MANILA,  April 24, 2004
By Delon Porcalla - The defections have begun and the defectors are finding their way to the administration party, bearing promises to boost President Arroyo’s bid for a full six-year term.

Thirty-one former lawmakers who until recently supported the presidential bid of Raul Roco of the Alyansa ng Pag-asa have shifted their support to Mrs. Arroyo.

These lawmakers defected to the administration Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan para sa Kinabukasan (K-4) after Roco sought medical treatment for "chronic back pain" in Houston, Texas.

"We are facing a hard choice in the May 10 election that cannot be postponed. We made this declaration of support for President Arroyo in the name of national interest," the lawmakers said in a manifesto signed by former congressmen Gualberto Lumauig and Rodolfo Tingzon.

The defectors said they have nothing against Roco, adding that his ailment "saddened" them. They said their mutual friendship with the former senator and education secretary remains and that they "pray for his full recovery."

"We felt it is our patriotic duty to (shift support to K-4) and state unequivocally that we do not support and will never be part of the ongoing efforts of some Alyansa leaders to seek a merger with other political parties," their manifesto read.

"Our fervent prayers for (Roco’s) full recovery are with him," it said. "We cherish his friendship and share his deep concern about our country’s future."

The former lawmakers decided to make their support for the President public "to end political intrigues and speculations."

The group said 18 Roco supporters had declared their backing for Mrs. Arroyo "even before Roco disclosed his ailment." The decision and results of the defection were arrived at in a meeting at the Hotel Intercontinental in Makati City on April 18.

Among those who decided to defect from the Roco camp and said Mrs. Arroyo "is the best qualified among the candidates to govern and lead the country" were former members of the eighth, ninth and 10th Congresses.

They are Lumauig, Tingzon, Rod Gutang, Greg Andolana, Rico Dayanghirang, Ronni Cosalan, Honorato Aquino, Willam Claver, Arden Anni, Al Bandon, Jun Ong, Josie Calingasan, Alvin Dans, Renato Dragon, Mars Pineda, Jerry Paras, Bibing Puey, Igundo Tirador, Luz Bakunawa, Tony Bengzon, Jun Paredes, Jose Ramirez, Mariano Yulo, Ted Macapagal, Venice Agana, Nardy Guerrero and Isiaco Pelaez.

Other defectors include Gov. Josie Co and Amado Almasam and former National Food Authority chief Emil Ong and Jojo Beltran.

Meanwhile, Malacañang said in a press statement yesterday that South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Fuentes, a known stalwart of the opposition, has announced support for Mrs. Arroyo’s candidacy in Koronadal City.

Fuentes said she not only supports the President’s candidacy, but also intends to campaign for the President.

"When I threw my support (behind Mrs.) Arroyo, this means I carry 100 percent of my people. I will campaign hard for her victory," Fuentes said.

"I’ll do whatever I can to help President Arroyo win in South Cotabato, a known opposition bailiwick," she said.

Fuentes belongs to the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) and she joins the ranks of other pro-Arroyo political leaders in Mindanao, which include Governors Manny Piñol of North Cotabato, Pax Pagudadatu of Sultan Kudarat, Mike Escobar of Sarangani and Cotabato City Mayor Muslimin Sema.

Some 45 congressmen belonging to the NPC have also pledged support for the President.

KNP’s Lanao Leaders Defect To GMA Camp

In other developments, the opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) has also suffered defections, as 36 of its leaders in the provinces of Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte defected to the administration coalition and vowed to campaign for a landslide victory for the President.

The KNP defectors, led by Lanao del Norte congressional candidate Warlino Relova and Lanao del Sur board member Ahmare Lucman, manifested their full support for Mrs. Arroyo in their defection paper.

Relova and Lucman cited the President as the "only pag-asa ng bayan (hope of the nation) with her qualification(s), program of government and tangible gains during her three-year presidency."

The manifesto was presented to First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and former senator Orlando Mercado, who is seeking a mandate in the Senate under the K-4 banner.

"The President will be unopposed in 16 out of 22 towns," Relova and his group said, referring to the fact that 16 of the KNP defectors are all mayoral candidates in Lanao del Norte.

In Lanao del Sur, all of the opposition’s 20 mayoral candidates, led by Panny Datu-Molok of Binidayan town, crossed party lines and expressed their misgivings over the "unbearable discrimination by KNP campaign coordinators."

Mercado, defense secretary of deposed President Joseph Estrada, said the mass defection confirmed reports of widespread rumblings in the already divided opposition that could trigger another series of defections by other Muslim leaders all over Mindanao.

Meanwhile, KNP’s congressional bet in Misamis Occidental, Henry Oaminal, has severed ties with the opposition coalition and joined the ruling Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD) party.

"After having consulted with my political peers in the second district of Misamis Occidental, I have finally decided to support President Arroyo because her development agenda for Mindanao and the country is more concrete, realistic and doable.

"As the campaign started (entering) the home stretch, I became more convinced that only the President’s development agenda will turn out to be the most effective tool in weathering out the economic crunch," Oaminal said.

In Pangasinan, Gov. Victor Agbayani reiterated his "unflinching support (for) President Arroyo’s candidacy."

Agbayani is running virtually unopposed in his last bid for reelection and he earlier joined leaders of the Biskeg na Pangasinan in putting his support firmly behind Mrs. Arroyo.

Biskeg na Pangasinan is a political group that accounts for 38 of the province’s 44 mayors. Pangasinan has 1.7 million registered voters and is the country’s second largest vote-rich province.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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