By Nikko Dizon — Even without the benefit of a united opposition, movie star Fernando Poe Jr. could still emerge the winner in the May 10 presidential elections, his personal campaign manager Sen. Vicente Sotto III declared here yesterday.

"We’re on fifth gear already in the campaign. My personal stand is, if there’s a unification, then it’s good. If there’s none, we’re still going to win," Sotto told reporters in a teleconference.

Chances for unification talks with independent presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson further dimmed after Sotto said the main priority now of the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) is to map out Poe’s final campaign strategy with barely three weeks left before election day.

Sotto also described as "baloney" claims that President Arroyo will get her six-year term on election day if the opposition remains divided.

"Those who say that should put their ears closer to the ground," Sotto said.

Asked to comment on the statement made by Lacson urging Poe to become his vice presidential candidate, Sotto said Lacson’s camp is "misleading the people and the political climate."

"We can’t change the minds of the people," Sotto said.

On the other hand, Lacson found an unlikely ally in the person of former President Fidel Ramos, a stalwart of the administration party Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas).

Ramos said Poe should slide down and support Lacson. "This 2004, if FPJ agrees to become vice president, he could learn the business of public service and to be the clear presidential bet in the year 2010," Ramos said.

He said he was puzzled by the developments over the stalled unification talks between Poe and Lacson.

Ramos agreed that time is running short for any effort to unify the ranks of the opposition.

"I do not understand why the two principals cannot be put together... maybe because one is reluctant to give way to another," he said.

Ramos said unifying the opposition and coming out with a single candidate is the best way to contest the incumbent president.

"This is a logical solution. This is based on my humble experience," added the former military general who served as the country’s leader from 1992 to 1998," he said.

Ramos, however, clarified his comment should not be construed that he has shifted his support to Lacson.

He told a news conference in Manila that after a six-day trip from China, he would immediately campaign for Mrs. Arroyo and the entire K-4 (Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan para sa Kinabukasan) ticket.

Ramos believed the President would get her six-year term if the opposition remains divided.

He said Mrs. Arroyo is still in the best position to win the May 10 presidential polls because of her performance and programs she had already initiated during her three-year term.

The former chief executive said Poe should take a cue from Estrada, who agreed to become the vice presidential candidate of businessman Eduardo Cojuangco during the 1992 elections.

Estrada might have moved up the political ladder and garnered the highest votes in the history of presidential elections in 1998 since he has local governance experience, Ramos said.

Ramos also said survey results should not be made the basis for choosing a candidate.

Apart from having credentials in the public service and reasonable credible performance, the president should also be able to represent the country in international gatherings, Ramos said. Lack of leadership

Administration lawmakers said the division in the opposition only reveals their lack of leadership abilities.

"If Ping is a genuine leader, how come he has a lone senatorial bet and no running mate. This just implies his lack of diplomatic and unifying skills to win people to his side," said Baguio City Rep. Mauricio Domogan.

Iloilo City Rep. Augusto Syjuco also cited the case of the recent resignation of 11 staff members of the KNP media bureau.

"How can Poe be a unifying force when disarray and demoralization prevail in his own camp," he said.

In a statement, they said both Lacson and Poe are themselves "incapable of working for unity even in their own camps."

"Pride has overwhelmed both candidates who refuse to give way for a united effort to have a better chance against President Arroyo who continues to pull away," Domogan said. — With Evelyn Macairan, Delon Porcalla

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved