MANILA, April 19, 2004
By Jose Rodel Clapano and Jess Diaz  -  He, too, believes in the power of prayer.

Independent presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson has asked his supporters to pray for the success of his talks today with movie actor Fernando Poe Jr.

Lacson and Poe, who bears the standard for the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP), are about to tackle the possibility of unifying the opposition.

Lacson, who was in Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro yesterday, said there is a need for Poe to realize the importance of unifying the opposition to ensure their victory against President Arroyo in the May 10 elections.

The President is seeking a full, six-year term under the administration Koalisyon ng Karanasan at Katapatan para sa Kinabukasan (K-4).

"When (Poe) and I meet tomorrow, please help me with your prayers. It is important that the opposition unite to fight K-4, which is crime, corruption, graft and poverty," Lacson said.

Lacson, whose sixth set of talks with Poe today will coincide with the 67th birthday of jailed former President Joseph Estrada, maintained that he will not slide down to become vice presidential candidate.

He did not give any clue as to where the meeting will take place or what time it will be.

"It is important that the opposition unite to fight K-4, which is crime (krimen), corruption (katiwalian), graft (kurakot), and poverty (kahirapan)," Lacson told his supporters. "Fight K-4" is his battlecry.

Lacson, however, said he is not going to Estrada’s birthday celebration at the deposed leader’s detention center at Camp Capinpin, Tanay, Rizal due to "prior commitments." Estrada is supporting Poe’s presidential bid.

Estrada also denied yesterday that he was brokering unification talks between Poe and Lacson.

For his part, Nueva Vizcaya Rep. Carlos Padilla, Lacson’s lone senatorial candidate, said that there is no way that Lacson will slide down to vice president.

Padilla laughed off the offer of KNP vice-presidential candidate Sen. Loren Legarda that she will give way to Lacson should he opt to run for the lower post.

"Legarda said it is Lacson who will step down. We say Lacson will remain the standard-bearer. Which of the two is correct? Based on public pulse, people want Lacson to remain the standard-bearer of the opposition and for Poe to be the vice president," Padilla said.

Padilla said a poll run by television network ABS-CBN Friday indicated that viewers wanted Lacson, not Poe, to be the opposition’s standard-bearer.

He said Lacson won’t change his mind and has decided to continue the fight until election day in May.

"As far as the Lacson group is concerned, the presidency is still our target," Padilla said.

Padilla said that, unlike Poe’s "excess baggage" of politicians acting as his advisers, Lacson’s group is flexible as there are only the two of them campaigning.

"We are mobile and flexible. Definitely Ping Lacson is in command. We have no problem when it comes to decision making," Padilla said.

He sees no problem with any deal Lacson may forge with Poe, "so long as I will remain in the united opposition’s ticket."

Padilla said they are leaving it up to the opposition coalition the decision on who among the KNP senatorial candidates will be kicked out in favor of him.

"The bigger problem is, who between Lacson and Poe will eventually agree to slide down," he said.

"They see in (Lacson) leadership by example, a no-nonsense leadership and a strong political will to do what needs to be done, qualities that our nation needs to get out of its troubles," he said.

Should Poe agree to be Lacson’s vice presidential candidate, Legarda could slide down to be a member of the merged opposition senatorial ticket.

Lacson said Padilla remains a senatorial candidate in case the two opposition factors unite.

From Occidental Mindoro, Lacson and his group proceeded to Oriental Mindor , home province of Legarda’s opponent, K-4 vice presidential bet Sen. Noli de Castro.

Some pro-Lacson leaders there are supporting a mixed Lacson-De Castro ticket and a senatorial line-up headed by Padilla. Lacson said he doesn’t mind since he does not have a vice-presidential candidate anyway.

Lacson also said he would not single out his enemies in an all-out campaign against graft and corruption if he were elected president.

"We will not pinpoint any single individual. Our fight against graft and corruption will be all-encompassing," he said.

He said he would deal with First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo in the same manner as former Ilocos Sur governor Luis "Chavit" Singson.

The opposition senator had accused Mr. Arroyo of hiding P260 million in supposedly illegal funds using the false name Jose Pidal and three dummies. The President’s husband has repeatedly denied these accusations.

Singson played a major role in Estrada’s impeachment trial. Singson testified before an impeachment court in December 2000 that he collected hundreds of millions in jueteng money for Estrada and turned over to him P200 million in tobacco excise taxes that were supposed to go to tobacco farmers in Ilocos Sur.

Estrada is facing plunder charges for allegedly pocketing those taxes.

Meanwhile, KNP senatorial candidate Jinggoy Estrada has asked Lacson to give way to Poe, saying Lacson should take his cue from the ousted president, who has given strong backing to Poe’s bid for the presidency.

"This is for the opposition to win," Jinggoy said, "for opposition unity and victory."

When asked if his father is active in brokering unity talks between the KNP and Lacson camps, Jinggoy replied, "yes."

Lacson was the chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) during the term of Estrada and had risen to prominence when Estrada was vice president. Lacson had then been the leader of Task Force Habagat under Estrada’s Presidential Anti-Crime Commission (PACC).

KNP executive committee chairman Sen. Edgardo Angara, supported Jinggoy’s call, saying it would be "unreasonable" to ask Poe to withdraw or slide down to the vice presidential race.

"In realpolitik, (Poe giving way to Lacson) won’t happen," Angara said. Angara is the president of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP), the country’s largest opposition party of which Lacson is a member.

Lacson’s candidacy is supported by only a fragment of the LDP under the aegis of party secretary-general and Makati City Rep. Agapito Aquino, while the rest of the LDP has joined the KNP in backing Poe.

Angara also said Lacson lacks the political machinery to secure the votes, adding that Lacson consistently lags behind Poe in the surveys. — Paolo Romero

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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