[PHOTO AT LEFT: QUICK RECOVERY - Presidential candidate Raul Roco, wearing a hospital tag on his right wrist, and his wife Sonia get a briefing from his attending physician after undergoing a medical check-up in a hospital near Houston, Texas.]

BACOOR, Cavite, April 22, 2004  (STAR) By Sheila Crisostomo — Alyansa ng Pag-asa standard-bearer Raul Roco may come home this Saturday from the US to blaze the campaign trail once more with less than three weeks before election day, one of his senatorial candidates said here yesterday.

Roco, who is undergoing medical tests in Houston, Texas, might return four days earlier than his scheduled arrival date, "as clamored by his supporters," Alyansa senatorial candidate Perfecto Yasay Jr. said.

Roco’s campaign manager Dr. Jaime Galvez-Tan said Roco is set to undergo the last of a series of medical tests in the US tomorrow. Roco left for the US on April 13 to seek medical treatment for chronic back pain, which reportedly was a symptom of prostate cancer.

"Even the staunchest supporters of Raul Roco would not want to see him coming back by the end of the month. They would like to see Raul Roco, if his health condition warrants, to be here much earlier," Yasay said.

Roco’s running mate, Herminio Aquino, earlier announced their presidential candidate would be back on April 28 to continue with his campaign, even if doctors have not yet released a diagnosis.

Galvez-Tan said the 62-year-old former education secretary and legislator is getting back his old form.

"Pasigla siya nang pasigla (He’s getting more energetic) every time we talk over the phone," Galvez-Tan told a media forum in Greenhills, San Juan.

He expressed confidence the tests would yield negative results.

"We are confident that he (Roco) would pass the tests and come back to continue with the campaign," Galvez-Tan said.

He denied Roco will withdraw from the presidential race and that his flight to the US was a graceful exit.

"There is no plan of sliding down or backing out in our party," Galvez-Tan stressed. "It has never crossed our minds."

Yasay said they are hoping Roco comes back before April 28 or his chances of winning might be affected.

"We all agree that the longer Raul Roco stays out (of the country), the lesser are his chances of launching a successful campaign for the presidency," Yasay said, noting Roco will have "little time" to campaign if he goes home at the end of the month.

"But we have no reason to believe that he will be here later than the 28th," he said.

Talks of mergers between political parties hang in the air as a signal, last-ditch attempt to unseat President Arroyo in the May 10 polls.

While the opposition still cannot come up with a united front to decisively beat the President, hopes for Alyansa’s own merger talks with Bangon Pilipinas Movement (BMP) of evangelist Eduardo Villanueva are also in limbo.

BMP spokesman Luis Sison said there are only two options for the two parties: Either Roco gives way and endorses Villanueva or drop the idea of an alliance altogether.

Villanueva’s BMP said they would only coalesce with Alyansa if Roco is no longer physically fit to continue with his bid, and agrees to endorse Villanueva.

Sison, however, said that while they have not formally discussed the conditions of each party yet, they are "getting near an agreement."

The agreement "depends on the condition of Roco," Sison said.

"If Roco is fit and decides to continue with his candidacy, then we will not have a coalition," the BMP official said in an interview.

"(But) if Roco steps down, I don’t think he would consider running for vice president for the same health reason," Sison explained.

Yasay, however, believes an Alyansa-BMP merger is still possible even if Roco proceeds with his presidential bid.

Yasay, one of the brokers of the alliance, made this assessment but could not elaborate on details.

"On the basis of my talks with Bangon, even if Raul Roco decides to run for president, the chances of having a merger and alliance are still good," he said.

Yasay could not ascertain how the merger will work because they have "not talked about specifics."

"From what I learned, Bangon will continue to support the candidates and maybe all the senatorial candidates and the vice presidential candidate (of Alyansa) on the basis of their qualifications, visions and background," Yasay said.

The two parties have initiated the merger talks to present a united front against the strong political machinery of Mrs. Arroyo and the overwhelming popularity of movie actor Fernando Poe Jr.

Yasay said an Alyansa-BMP coalition is a force to reckon with.

According to Sison, the BMP could indeed still endorse Alyansa candidates if they ask for it, and if these contenders qualify in Bangon’s criteria.

"If you look at the following of Roco, which to me is very substantial in number, and the following of Bangon, which has two million card-bearing members, this is the only political party that is mass-based. Those politicians who think that Alyansa and Bangon will not win are in for a big surprise," he said.

Meanwhile, Alyansa’s Aquino said they might forge a tie-up with three other political parties to thwart any plan by the administration to commit election fraud.

Aquino said there has been an exchange of feelers among Alyansa, BMP, the opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP), a faction of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino and the leftist Bayan Muna party-list to strengthen efforts to ensure a clean and honest election.

Aquino said they have been fearing the administration will initiate massive poll cheating and harassment for their candidates to win.

Aquino, however, could not ascertain when the manifesto will be formalized. - With Edu Punay

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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