[PHOTO AT LEFT: President Arroyo casts her vote for the administration ticket at the Lubao Central Elementary School in her native Lubao, Pampanga. Movie star Fernando Poe Jr. uses a guide in filling in his ballot at an elementary school in San Juan. Revoli Cortez, Fernan Nebres ]

LUBAO, PAMPANGA,  May 11, 2004  (STAR) By Ding Cervantes  —  President Arroyo appealed for prayers for peace and unity after she cast her vote at the Lubao Central Elementary School in Barangay San Nicolas East here yesterday morning.

It took about five minutes for the President to fill in her ballot at her precinct where she was 84th on a list of 200 voters.

The President declined to entertain questions from the press, but read a short message after emerging from the polling precinct.

"Sa aking pagboto ngayon, ako ay nagdadasal para sa kapayapaan at pagkakaisa ng ating taumbayan (As I cast my vote, I pray for peace and unity among our citizenry)," the President said in her message.

"Ang balota ay batayan at instrumento ng demokrasya. Ito ay isang napakaimportante para sa ating kapalaran bilang isang malayang bansa (The ballot is the basis and an instrument of democracy. It is very important for our future as a free country)," she added.

The President also urged the people to safeguard the ballots they cast in yesterday’s polls. "Ang eleksyon ay isang dakilang nakapapagpareho ng kapangyarihan, kaya gamitin ang balota para ipagtanggol at bantayan ang ating demokrasya (Elections are a great equalizer of power, so let us use the ballot to defend and guard our democracy)," she also said in her message.

The President flew by helicopter from Malacañang to the Guiao Sports Complex in the City of San Fernando and motored here to vote.

She was met by at the voting precinct by her eldest son, Pampanga Vice Gov. Mikey Arroyo who is running for congressman of the province’s second district.

First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and only daughter Luli, meanwhile, voted at the polling precinct of their family residence in Barangay Pansol in La Vista, Quezon City.

Mrs. Arroyo shook hands with local residents who cast their votes earlier and were waiting for her to arrive.

Some 500 voters, including Mikey, had already cast their votes at the precinct when the President arrived. But many waited for her.

"She is one of us. We will never abandon her," said 64-year-old Arturo Ramos, an amputee who was the first to arrive at the President’s precinct where he was also first to cast his vote. Ramos’ left leg was amputated after a vehicle owned by a firm he had worked for was ambushed in Mindanao in 1974.

"My home is Lubao, and we are proud that President Arroyo is from our town because she is the only one qualified among all candidates for president," he said.

Levy Laus, president of the Pampanga Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PamCham) said that the turnout of voters in Pampanga was "unusually heavy."

"(It) has never been like this before. When the precincts opened at 7 o’clock, voters were already lined up," he noted.

The President immediately flew back to Malacañang after spending less than an hour in Lubao.

Interviewed over radio station dzMM, Mikey expressed confidence that the administration Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan para sa Kinabukasan (K-4) would handily win in their home province.

Mikey said he could not exactly say how many votes Mrs. Arroyo would get from close to a million registered voters.

"But in the last surveys, in the entire Pampanga I don’t think it will go down from 85 percent," Mikey said.

"I’m not an expert. But if we talk about the province, I believe my mom would get a very huge majority in this province, the biggest majority we ever had," Mikey pointed out.

In Dagupan City, Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. also expressed confidence that Mrs. Arroyo will win the elections.

De Venecia told local repoters Mrs. Arroyo, whose mother, the late Dr. Eva Macapagal was a native of Binalonan, would get big votes in the province. He said the President was leading her closest rival, movie actor Fernando Poe Jr. by seven percent, based on surveys. But this was before the Iglesia ni Cristo and other religious groups announced their support for the President.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Arroyo is expected to return to work today and once more focus on full governance. She is scheduled to motor this morning to Barangay Moonwalk, Purok 1 in Parañaque City for her latest "Patubig ni Gloria" beneficiaries.

Clean and potable drinking water for all barangays in Metro Manila and the rest of the urban poor communities all over the country was one of her six campaign promises. — With Marichu Villanueva, Cesar Ramirez

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved