MANILA,  May 2, 2004
(AFP) - Independent Philippine presidential candidate Raul Roco is a lawyer who believes in miracles and promises to install a regime of "moral values."

Roco was among the senators who acted as judges in the impeachment trial of then-president Joseph Estrada, who was ousted in a military-backed popular revolt in 2001 over a corruption scandal. He is widely seen as a reformer, and his department as education secretary under incumbent Gloria Arroyo, had received the highest ratings in terms of efficiency. He champions women's rights and in the past publicly criticized Estrada for his womanizing and drinking sprees. Roco later had a falling-out with Arroyo and was briefly sidelined in the political arena, until he announced his candidacy for the May 10 elections, dedicating the campaign to the young and the poor. His campaign took off to a good start, with statistics showing he was consistently an alternative choice in third place behind Arroyo and movie-star Fernando Poe.

But a shock announcement by the portly Roco early in April that he was briefly abandoning the campaign trail to seek medical help for chronic back pains pushed his ratings lower. He was also forced to fend off rumors that a prostate cancer treated in 1996 was back. Roco, 65, who is fond of floral red shirts, says his work now has become a "a mission and a crusade of hope" not merely a personal quest for the presidency. "It is no longer a matter of winning an election. It is a matter of raising a Filipino from his sick bed," he said, adding that he believed in saints and holy intercession and that they "will have compassion to work a miracle for the Philippines."

Roco was born to a farmer and a public school teacher in 1941. He is married and has six children and grandchildren.

Roco: Iím still fit to pursue presidency By Sheila Crisostomo  The Philippine Star 05/02/2004

Alyansa ng Pag-Asa standard-bearer Raul Roco reiterated that he is fit enough to seek the presidency and that he intends to serve in the manner of late President Manuel Quezon and former South African president Nelson Mandela if elected in the May 10 polls. During the ANC 21 television show "Impact 2004" hosted by STAR publisher Max Soliven and Karen Davila Friday night, Roco said he can perform the functions of a president despite the metastasis of cancer cells from his prostate to the bones in his lower back and pelvis.

"I am absolutely physically fit," Roco said with a smile. He maintained that ailing leaders even tend to have "the most active minds" and dispatch their duties better than healthy ones. Roco cited the case of Quezon, who contracted tuberculosis during his tenure as president but remains a president revered for his visionary leadership. Questions about Rocoís health have hounded his campaign and threatened his quest for the presidency.

In 1996, Rocoís malignant prostate gland was removed, but some cancer cells survived and were just beginning to attack the bones of his pelvis and lower vertebrae when the resurgence of the cancer was detected. The former senator and education secretary had to fly to the United States last month for treatment of this condition. He said he intends to make up for his absence by focusing on media exposure in the last remaining week of the campaign. Although the Alyansa ng Pag-Asa does not have a complete slate of candidates for all local elective posts, Roco said they will make up for this deficiency in their campaign by having good coordinators out in the field.

He admitted that his two-week medical furlough in the US enabled him to reflect. "That is the blessing of my departure... I was able to look at myself and, now, in many ways. Iím not cerebral," he said. "In many ways, Iím talking but I feel."

On the question of his health, Roco said the cancer cells that had metastasized to his bones "may attack the bone so it weakens the bones (by removing) the calcium." He spoke of his "intelligent medicine," zoledronic acid, which replaces calcium bones lose as a result of hormone or radiation therapy. Roco added that his condition is similar to that of Mandela and Democrat Sen. John Kerry, who is running against US President George W. Bush in the November presidential elections of the US. Both Kerry and Mandela went under the knife for the removal of their prostate glands ó as did movie icon Sean Connery and former US President Ronald Reagan.

"I can perform the functions of public office and (I have been) enjoying it since 1996. I aspire to be able to serve and, maybe now that it (the issue of prostate cancer and surgery as treatment) is open, we have an advocacy on prostate (cancer)," he said.

Despite his two-week absence from the Alyansa ng Pag-Asa campaign, Roco is confident that this furlough did not hurt his chances of winning or dampen the spirit of his supporters. "Itís like a family. When you have a crisis and then you overcome the crisis, you become stronger together," he said. "The fantastic energy release... Itís really almost a miracle, thatís why I feel so blessed." Among the other presidential contenders, Roco considers President Arroyo his closest rival and he assailed her alleged use of government resources to boost her candidacy.

"Because of the power and the use of public (resources), it is the government that is the greatest threat to the Philippines," he said. "The one who is running the government? Yes, itís (Mrs. Arroyo)." Roco called on the electorate to vote wisely in the upcoming polls. "The Filipino people has been exploited too long," he said. "You donít select the lesser evil. You reject evil. Select the good, select the best for our country."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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