IMUS CAVITE,  May 11, 2004
By Paolo Romero and Nikko Dizon  -  Despite a bitter campaign that put his qualifications into question, opposition front-runner Fernando Poe Jr. said he had no regrets in his first foray into politics — even if it meant leaving the movie industry where he reigns supreme.

"I will do it all over again," Poe told reporters yesterday when asked if it was worth it.

He cast his vote in the town of San Juan, where his close friend, former President Joseph Estrada, began his political career after life in the movies.

Accompanied by wife Susan Roces and campaign manager Sen. Vicente Sotto III, Poe arrived at the Jesuit-run Xavier School at about 7:30 a.m. with several bodyguards helping him get past hordes of voters, screaming fans and journalists.

Poe was registered as Ronald Kelley Poe at precinct 227-A; his wife was registered as Jesusa Sonora.

One woman screaming "Idol!" managed to breach the security cordon and give him a buss before Poe could sit down to fill in his ballot. Roces was two seats behind him.

However, what irritated Poe — whose run-ins with reporters made headlines — were journalists who came close to try take a peek just as he was about to write.

Sotto and Poe’s chief of staff Vince Dizon had to ask the journalists to back off before Poe started filling up his ballot.

Poe paused and looked around a few times while filling up the ballot, using a "kodigo" or list of candidates he was voting for to make sure he got the names of local candidates right. He took about 10 minutes.

After Poe had cast his vote, some elderly women hugged and kissed him, competing with journalists for his attention.

"Let us near!" one woman yelled when they were boxed out. "You reporters are too much. That’s why he gets irritated at you."

"I feel great for sure," Poe told reporters. "I feel very well. All of us are concerned with our health and well-being. It’s good that all candidates are still OK after the campaign."

Asked if he would go back to doing movies if he won: "Movies? Not anymore. I wish but would I still have the time?"

When asked about what he felt about his chances of winning, he said: "It would be inappropriate to talk about that. Let the people decide."

Poe then went home to his residence in Greenhills for breakfast and rest. "At least now I can get some sleep," he said.

His departure from the polling center created a near pandemonium as swarms of eager fans rushed to catch a glimpse, overturning some chairs and tables. Some people nearly got trampled.

Poe and his wife apologized to other people for the commotion.

In a statement his camp issued early in the day, Poe thanked supporters for the "warm support you have given me."

"Our campaign was successful. The election is over. But I would like to remind everyone that our work is not yet done. We have to continue working together to help our country recover from the many problems it is presently facing," he said.

Poe urged them to watch the vote count closely "so the will of the people would remain supreme."

Sotto told reporters the mood within the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) was "very upbeat." "The feeling is that we’ve already won," he said.

Poe was behind President Arroyo by seven percentage points in voter opinion polls during the homestretch of the campaign.

Poe had a strong lead over Mrs. Arroyo, the country’s first sitting president since Ferdinand Marcos to seek a fresh term, at the start of the campaign.

But doubts over his capability to lead the country enabled Mrs. Arroyo, who was then running third, to overtake Poe.

Despite the political novice’s lack of public office experience that has rattled business confidence, Poe’s immense movie star popularity is expected to help him bag the presidency the same way former actor Estrada won by landslide in 1998.

But this year’s presidential race is expected to be close. Sotto predicted that Poe would win by around 15 percent of the vote or less. Around 42 million were expected to vote yesterday.

The Arroyo administration, meanwhile, hopes Mrs. Arroyo would win a clear majority.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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