UNCERTAINTY IN ALYANSA TO END TODAY;  ROCO ARRIVES THIS MORNING

MANILA,  April 28, 2004
 
(STAR)
The uncertainty facing the Alyansa ng Pag-asa may end today when its standard-bearer Raul Roco comes back from a two-week medical treatment in Houston, Texas.

President Arroyo welcomed Roco’s return to the campaign trail.

"This election has ample space for those who, like him, have waged an issues-oriented campaign. Our prayers go with him," she said.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo called up Roco just before he left for the United States.

Roco, 62, arrives at 10:55 a.m. today on Cathay Pacific Flight CX 901 from Hong Kong where he had a stopover. He is accompanied by his wife Sonia, daughter Sareena and personal assistant Jetka Lim.

"The fight must continue for the Filipinos. This is no longer the fight of Raul Roco but the fight of the Filipino people," said Alyansa senatorial bet Jay Sonza.

Roco stunned the nation when he flew to Texas with barely a month left before the May 10 polls. He claimed he was to seek confirmatory tests and treatment of a "chronic pain" that he was feeling in his lower back.

But Roco’s campaign manager Dr. Jaime Galvez-Tan admitted to The STAR that Roco was diagnosed by Filipino doctors to have prostate cancer, which he first had in 1996.

The Alyansa has not issued a medical bulletin on Roco but Sonza claimed that the former education secretary is "all ready" to pursue his candidacy. The two talked over the phone at dawn yesterday.

"He’s healthy. He sounded upbeat. I can only presume that he’s active, healthy, unless he says otherwise today," Sonza said.

Alyansa is expecting over 5,000 people, mostly youths and women, to turn up at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1 today to welcome Roco back. They are expected to don floral or predominantly red or yellow shirts, in imitation of Roco’s signature fashion style.

Roco will lead a motorcade from the airport to the Sta. Maria dela Strada Church along Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City, where a thanksgiving Mass will be dedicated to him.

Alyansa supporters in key provinces are also holding motorcades simultaneously today.

Sonza added that he is confident that Roco would pursue his candidacy no matter what.

"I feel very strongly that in the event — of course this is speculative — that the doctors would want him to rest, he would not rest until after the election," he said. "The way he sounded, he is very much ready and willing to go with the rigors of the remaining days of the campaign."

He admitted that Alyansa is preparing well for Roco’s arrival because "it’s going to be make or break for us."

"The show of force is principally to show Roco that there are people who care, who are willing to fight till the end, win or lose and, of course, to show to the people that he is not alone in this fight," Sonza added.

However, two of Alyansa’s seven senatorial bets apparently do not share Sonza’s point of view.

Former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Perfecto Yasay Jr. admitted that he is "disappointed" that Roco kept his health status from them, but that he still tried to keep an open mind about Roco’s decision.

"It’s been disappointing and frustrating but I understand where Raul is coming from. I could very well understand why he wants to be the one to discuss about his health condition. We have to give that to him," Yasay said in a telephone interview.

Yasay has received invitations for him to rejoin the Bangon Pilipinas party of evangelist Eduardo Villanueva, of which he used to be the president, but he assured that he is not about to jump ship.

Yasay, however, admitted that he will oppose Roco’s move to pursue his presidential bid if doctors find him unfit to continue with the campaign.

"If that’s the case, I think it should be a party decision. It would be unfair for the country and for Raul if the basis of his running is his concerns for his party mates and supporters. That should be discussed by the group," he added.

Since he left for Houston, Roco has not issued a medical bulletin, breaking the promise he made just before he left to update the public of his condition as soon as results come in.

Another senatorial candidate, who asked not to be named, also admitted that he is disheartened that Roco did not keep them updated about his medical examinations.

"I’m still for Raul, definitely. But I just hope that we were given information about his health condition even on confidentiality basis. It has become a guessing game for us," the candidate said.

But Alyansa official Ernesto Pangan expressed confidence that the ill feelings felt by some Alyansa candidates will be eased once Roco returns and talks to them.

"Everybody is in the same situation. But surely, all of these things will be cleared up when Roco comes back. I think whatever it is that they feel right now is caused only by lack of information. Raul chose to be private about it. He wants to make the announcement himself," he said.

Alyansa vice presidential bet Herminio Aquino said Roco is set to meet the senatorial candidates today "before anything else."

"This will be settled. In the first place, nobody knows more than they do. Even his (Roco’s) brother Ding does not know anything (about his medical condition)," he said. ‘Impossible’ Alliance

On the other hand, Villanueva reiterated yesterday that the proposed alliance with Roco already borders on the impossible.

Through his spokesman Luis Sison, Villanueva said the only link between him and Roco at this point is their mutual vow to prevent election fraud and massive cheating.

"We have already agreed on that issue and there is no need to talk anymore," Sison said.

He earlier told The STAR they have already dropped the idea of a merger between the two parties since neither Villanueva nor Roco is willing to slide down and run for vice president.

"We need now to focus on campaigning with only two weeks before election day," said Sison, who denied reports saying the two presidential bets are set to meet to discuss the alliance between them.

Sison said they would be happy if Roco’s battery of medical tests in Houston, Texas yields negative results.

"I think he will be okay. And as a friend, Bro. Eddie wishes him all the luck in the election," he said.

Reacting to reports that Alyansa officials are eyeing Villanueva to support Aquino and their senatorial ticket, Sison said, "If they want Bro. Eddie to endorse their candidates, they have to ask for it. They have to pass our standards."

Villanueva earlier endorsed the candidacy of independent senatorial candidate Heherson Alvarez and Carlos Padilla, the lone senatorial bet of independent presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson. He was also expected to endorse the candidacy of Yasay, who is a born-again Christian. — With Marvin Sy, Edu Punay


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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