MANILA,  May 5, 2004
By Edu Punay  -  Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr. still leads the presidential race, at least according to a nationwide survey conducted by an obscure survey firm.

Proberz Research and Consultancy Inc., a firm established by seven professors from the University of Sto. Tomas in Manila, found that Poe was chosen by 42 percent of 4,444 respondents in the survey, ahead by 13 points over President Arroyo, who garnered 29 percent.

The Proberz survey also showed that Poe’s running mate, Sen. Loren Legarda, got a five percentage point lead with 47 percent over K-4 vice presidential bet Sen. Noli de Castro’s 42 percent.

Michael Defensor, Mrs. Arroyo’s official presidential campaign spokesman, dismissed the findings of the Proberz survey.

"What is that group?" he asked.

As far as the Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan sa Kinabukasan (K-4) is concerned, Defensor said the coalition will wait for official survey results by professional polling agencies, specially the Social Weather Stations (SWS) and Pulse Asia.

Defensor expressed confidence that Mrs. Arroyo and her running mate Sen. Noli de Castro are still leading the race.

He added that Malacañang and the K-4 believe that Mrs. Arroyo and De Castro will definitely have no motivation to cheat in the May 10 elections.

"If there is (anyone with) motivation to cheat, I’m sorry to say that it is the opposition," Defensor said.

Defensor reiterated that Mrs. Arroyo is committed to ensure that clean, honest, peaceful and credible elections be held. He pointed out that the President invited groups of foreign observers to witness the conduct of the elections.

The Proberz survey, conducted from April 14 to 30, contradicts the results of the latest SWS and Pulse Asia surveys, which had Mrs. Arroyo leading the presidential race.

The Pulse Asia survey, conducted from March 27 to April 4, put Mrs. Arroyo on top with 34 percent compared to Poe’s 31 percent. The survey involved 4,800 respondents and has a margin error of plus or minus 1.4 percentage points. Ten percent of the respondents were undecided.

The SWS survey, on the other hand, was conducted from April 10 to 17, involved 1,400 respondents and had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Mrs. Arroyo got 35.3 percent of votes compared to Poe, who garnered 30.8 percent. However, 10.9 percent of respondents were undecided.

Ed Tayao, chief organizer of the Proberz project, has refused to identify the sponsors of their survey but admitted they were local and foreign investors who have been mulling whether or not to increase investments in the country pending the elections.

"They have their own purposes which we can’t really reveal," he told The STAR.

The Proberz survey also ranked independent presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson in third place with 15 percent, former education secretary Raul Roco with seven percent and evangelist Eduardo Villanueva with five percent.

Only two percent of the respondents are undecided.

Prof. Flor Ledesma, who headed the project, said the results of their survey have a 1.5 percent margin of error. She admitted that they used the election statistics in 2001 to determine their sample size because the final number of registered voters for the May 10 polls was not yet available when the survey was conducted.

Proberz indicated that in the 2001 elections, 76 percent of 36.35 million registered voters actually voted. Based on these statistics, the firm expects 27.8 million registered voters to troop to the poll precincts.

Poe’s lead of 13 percentage points, according to Proberz, can translate into 3.6 million votes.

"Our sample size is enough to represent the total voting population of the country," Ledesma said.

She added that the credibility of their survey was affirmed by the methodology they used.

"The stratification has three levels: provincial, city and barangay," Ledesma said. "In thickly populated barangays, we used an interval of three houses to avoid counting in the influence of people on their relatives."

Tayao also clarified that just like any other survey, theirs cannot predict the actual outcome of the elections. He cited the surprise victory of Fidel Ramos in the 1992 presidential elections.

He also said the timing of their survey may have been the crucial element that made it different from the surveys done by the SWS and Pulse Asia.

"Mrs. Arroyo’s downfall in the survey may be caused by protest votes after opposition candidates joined hands against election fraud," Tayao said.

He categorically denied any involvement with the opposition, saying that he is "affiliated with the administration party."

Political science professor Rey Trillana, another member of Proberz, said Poe’s lead over Mrs. Arroyo holds true in eight of the country’s 16 regions.

"Mrs. Arroyo only took the lead in two regions, Cordillera Autonomous Region and the CARAGA region," he said. "And it was too close to call in five regions."

Trillana predicted that Poe will win the presidential race since he has a strong lead in the Central Luzon corridor, which he said is the source of 40 percent of the total votes cast in past elections.

Poe welcomed the results of the Proberz survey as he vowed to intensify his campaign during the remaining days of the campaign period, which ends on May 8.

"This is very heartening but we will continue our campaign with greater vigor," he told reporters.

Poe’s personal campaign manager, Sen. Vicente Sotto III, said the survey is accurate since Proberz "does not have a political leaning."

"At any rate, surveys don’t vote, people do," he added.

The Proberz survey also ranked senatorial candidates based on voter preference, with former trade secretary Manuel Roxas II leading the pack with 54 percent. Close behind him are former Videogram Regulatory Board chief Ramon Revilla Jr. with 50 percent, former senator Juan Ponce Enrile with 49 percent, former Manila mayor Alfredo Lim with 47 percent, former San Juan mayor Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada with 46 percent, Pampanga Gov. Lito Lapid with 43 percent, and reelectionist Sen. John Osmeña with 43 percent.

Lawyer Pia Cayetano, former senators Ernesto Maceda and Miriam Defensor Santiago and Jamby Madrigal are tied at 42 percent.

Senators Rodolfo Biazon and Aquilino Pimentel Jr., former tourism secretary Richard Gordon and former senator Francisco Tatad are tied at 39 percent. — With reports from Marichu Villanueva, Paolo Romero, Jose Rodel Clapano

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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