SAN FERNANDO, LA UNION, April 16, 2004
By Paolo Romero — Hope springs eternal for the unification of the camps of Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr. and independent presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson.

Sources said yesterday that the on-again, off-again opposition unification is almost a done deal with a formal announcement possible in the next two weeks.

At the same time, Poe’s spokesman debunked rumors that Poe would drop out of the presidential race, citing as proof the increased campaigning being done by the actor’s wife, actress Susan Roces.

KNP insiders said the one-on-one Easter Sunday meeting between Lacson and Poe successfully jumpstarted unification talks after a long impasse that was marked by name-calling and brickbats thrown by both sides.

"The meeting was crucial and catalytic because it came after a while and FPJ and Ping were more comfortable and open with each other," the KNP source said.

The source added the goal is to forge the unification agreement "before or by the end of the month."

Another KNP source said Lacson had been "almost childish" in imposing so many demands before the talks could proceed, such as the removal of Sen. Edgardo Angara and Sen. Vicente Sotto III from the KNP.

Lacson, however, had "softened up so much" that it made the unification of the opposition already "an inevitable event," according to the source.

Asked which of the two presidential candidates will slide to the vice presidential slot, the source said, "It’s obvious, right?" apparently referring to Lacson, who has been consistently trailing in the surveys.

Poe and Lacson are reportedly scheduled to meet on Monday in an undisclosed place in Manila.

After his sortie in Tarlac and Zambales today, Poe is expected to proceed to Laguna and Cavite, Lacson’s reported bailiwick.

The sources said Poe’s Cavite sortie will be "significant and symbolic" in connection with efforts to unify the opposition.

"He (Poe) won’t just venture in Cavite without Ping’s blessing," the source said.

When informed that Lacson has softened up on his demands, Sotto said: "Well and good."

"That’s good as long as there are no longer any conditionalities," he said. "It should be that way, with no conditionalities, and if that’s the case, we will initiate the unification."

Rumors say that Lacson will be "compensated" with a huge amount by the financial backers of both camps.

No Backing Out

KNP spokesman Miguel Romero, for his part, said the fact that Roces is more involved in her husband’s campaign is enough proof that Poe will not junk his presidential bid.

Poe’s "backing out of the race is out of the question. In fact, Mrs. Poe is back in Region 6 (Western Visayas) to maximize the territory," Romero told The STAR.

Rumors floated that Poe agreed to withdraw from the race during his Easter Sunday talk with Lacson.

But Romero said Poe would not allow his wife to campaign for him if he will only quit in the end.

Roces, who was initially against Poe’s joining politics, has been campaigning extensively in public markets to touch base with the masses.

Roces campaigned in Iloilo yesterday and was at the Agora market in San Juan last Wednesday. Just before Holy Week, she joined her husband and the entire KNP slate in their campaign sorties in Panay and Negros, her home province.

Vote-rich Panay and Negros are considered President Arroyo’s bailiwicks, but Romero claimed this belief was "shattered" after "90 percent of the Negros occidental local leaders" expressed support for Poe.

Angara, KNP executive committee chairman, said in a statement that Poe is leading Mrs. Arroyo by 20 percentage points in Malacañang’s in-house survey.

He also predicted that the KNP will win eight to 10 seats in the Senate in the May polls. The latest Pulse Asia survey showed the administration coalition and the KNP with six senatorial candidates each in the winning 12.

In a related development, Poe barnstormed yesterday Nueva Ecija, a known bailiwick of his close friend, ousted President Joseph Estrada.

At the rally held at the gymnasium in Cabiao town, Poe was endorsed by outgoing Vice Gov. Eduardo Joson IV, younger brother of re-electionist Gov. Tomas Joson III, who is backing Mrs. Arroyo.

Poe slammed the Arroyo administration for engaging in "character assassination" and for using government funds to bankroll Mrs. Arroyo’s campaign.

His vice presidential running mate, Sen. Loren Legarda, said she was the subject of nasty rumors passed through text messaging, which claimed she was blocking the salaries of teachers.

Poe also said the Arroyo administration has not proven itself to be a champion of the masses since it failed to deliver basic services such as food, education, housing and health.

Sotto, a native of Cabanatuan City, said Poe will win in Nueva Ecija by a 75-25 margin.

Of the KNP’s senatorial candidates, former San Juan mayor Jinggoy Estrada received the warmest applause at the Nueva Ecija sortie. He said Poe will win in the province by a margin of either 70-30 or 75-25, "kasama pa ang daya roon (even if he is cheated). If not, it will be 90-10."

Lacson-Roco Tandem?

On the other hand, former Cebu governor Lito Osmeña denied initiating a meeting with Lacson, saying that a merger had been rejected by Alyansa ng Pag-asa standard-bearer Raul Roco.

He said he was just invited to a meeting, held somewhere in Metro Manila before the Holy Week, by a group of Filipino-Chinese businessmen who wanted to put up funds for Lacson and Roco.

Osmeña said that upon arriving at the meeting place, he immediately left when he found out that Lacson was not coming and only his advisers, Lito Banayo and Makati Rep. Agapito Aquino were present.

"Lacson was not around so I left. I don’t know if Lacson and me were given the same story. But I am really (upset) that everything has been twisted, that I asked for P100 million. It’s a lie. I don’t know why Lacson is trying to destroy me," he said.

Osmeña said he immediately flew to Bohol to inform Roco about the businessmen’s offer but Roco rejected the idea of uniting with Lacson’s camp.

"If we talk about (an alliance) we have to have a common platform and we have to know the placement of the candidates. Who will come first, who will have to give way?" he said. — With Nikko Dizon, Manny Galvez, Sheila Crisostomo

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved