MANILA, April 15, 2004
By Marichu Villanueva It’s now down to two.

With the latest Pulse Asia survey results and the forced leave of former education secretary Raul Roco from the campaign, President Arroyo said yesterday that the presidential race has boiled down to two choices: her or movie star Fernando Poe Jr.

Without mentioning the name of her rival, Mrs. Arroyo spoke before a group of businessmen and formally pledged a "six-point plan of action" that she would fulfill if given a six-year mandate in the May 10 elections.

"In these challenging times, the country has a clear choice between two candidates: to move forward with an experienced hands-on leader who has a specific platform for change, or take a risk in an experienced actor who is too reliant on advisers to make an important decision," Mrs. Arroyo told businessmen in a luncheon gathering at the Hotel Intercontinental in Makati City.

Mrs. Arroyo said her plan of action includes the construction of 3,000 school buildings, a scholarship grant for every qualified poor family, and putting a computer in every school; bringing electricity to 1,500 barangays every year and clean water to all 42,000 barangays in the country.

She also pledged to reduce the cost of medicines by half and create one million new jobs every year if elected and given a full six-year mandate.

"The choice is clear — you can build on a strong start we made on our pro-poor platform for our people that is bringing a new idea, or we can start all over again with a cynical platform, empty of ideas and stuck with the past," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo was the last invited speaker in the "Presidential Candidates Series 04" organized by business groups.

Among the organizers were the Makati Business Club (MBC), Bankers Association of the Philippines (BAP), Bishop-Businessmen’s Conference (BBC), Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), American Chamber of Commerce, European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, and Chinese-Filipino Business Club (CFBC).

In her speech, Mrs. Arroyo explicitly scored Poe for his lack of platform compared to her administration’s clear cut "six-point plan of action" for the country through 2010.

"The choice is clear," she told the businessmen. "You can vote for a six-point plan of action and a record of accomplishment; or vote for someone who has no plans for education, no plan for clean water, no plan for job creation, no plan for health care, no plan for energy, and no plan for international relations."

Mrs. Arroyo also vowed to lead the country "to a new era of unity and prosperity" if given the electoral mandate for the next six years. ‘Regrets’

During the forum, MBC president Ricardo Romulo echoed the concerns of the business community surrounding recent developments in the run-up to the May 10 elections.

Romulo alluded to Roco’s temporarily bowing out of the campaign trail with barely four weeks to go for health reasons, as well as the latest survey ratings of the presidential candidates.

"With the latest development, there are only two main candidates," Romulo said.

"One candidate aspires to be our leader because his heart is in the right place and that seems to be all he has to offer," he said, in apparent reference to Poe.

Romulo added "the other candidate stakes her claim to another term on the basis of her track record which speaks for itself and needs no embellishment from me."

Romulo recalled the MBC in-house survey in January which showed 47.6 percent of its members voted for Mrs. Arroyo as the "most capable" candidate.

The same survey also showed Roco trailing Mrs. Arroyo with 29.3 percent. Poe was not able to get any vote from the businessmen.

"Judging from the latest polls conducted by the Pulse Asia, it seems that either our members who participated in the MBC survey were more discerning than most or they may have been endowed with the gift of prophecy," Romulo said.

The President’s appearance at yesterday’s forum came after she posted a three percent lead over Poe, the standard-bearer of the opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP), in the March 27-April 4 survey of pollster Pulse Asia.

Instead of boasting about her lead in the latest survey results, Mrs. Arroyo simply focused her attack on Poe and his campaign promises.

"Yes, we need to provide breakfast, lunch and dinner. But that won’t be accomplished by leaders and their backroom advisers who instead, only provide a steady diet of political attacks and lawsuits," she said.

Much of Mrs. Arroyo’s speech during the forum focused on her plans as well as the lack of Poe’s platforms.

Saying her plan for the next six years is not an idle promise, Mrs. Arroyo claimed that she has the experience to deliver on her pledges.

Citing "protocol reasons," MBC executive director Guillermo Luz explained Mrs. Arroyo, being the incumbent president, was the last guest speaker of the forum.

Roco and Bro. Eddie Villanueva, standard-bearer of Bangon Pilipinas Movement, earlier spelled out their respective platforms before the businessmen, Luz said.

Luz disclosed yesterday that they had also invited Poe and independent presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson to speak on their platforms before the businessmen.

In the case of Lacson, Luz said the opposition lawmaker cited a conflict in schedule but still sent his "regrets" when a new date was set to accommodate him.

Poe, on the other hand, rejected their first invitation but later asked for "guidelines" on how the forum would be conducted.

Even as Poe was given the guidelines he requested, Luz said the movie star sent back his "regrets" that he cannot attend the forum for still unclear reasons.

"They (Poe and Lacson) lost their opportunities to speak before the business community. It was their own choice," Luz said.

Luz said they will now gather all the platforms of government presented by the three candidates and their respective replies during the question-and-answer forum.

Luz said the answers of the three presidential candidates on the issues will be posted on the MBC website for the people to decide.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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