LAOAG CITY, April 17, 2004
Is it "wer r u?" or "mis u"? What do two rival opposition presidential aspirants text each other?

If you see Sen. Panfilo Lacson and movie actor Fernando Poe Jr. fumbling with their cellular phones these days, chances are they are texting each other. Lacson revealed yesterday that the lines of communication between him and his rival are now open. They have become so chummy that they resort to texting whenever they are too busy with their respective campaigns to talk to each other.

"Minsan, nag-uusap kami sa cell phone, pero minsan, text na lang," Lacson said.

But their busy campaign schedules prevent them from effectively communicating with each other. He recalled that one time, he saw a text message on his mobile phone. The message: pls kol.

He called, but Poe’s phone just kept on ringing. The actor was apparently busy making handshakes or speaking to supporters. And when the actor saw a "missed call" on his phone, he returned the call to Lacson, who was about to take off and fly to a campaign sortie in some mountain town. A few seconds later and he was airborne, cutting his phone’s signal off. Last month, when a scheduled meeting with Poe was canceled at the last minute by the actor’s camp, the former Philippine National Police chief publicly complained that he had difficulty reaching his rival on his cellular phone. He said they swapped phone numbers in a previous meeting but that every time he called him, what he heard at the other end was the message that the phone was out of range or was off.

"May cellular phone nga, pero di naman matawagan. Kasi palaging patay ang phone," he once rued. Yesterday, Lacson said he was happy that he and Poe have been talking or texting through their mobile phones.

Lacson-Poe unity talks set anew By Paolo Romero And Jess Diaz The Philippine Star 04/17/2004

IBA, Zambales — With the elections less than a month away, Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr. and independent presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson are set to finalize plans of forming a united opposition against the administration. Who would give way remained unclear, however, as both candidates insisted they would not slide down to vice president.

In a brief interview at the ancestral home of Sen. Luisa Ejercito here, Poe said he was waiting for Lacson’s text message for the exact time and location of the one-on-one meeting next week. "I’m optimistic," Poe said of the upcoming unity talks. Asked whether unifying the opposition is necessary, he said: "Kailangan (It’s necessary)."

Sources in the KNP said the meeting is likely to take place in Manila on Monday or Tuesday at the latest. Poe said that in their last meeting two weeks ago, both sides agreed to exert more effort in unifying the opposition. The two reportedly met on Easter Sunday but have been tightlipped on what transpired at the meeting. Asked who would give way, Poe said: "Not give way; I guess the right word is unification."

Sources said both sides aim to finalize talks by the end of the month and overturn President Arroyo’s lead. The President led Poe by three percentage points in the latest Pulse Asia survey taken March 27 to April 4. "There’s still time," a source said. "Because of media and communication, people all over the country will immediately know of the unification."  Poe dismissed reports that he was ready to slide down to vice president in exchange for P250 million, saying that the rumors came from groups trying to sow intrigue.

Meanwhile, Lacson, who used to say that he was no longer enthusiastic about forging a united front with Poe, is reportedly upbeat about the renewed talks and the possibility of defeating Mrs. Arroyo in the May polls. "We might meet on Monday in Manila if our respective schedules permit," Lacson told journalists covering his campaign sortie in Laoag City yesterday. He denied though that the unification is already a done deal and that he and Poe will be making an announcement in the next two weeks. "There is no done deal yet. There is no truth (to) the report published in The STAR," Lacson said.

He maintained that he will not slide down to vice president, citing that the "very warm" reception he has been getting from the people in his campaign sorties made him even more determined to pursue his presidential bid. "My mind is set to go for it all the way. He (Poe) may be thinking the same thing. It could be the main hitch," Lacson said. His campaign spokesman and political strategists, Lito Banayo, remains undaunted, saying that unifying the opposition is still possible for as long as Poe and his handlers will keep an open mind on the question of who will give way. "We would like dearly to have unification, but we believe that Senator Lacson should be the united opposition’s presidential candidate because of his track record and competence," Banayo said. Lacson sees other possible hitches in his talks with Poe, though.

"Si Angara problema namin iyan sa LDP, ngayon problema nila sa KNP (Angara was our problem in the LDP. Now he is their problem in the KNP)," he said, referring to Sen. Edgardo Angara, president of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino, to which Lacson and his lone senatorial candidate House Minority Leader Carlos Padilla, belong. Angara, however, supported Poe’s candidacy over Lacson’s and organized the KNP as a political vehicle of the actor’s presidential bid. Lacson added that there are persons in Poe’s camp that are meddling in the decision-making process.

Meanwhile, rumors are rife that the influential Iglesia ni Kristo (INC) is brokering unification talks between the two opposition candidates and that Lacson will be the standard-bearer. Lacson denied that the INC is involved in any way. "There is no need for any person or group to mediate because our lines of communication are open," he said.

In the meantime, Lacson backtracked on talks with the camp of presidential candidate Raul Roco for a possible merger. On Thursday, he revealed that Roco’s camp, through former Cebu governor Lito Osmeña, asked for P100 million in exchange for the possible unification of forces. He said he and Padilla ditched the proposal and were no longer interested in negotiating with Roco’s Alyansa ng Pag-asa.

Osmeña, however, earlier said that it was the former PNP chief’s group that approached the Roco camp for a possible merger. — With Jose Rodel Clapano

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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