MANILA, April 22, 2004
By Jose Rodel Clapano - Independent presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson boasted yesterday that he is better financed than his opposition rival, actor Fernando Poe Jr.

Lacson based his assessment on the generous financial backing he is receiving from what he describes as mostly "small" Chinese-Filipino businessmen.

He said as long as there are "Filipino-Chinese businessmen in the Philippines, I will not run out of funding for my campaign. These are small supporters… but they are plenty. They are the ones looking for us. We are not even looking for them."

Interviewed during a break in his campaign sortie in Cotabato City, Lacson said that his campaign "isn’t relying on big financiers" and that most contributors are people he doesn’t know personally.

"People that we don’t even know are (trying to find out) how to get in touch with me to contribute P500,000, P1 million, P2 million… When you put (the amounts) together, that is big enough to fund my campaign," he said.

Lacson said Poe’s sliding down to vice president was the solution to the opposition’s dilemma.

"It will be more practical if I will become the standard-bearer and the other camp would consider sliding down because there will be more winners," he said.

Lacson explained that the support he receives, especially from the Chinese-Filipino community, is "personal" and "committed" only to him.

"I don’t think they will transfer their support to the opposition if I am not the standard-bearer because their support is personal," he said. "So, it cannot be transferred no matter how I appeal to them. It seems that they are only committed to me."

He said the support of the Chinese-Filipino businessmen is a personal display of gratitude for the help that he had given them when he was a police officer.

Lacson achieved fame as head of an anti-kidnapping task force during the term of former President Joseph Estrada. Among the more prominent victims of kidnapping in the past were members of the Chinese-Filipino community.

Because of the "personal" nature of his support, Lacson said that his "sliding down" to vice president won’t "alleviate" the "financial problems" plaguing Poe’s camp.

Lacson also made a principled stand on suggestions that he should reimburse Poe’s expenses in exchange for his rival’s withdrawal.

"I’ve been clear with my stand. Our talks are premised on my principles that there will be no concessions. There will be no compromises. Once we talk, we will talk. Well, we can help each other in governance, how to run the government, but not concessions about elections," he said.

Lacson insisted that unification with Poe will be possible only if the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino standard-bearer agrees to slide down to vice president.

"I can wait until May 9 for him to slide down," he said. "Definitely, I’m serious with unification. But… if unification would mean my withdrawal, then forget it."

Should the Holy Grail of the opposition prove elusive, Lacson proposed an alternative "unification" against electoral cheating.

"There are other ways of unifying. I have been very vocal about the other modes that the opposition camps could unify. We can help each other and pull together our resources to guard against cheating. I think that would be a good start," he said.

Lacson said he and Poe could go together in campaign sorties where they can announce together what they intend to do to thwart or preempt cheating by the administration in the May elections.

"Together we can make an accounting of our resources. We can do many things once we pull our resources together with the common front of campaigning against cheating and man the ballots, if ever the unification does not push through," he said.

Lacson had a tongue-in-cheek explanation for the repeated failure of the unification talks between him and Poe to push through.

‘Superstar, supercop’

"I guess we cannot find time because you can imagine a superstar and a supercop wanting to meet. But the super ego always comes into play, so there are no super happenings," he said.

In a more serious tone, Lacson said he understood Estrada’s call for him to withdraw, even as he sought to distance himself from his former superior by referring to Poe as Estrada’s "friend."

"The situation isn’t getting worse between us because of Estrada’s call for me to slide down. It has been obvious that Mr. Estrada is supporting (Poe). Ever since, even when FPJ had not yet declared his intention to run, Mr. Estrada has been for FPJ. So this is expected already, including his call for me to slide down to vice president in favor of his friend," he said

Lacson said that he is "disheartened" but respects Estrada’s "consistent" support for Poe.

"That is his prerogative, but it doesn’t mean that I need to do what he wants because I’m in the thick of the fight and I intend to go through with this exercise," he said. "Mr. Estrada is better than the others because he is consistent in his position about FPJ … So I have no hurt feelings for him. I would feel bad if he is not consistent with his position."

Meanwhile, Lacson’s quixotic quest to be the opposition standard-bearer appears to have received a boost from the latest IBON Foundation survey of presidential aspirants.

While Lacson remains at fourth place, his rating surged by nearly four percentage points from 7.68 in February to 11.2 percent. While still topping the survey, Poe’s rating went down by a similar margin, from 30.04 to 26.3 percent.

The same survey showed President Arroyo dislodging at second place former senator Raul Roco, polling 18.6 percent. Roco slipped to third, his rating plunging from 19.39 percent to 11.7, just slightly above Lacson’s 11.2.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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