BUTUAN CITY,  April 23, 2004
By Ben Serrano and Nikko Dizon — Chances for any unification talks between Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr. and independent presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson to succeed are getting "dimmer and slimmer" by the hour.

Lacson’s spokesman Lito Banayo announced that the senator has decided to go on with his candidacy, with or without the unification talks with Poe.

At a press conference here Wednesday night, Banayo said Lacson has already set his mind on the presidency and therefore will not slide down to the vice presidency as former President Joseph Estrada had suggested.

Poe likewise virtually dashed hopes to have a unified opposition before the May 10 elections when he declared yesterday that it was no longer a priority of his party.

"We always hope for unity, but as of now, pabayaan na muna nating ganyan (let us leave it that way)," Poe told a news conference at the White Cove Beach Resort in Batangas.

"Wag nating bigyan ng taning (Let us not impose deadlines). Just make it flow. If it’s meant to be, then it’s meant to be," he added, dismissing the possibility that President Arroyo will benefit from the failure of the opposition to unite.

Banayo, however, blamed Poe’s camp for canceling — for the fifth time — the scheduled unification talks or the supposed one-on-one dialogue between Lacson and Poe last Monday.

"We always give time for the talks yet the FPJ (Poe’s nickname) camp are always canceling it," Banayo said.

Banayo, formerly Estrada’s political adviser, said he holds no grudge against politicians who are now supporting other presidential candidates.

Banayo’s close political allies in Butuan City and in the whole of Caraga region are reportedly now mostly supporting the administration party Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats. "Philippine politics is like that, once you are useful, people will use you," he said.

One of the opposition Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino’s stalwarts in Butuan City, former mayor Democrito Plaza II, is now behind Mrs. Arroyo’s candidacy.

Banayo, who claimed he was one of the writers of Estrada’s inaugural speech at the Luneta, said the former president broke his promise that he will not appoint friends or relatives in government when he supported Poe, his bosom friend.

"Walang kumpa-kumpare. Walang kamag-anak (no friends or relatives in government)," said Banayo quoting from Estrada’s inaugural speech in June 1998.

"In fact wala naman ang portion na iyan doon sa original inaugural speech na ginawa namin pero pinasingit pa rin ni Erap madaling araw bago ang inaugural speech sa Quirino Grandstand (It was not in the original inaugural speech but Erap had asked us to insert it at dawn before the inaugural speech at Quirino Grandstand)," Banayo added.

Meanwhile, Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay said that Lacson is the "worthiest candidate that the opposition can field."

"People are starting to realize that FPJ will bring the country to oblivion, disaster and despair," Pichay said.

As this developed, administration lawmakers said yesterday that the on and off unification talks between Poe and Lacson reflect the opposition’s lack of unity.

Lakas-CMD Reps. Mauricio Domogan of Baguio City and Augusto Syjuco of Iloilo said that this is not surprising as both Poe and Lacson are themselves incapable of working for unity in their own camps.

Domogan, the Lakas chairman for the Cordillera Autonomous Region, said Lacson cannot be expected to become a unifying force since he does not even have a complete senatorial line-up nor a vice presidential running mate.

"If Ping is a genuine leader who is qualified to be president, how come he has a lone senatorial bet and no running mate?" Domogan asked.

Syjuco, on the other hand, said Poe like Lacson, is also full of empty talk about unification. "How can Poe be a unifying force when disarray and demoralization prevail in his own camp? If he is indeed a peacemaker and a unifier, then he could have prevented the departure of so many of his people," he said. — With Jose Rodel Clapano

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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