LAOAG CITY, April 15, 2004
(STAR) By Paolo Romero — Opposition presidential contender Fernando Poe Jr. can continue the labors of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos in helping to alleviate the plight of the poor if elected, former First Lady Imelda Marcos said.

The flamboyant widow of the former dictator said only Poe, well-loved for his portrayal as defender of the oppressed in his movies, has the "heart" to pursue Marcos’ "legacy."

"You can be sure he (Poe) can do it because this is the legacy of the late President (Marcos), to help our countrymen, especially the poor," Mrs. Marcos said of the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) standard-bearer. "I know his character, he’s a real person with a heart."

She issued the statement shortly after a well-organized grand KNP campaign rally in front of the Ilocos Norte capitol Tuesday night that was complete with fireworks and more than the usual dose of entertainment in between speeches.

Poe, in his speech before a crowd of more than 3,000 people, branded the Arroyo administration as "selfish" and "insensitive" whose only goal is to perpetuate itself in power.

"Ginagamit nila sa kampanya ang pera ng taumbayan at pinapalabas pa nila na utang na loob natin na nandiyan sila (They are using the people’s money for their campaign and they even have the gall to say that we have to be thankful that they’re there)," said Poe, bosom buddy of deposed President Joseph Estrada who had been widely criticized for allegedly favoring "cronies" of Marcos during his presidency.

The administration of Estrada, who is detained and being tried before the anti-graft court for plunder charges, was not known to have made much headway in the government’s recovery of the alleged ill-gotten Marcos wealth.

Mrs. Marcos said Poe "can redistribute and return to the poor" the Marcos family’s assets sequestered by the government.

She said the "last will" of her husband was "to help the poor even after he is gone."

Although Poe scored points with Ilocano voters and Marcos loyalists, Mrs. Marcos’ lawyer Oliver Lozano observed that Poe failed to state his position concerning the alleged Marcos wealth, particularly on the issue that it could be used to pay the country’s foreign debt.

"He (Poe) should have said that once he is elected as president, he will approve of an agreement that intends to use the Marcos wealth to pay the country’s foreign debt," he said.

According to Lozano, the late president himself indicated in a handwritten note his desire to make use of the so-called Marcos wealth in paying the country’s debts.

Lozano was referring to the late president’s "handwritten legacy" reportedly made on April 9, 1973. Lozano pointed out the Marcos heirs also agreed to carry out his wish.

Mrs. Marcos described Poe as "a star that we need in the midst of darkness" and "a star with a soul."

While some leaders may have many "titles and diplomas," they do not have Poe’s "sensitivity," Mrs. Marcos said.

Poe, a political novice, has faced criticisms for his lack of formal education and zero experience in public service. Despite this, the KNP standard-bearer has led surveys among presidential bets but recently has been in a dead heat with President Arroyo.

The former first lady accuses the Arroyo administration of using the seized assets for selfish ends.

For the past 18 years, she noted 425 ill-gotten wealth cases have been filed against her family and more than P85 billion in assets have been seized by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), yet the government has not succeeded in convicting them.

Mrs. Marcos vowed that she and her family will do everything to help Poe win and deliver the Ilocos votes to him.

During the rally, Ilocos Norte Gov. Ferdinand "Bong Bong" Marcos Jr. urged residents to vote for Poe, saying the Arroyo administration has neglected the province, which relies mainly on agriculture.

The younger Marcos said Mrs. Arroyo has usurped the powers of Estrada, who he noted was duly elected by the people with the highest margin unlike the former.

Earlier in the day, Poe laid a wreath on the wax-covered remains of the late strongman laid in a glass-covered crypt in the Marcos mansion in Batac, raising howls from anti-Marcos groups and victims of human rights violations during the martial law era.

Marcos admitted that Ilocos Norte has only about 300,000 voters but expressed gratitude that Poe had taken time to campaign in the province.

Ilocanos all over the country, the governor said, will heed the Marcoses’ call to bring Poe to Malacañang. He said Poe will easily get more than half of the Ilocano votes.

He and sister, Ilocos Norte Rep. Imee Marcos, denied any quid pro quo in supporting Poe, saying they have long declared their support for the actor because he is a good man.

The governor instead accused the administration of exerting pressure on the local government to support the President in May.

He cited the long-delayed construction of an international airport in the province, which only lacks Mrs. Arroyo’s signature and would be funded by foreign agencies.

Lozano agreed that Poe is assured of the so-called "loyalist" votes.

In yesterday’s weekly Citio Fernandina forum in Greenhills, San Juan, the Marcos lawyer praised Poe’s visit to the province saying it has "touched the heart of many Ilocanos."

"By doing that, he showed that he was also pro-Ilocano. That was a good move by FPJ (Poe’s initials). It was a big boost for him." Lozano told reporters.

Lozano, who is seeking a seat in the Senate under the Marcos loyalist Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) party, said there are currently an estimated six million "card carrying" supporters of the late president and his family. - With Mike Frialde

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved