added that these concerns "do not affect the spirit of camaraderie among the candidates and the members of the campaign team."

"Our senatorial candidates sit with our campaign staff on a weekly basis to assess our run and find ways to improve on our strategies and routines," Limcaoco said. "What was reported was blown out of proportion and spiced with half-truths and half-lies."

He also said he has heeded the suggestion of Sen. Rodolfo Biazon that candidates be ferried by helicopter to far-flung and "missionary" routes to enable them to cover more ground in the last weeks of the campaign.

"The story was blown out of proportion," he said. "We don’t deny the problem. That is why we had a no-holds-barred meeting to analyze our campaign strategies. The meeting was designed to resolve and put solutions to the problems. We were not there to fight one another."

- With Jose Rodel Clapano, Nikko Dizon, AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved