MANILA, April 16, 2004
By Nikko Dizon and Paolo Romero - With little more than three weeks left before election day, a vital cog in the machinery of the opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) crumbled with the resignation yesterday of 11 staff members of its media bureau.

KNP media bureau chief Rodolfo Reyes confirmed the resignations but clarified that the move would not adversely affect their operations.

"We will continue our operations," Reyes said. "Their departure has not really crippled us."

Among those who resigned were Bryan Yamsuan, Benjie Guevarra, Rowan Pagkalinawan, Dave Pahilga and Merlinda Manalo.

Their resignations left the KNP media bureau with only nine staff members.

Reyes conceded that those who resigned were a loss to the KNP considering their experience and extensive contacts in the media.

He said he had worked with the group during the administration of former President Joseph Estrada when he was press secretary.

Reyes said he personally invited the 11 to help him in the media coverage of the campaign of KNP standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr.

Guevarra and Yamsuan are veterans in handling media and electoral campaigns. Guevarra headed the Presidential News Desk at Malacañang during the Estrada administration while Yamsuan was former chief of staff of Sen. Teresa Aquino-Oreta.

Manalo, for her part, was a veteran print reporter before joining the KNP media bureau.

One of those who resigned, who requested anonymity, told The STAR late Wednesday that they decided to quit because of a "confluence of events," including the supposed meddling of KNP campaign manager Sen. Vicente Sotto III in media bureau affairs.

The group also decided to call it quits because of overlapping functions with another media group headed by Poe’s spokesman, Sorsogon Rep. Francis Escudero.

Poe, who was on the campaign trail in the north yesterday, was surprised when he was informed by journalists of the resignations.

"I’d like to know if that’s true," Poe said. "I have to talk to them first to know what happened and what’s this all about and why it happened."

Asked how the resignations could affect his campaign with only three weeks to go before the May 10 polls, Poe said the KNP will have to "adjust."

Journalists covering the KNP campaign noted that they are being fed information from two media groups within the KNP — one headed by Reyes and an FPJ media bureau headed by Escudero — aside from another supposedly covert group.

Reyes denied Sotto was encroaching on the bureau, pointing out that they have separate turfs. He also denied reports that the KNP media bureau was working in conflict with the FPJ media bureau.

"We’re helping each other and we have separate budgets to work with," he said.

Reyes disclosed that the group which quit his media bureau was offered "a better package" by a Metro Manila mayoral candidate whom he declined to identify.

"The package was quite substantial that the KNP cannot match the offer. The media bureau is working on a tight budget," he said.

"I won’t stand in their way and I don’t think they have any complaints with me and they’ve done a good job," Reyes said.

In a statement, the KNP quoted Ed Araullo, a leader of a citizen’s group supporting Poe, that the resigned media bureau members accepted "a high-paying job" in the political campaign of Manila Mayor Joselito Atienza, who is seeking a third and last term in May.

This, however, was denied by the Atienza camp. "We cannot afford them," a City Hall insider was quoted as saying.

Araullo said the KNP decided not to stand in the way of the personal welfare of the staffers whom he claimed were offered a "hefty" salary by the administration.

He said the resignations came at the time when the KNP media bureau is being reorganized.

In the same statement, Araullo said the KNP media bureau will remain operational and better prepared for "the final push," with Reyes still at the frontline of the communications group.

Just last month, Reyes himself announced he was offered P5 million to abandon Poe and transfer to the administration camp.

Reyes supposedly resigned but changed his mind at the last minute as he declared he would stay on as KNP media bureau chief.

Reyes also denied yesterday reports that he was among those who resigned. "I am with FPJ all the way. I am sticking it out with him," he said.

Reports of infighting and power struggle still hound the KNP but this was repeatedly being played down by its officials.

A member of the KNP executive committee disclosed that the infighting were simply "healthy debates" among its members.

Poe also played down reports of infighting in his camp in the supposed overlapping of functions between Reyes’ and Escudero’s media groups.

"The delineation of their responsibilities is clear," he said.

Escudero, for his part, issued an statement dismissing reports of infighting.

Escudero said the resignations are simply a matter of personal welfare.

"It could be said that they are moving toward better and bigger opportunities and it’s not for us to block or stop them," he said.

Oreta, who is part of the campaign team, said the group informed her of their resignations.

"All I asked them (was) if they are moving to the other side (administration) and they said no," Oreta said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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