MANILA,  April 29, 2004
By Jess Diaz - As expected, presidential rivals Sen. Panfilo Lacson and movie actor Fernando Poe Jr. failed to agree on who between them should become the unified opposition’s standard-bearer.

They parted ways late Monday night, telling each other, "May the best candidate win."

But they agreed on at least three things: that they are the frontrunners, not their common opponent President Arroyo ; that she could win only through cheating; and that the two of them would combine efforts and possibly resources to see to it that the electorate’s will prevails.

Several surveys have shown Mrs. Arroyo establishing a solid lead over Poe, with Lacson in third position ahead of Raul Roco, who returned to the country yesterday after a two-week medical leave in Houston, Texas.

The Lacson camp is holding talks with the groups of Roco and the other presidential aspirant, evangelist Eddie Villanueva, on a joint campaign against poll cheating.

Lacson told journalists yesterday that he and Poe met one-on-one in a common friend’s house in Quezon City late Monday night.

He said they could not agree on who between the two of them should give way and who should remain as the standard-bearer.

"But unification can still happen, depending on developments in the homestretch of the campaign," he said.

However, Lacson said he and Poe agreed that the only way Mrs. Arroyo could win would be through cheating.

"Thus, we have to exert all efforts to prevent cheating and to make sure that the people’s will is protected," he said.

He added that they would hold more meetings to discuss the details of their unified campaign against poll cheating and other forms of fraud.

The former Philippine National Police chief revealed that in his and Poe’s assessment, it is the two of them, not Mrs. Arroyo, who are the "frontrunners on the ground," and that the President was leading only in surveys.

"In the many places throughout the country that we have campaigned, he acknowledged na kaming dalawa ang (that we are the) frontrunners. So, whether it is he or I who wins on May 10, it will be an opposition victory," he said.

Lacson hinted that Mrs. Arroyo’s handlers paid for the surveys that showed her leading by at least five percentage points over Poe.

"If I have P100 million for political advertisements, I would not spend it on costly television and radio ads. I would spend a big part of it for surveys that would show me leading. That will be talked about and carried by the media. That would be the best political advertisement there is. No wonder they are manipulating the surveys," he said.

He said aside from his witnesses who testified about the allegedly rigged polls, Villanueva’s group would soon produce at least three respondents who would tell similar stories.

Lito Banayo, Lacson’s spokesman and political strategist, said in addition to joint efforts against survey manipulation, they are forging a united front against election fraud not only with Poe but also with Roco and Villanueva.

As for his candidate’s Monday night meeting with his opposition rival, Banayo said the two wished each other luck when they separated.

"Any agreement for either one of the candidates to back out or slide down to the vice president position is already dead in the water," Banayo said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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