MANILA,  April 28, 2004
By Nikko Dizon  - Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr. reaffirmed yesterday that he would not stand aside for independent presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson to forge a united opposition.

"Hindi mangyayari na ako ang magi-slide down," Poe told reporters after the KNP’s rally in Taguig Monday night, dismissing possibilities that he would slide down to become Lacson’s vice presidential running mate.

Poe and Lacson failed for the third time yesterday to meet for talks in a renewed attempt to unify the opposition against President Arroyo in next month’s presidential election.

While hopeful that talks with Lacson would still push through, Poe admitted that he could not tell what kind of opposition unity could be achieved if neither of them gave way.

"Yun ang hindi ko alam talaga. Hindi ko kayang sagutin," Poe said, adding that whoever was leading in the surveys, the campaign goes on.

The actor appeared undaunted by a recent poll showing Mrs. Arroyo pulling away with a 10 percent lead over him.

The KNP held simultaneous rallies Monday in Pateros and Taguig, as the opposition party put into full gear its campaign in Metro Manila. Yesterday, Poe led a motorcade in Marikina and Rizal, and was expected last night to proceed to a grand rally in Payatas, Quezon City.

Lacson was supposed to meet with Poe early yesterday, only to be told that Poe could not make it because Lacson’s nemesis, Sen. Edgardo Angara, brought the opposition front-runner to Aurora province.

A son of Angara is seeking the seat to be vacated by his aunt, Rep. Bellaflor Angara Castillo, who served for three consecutive terms. Angara is one of Poe’s political handlers.

After failing to meet last week, Lacson and Poe were expected to meet last Monday. But the meeting was postponed also because of scheduling problems.

On Monday night, Poe’s camp informed Lacson that the actor-turned-politician would be available for a meeting yesterday the morning.

Lacson canceled his campaign sortie in Palawan and Zamboanga City, only to be told at the last minute that Poe would be somewhere else.

Lacson then later was informed that Poe would be available last night after campaign rallies in Marikina City and Rizal province. Barring last-minute hitches, the two were scheduled to finally meet late last night.

They are scheduled to fly separately to Zamboanga City this morning to resume their campaigns.

KNP officials acknowledged yesterday that time is fast running out on efforts to unite the opposition even as Poe will not wait or initiate fresh moves to jumpstart unity talks.

Poe’s main priority now is his and his slate’s fast-moving campaign, KNP officials said.

"We’ve already waited for so long for this to push through but you know it’s hard for us to se this succeeding if the person has a one-track mind," KNP senatorial candidate Jinggoy Estrada said, referring to Lacson’s insistence that talks can start only if his withdrawal will not be on the agenda.

Estrada’s father, former President Joseph Estrada, is one of those actively working for both candidates to meet at the same time urging Lacson to slide down or withdraw.

"We’re always open and we want unity for the sake of the country but if he really doesn’t want to join (us), then ...," the younger Estrada said, however adding that they remain hopeful because "politics is addition."

Sen. Vicente Sotto III, Poe’s personal campaign manager, said the KNP will discuss today moves to immediately resolve the issue of unification since elections are just around the corner.

This includes, he said, whether Poe will actually make the first move to jumpstart talks with Lacson and to make an honest assessment of chances of both camps uniting.

Ilocos Norte Rep. Imee Marcos, a member of the KNP executive committee representing the Kilusan Bagong Lipunan, said it would not really matter to Poe if he takes up the slack to firm up unity talks but "it would be hard if there would be very little to talk about."

Lacson’s camp suspects that Poe’s political handlers made the decision to scrap the meetings.

Angara, as president of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino, is Lacson’s party boss. He dumped the former national police chief for Poe, a political neophyte, even though Lacson was a partymate.

Since then the LDP has been divided into the pro-Poe Angara faction and the pro-Lacson faction, which includes House Minority Leader Carlos Padilla, Lacson’s lone senatorial candidate, and Makati City Rep. Agapito Aquino, the LDP secretary-general.

Their quarrel reached the Supreme Court, which ruled that Angara’s group was the legitimate LDP faction. Lacson’s camp has asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling and the case is still pending.

In a related development, Padilla said they are eyeing a possible alliance with the group of Christian preacher Eddie Villanueva to prevent voter opinion polls from being rigged.

Lacson has accused the country’s two main polling firms, Social Weather Stations (SWS) and Pulse Asia, of manipulating their surveys to make it appear that Mrs. Arroyo is now the top choice of voters.

Previous polls showed Mrs. Arroyo and Poe in a statistical tie.

If Villanueva’s Bangon Pilipinas party finds evidence of survey manipulation, they would file a joint complaint.

Last Monday Lacson’s camp presented three witnesses claiming that the recent SWS and Pulse Asia surveys — which both showed that Mrs. Arroyo has a strong lead over Poe for the first time — were rigged.

The KNP, meanwhile, suspects that the surveys were meant to cover an alleged Arroyo administration plan to manipulate the outcome of the polls to prevent Poe from winning.

Padilla is close to Villanueva, the two having been friends since their days at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (then the Philippine College of Commerce), where Villanueva started his Jesus is Lord religious movement.

Villanueva adopted Padilla also as his senatorial candidate.

Poe and Lacson are under pressure to unite the opposition and field a single candidate because of Mrs. Arroyo’s growing opinion poll lead but the two refuse to give up their presidential bids.

A survey, however, taken by NFO Trends from April 20 to 22 showed that Mrs. Arroyo now has a commanding lead of 10.5 percent over Poe.

SWS’ April 10-17 opinion poll of 1,400 people showed that Mrs. Arroyo has 35.3 percent of voter support while Poe has 30.8 percent.

Mrs. Arroyo’s campaign benefited from uncertainty over independent candidate Raul Roco, the SWS said.

Lacson was third with 10.6 percent while Roco, third in previous surveys, fell to fourth, chosen by only 8.4 percent of respondents.

The SWS poll follows one conducted by Pulse Asia earlier this month that showed Mrs. Arroyo with a healthy lead over Poe also for the first time.

Conducted from March 27 to April 4, the Pulse Asia poll found that 34 percent would vote for Mrs. Arroyo while 31 percent would choose Poe. — With Jess Diaz, Paolo Romero

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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