MANILA,  May 8, 2004
A majority of leaders and members of the 2.5-million strong youth arm of Fernando Poe Jr. have defected to President Arroyo as the campaign of the standard bearer of the Koaliyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) appears to have no clear direction, the group’s founder said yesterday.

However, former child star Niño Muhlach, national chairman of Batang Panday (Philippine Action Network for the Development and Advancement of the Youth), and two senior leaders have remained loyal to Poe.

Speaking to reporters at Sulo Hotel in Quezon City yesterday, Jovi Zarate, national president and founder of Batang Panday, said neither Malacañang nor Mrs. Arroyo had anything to do with their decision to leave Poe.

"It was not a spur of the moment decision and was not done with Malacañang’s prodding," he said. "As early as last March, we already began questioning (Poe’s) ability to lead. It now appears that the President still remains the best hope (for the country). There was no offer made (by Malacañang).

"People from various camps, not only from Malacañang, have approached us since last January, but we have not negotiated. It was only two weeks ago that we started consultations with our leaders and members."

Zarate said they did not try to convince Muhlach to defect with them out of "delicadeza" because Poe is his godfather. "However, even if he will still campaign for FPJ, he (Muhlach) will remain as our elected national chairman," he said. "We respect his decision."

Zarate said if Muhlach resigns as national chairman, the board of Batang Panday will reject it to avoid adding political color to their defection. After the defection of 85 percent Batang Panday members, Poe is now left with a loyal following of 15 percent, he added.

Zarate said they also abandoned Poe because he appears to have no interest in pushing for reforms in the youth sector. "It was not just the entire country who eagerly awaited the platform of the King. We the youth also waited to hear his programs of government for the longest time, only to be given platforms with no particulars," he said.

"He could not effectively orchestrate the different volunteer groups supporting him. The campaign was marred by a lot of intrigues, backbiting and deceit within. There was no clear direction where the campaign was going.

"As of today, we have ceased operations, though a handful continue to put on a brave front. After a thorough study, deliberations and consultations with our various local chapters as to what recourse we would take, we the Batang Panday have finally decided to throw our full support behind GMA whose platform for the youth, we believe, runs parallel with our national youth program, our dream for the youth."

Zarate said Poe asked them to submit a youth platform of government, but that they did not receive any feedback and he appeared to be disinterested. Mrs. Arroyo appears to be interested in listening to the proposals of Batang Panday for the youth sector, he added.

Zarate said Batang Panday is pushing for the Magna Carta of students, skills training for the youth and support for young entrepreneurs. Members and leaders of Batang Panday will be mobilized to campaign for Mrs. Arroyo despite only two days remaining before the elections, he added.

Zarate said before defecting to Mrs. Arroyo leaders of Batang Panday allied themselves with the Peoples Patriotic Movement (PPM), which is endorsing the President’s bid for a fresh six-years mandate. — Mike Frialde

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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