MANILA,  November 11, 2004
By Jose Rodel Clapano - The chief political adviser of defeated presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr. is ready to join the Arroyo administration.

Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) president Sen. Edgardo Angara said yesterday that for the sake of national unity, he is willing to join President Arroyo’s Cabinet.

Angara said he and the President met on Oct. 20 at her Forbes Park residence in Makati City, where she asked him and other LDP leaders to cooperate with her administration and come up with a common framework for addressing the country’s problems.

The President, for her part, thanked Angara for his willingness to cooperate with the Arroyo administration.

In a televised press conference at Malacañang, Mrs. Arroyo said she is reaching out to the LDP in line with the "national harmony" aspect of her 10-point legacy agenda.

Pressed on what Cabinet post she might have in mind for Angara, the President clammed up.

"I do not negotiate through the media," the President said, adding that it is her political allies who are talking to the opposition. "They will have their appropriate statement when they feel it is time for them to do so."

But there were unconfirmed reports yesterday that Angara was eyeing the finance portfolio currently held by Juanita Amatong.

Angara told reporters yesterday that the meeting between him and the President was brokered and attended by Senate President Franklin Drilon, Speaker Jose de Venecia and other political leaders whose names he did not disclose.

"The prospects are good, but it is in its early stages," a ranking House leader said, adding that the President "has long been reaching out to all sectors of society and political forces."

The source also confirmed that De Venecia was one of the people who set up the meeting between the President and Angara and that the Speaker had been working toward this end for some time.

"The invitation is for (the LDP) to join the government of unity," Angara said. "I suppose that if there is government unity, there will be power sharing."

Angara is no stranger to the Cabinet. He served as executive secretary and agriculture secretary during the short-lived Estrada administration.

"It really depends on what position will be offered," he said. "We are open to it because we really need to get together and move together."

Angara said that, because he served as agriculture secretary during the Estrada administration, he will not accept the same post if Mrs. Arroyo offers the Department of Agriculture (DA) portfolio to him.

There will be more meetings on the common framework during which details will be discussed, he added, though "there is no tentative schedule yet" regarding their second meeting.

He also said it is important that the President obtain the support of the opposition for the common good.

While Angara is willing to cooperate with government, he said he will not abandon his role as fiscalizer. "(The President) asked for the cooperation of the LDP, but that doesn’t mean that we have to abandon our fiscalization role," he said.s

For his part, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Angara has kept his meeting with Mrs. Arroyo secret from the minority bloc in the Senate.

"The minority does not know about it — that is why (Angara) is being made to explain what really transpired during his meeting (with the President) for national unity," Lacson said. "Until now, he has not yet briefed us. He did not even inform us. We just got wind of the information through sources."

Lacson also denied talk that he had designated Bishop Ephraim Perez to represent him in the meeting with the President, adding that Perez and other members of the International Conference of Bishops in the Philippines (ICBP) demanded P2.8 million three weeks before shifting their support to Mrs. Arroyo in the run-up to the May elections.

Neophyte Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, for his part, doubted the sincerity of the President in her call for unity.

New unity group

Meanwhile, Malacañang’s Office of External Affairs (OEA) introduced a newly formed group called Coalition for the Advancement of Democracy and Reforms (CADRE), which is composed of supporters of defeated presidential candidates Fernando Poe Jr. and Raul Roco, who have declared support for the Arroyo administration.

"We need to get together as one nation to fight the common problem and we are here to really promote peace and bring the government to the people and the people to the government," Ed Pamintuan, presidential adviser for external affairs, said in a press conference held at the OEA office at Bahay Ugnayan in Malacañang.

Present at the press conference were Louie Agpalo, overall coordinator of the Partido ng Masang Pilipino-National Capital Region (PMP-NCR) chapter; Sofronio Dulay and Carlo Bernabe, representing Roco’s Aksyon Demokratiko NCR chapter; Alli Garangan of Aksyon Demokratiko’s Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao chapter; and lawyer Felizardo Tiu, also of Aksyon.

Dulay said he informed Aksyon Demokratiko head and Roco campaign manager Dr. Jaime Galvez-Tan of his group’s move to express support for the President.

Agpalo admitted she did not seek permission from the PMP leadership to join the coalition and said there was a possibility that she could be expelled from the PMP, which is identified with jailed ex-President Joseph Estrada.

Melvin Mitra, youth coordinator of the OEA, said the coalition is the result of a series of talks with various groups. The coalition envisions the advancement of democracy and reforms by expressing support for the administration, he said.


In a separate interview, a member of the opposition coalition that supported the failed presidential bid of Poe warned that the administration could possibly be resorting to mere "gimmickry" with the coalition and downplayed the participation of members of the PDP-Laban in CADRE.

"We should be wary of that distinct possibility that this is only a gimmick of the administration," Lito Anzures, spokesman for opposition stalwart and Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay, told The STAR.

Anzures said the Arroyo administration has resorted to this kind of tactic — claiming to have won the backing of opposition supporters - "before, during, and after" the elections. These defections, he noted, turned out to be false.

He said the opposition leadership is unaware of the existence of the new coalition.

"If it’s true that there were (Poe) supporters (who are) with GMA now, it’s a free country. We don’t know what changed their minds," he said.

Anzures said, however, that there are more Arroyo supporters who are abandoning her because of her failure to address the economic problems of the country as well as corruption in the government.

He said members of the opposition leadership holding elective positions and other opposition stalwarts have maintained that they will be the "legal opposition" that will exist not as "obstacles" to the government but "fiscalizers."

At the press conference, Agpalo said her group actively campaigned and voted for the movie star Poe and his running mate, former senator Loren Legarda, in the May elections.

Poe took majority of the votes in Metro Manila, comprised mainly of the urban poor.

But, six months after the bitterly contested elections, Agpalo said, the PMP-NCR joined the OEA coalition in the spirit of reconciliation and unity.

She said the administration did not offer her or her group anything in exchange for expressing support for the President and her programs.

Pamintuan said while the "ideal" scenario would be having opposition stalwarts themselves leading the reconciliation efforts, he noted that their power and authority "emanates from the members" of their organizations.

"We would like to go to the ideal but, because of still different ideals, it is the membership who would encourage their leaders to see the light at the end of the tunnel," Pamintuan said.

Mitra said a "big group" that supported the presidential bid of Lacson is also expected to join Cadre soon.

Meanwhile, civil society groups formerly allied with the Arroyo administration and Estrada supporters will be taking to the streets in a series of protests to call for the President’s resignation to pave the way for the formation of a new government.

Leaders of these groups met at the Quezon City offices of the People’s Movement Against Poverty (PMAP) to map out a plan of action over the next few days, a police intelligence report said.

The report said the mass protests were originally planned for Oct. 8 but the group decided to "slacken their activities" in the past weeks for lack of funding.

Metro Manila police chief Director Avelino Razon Jr. denied that there is an ongoing destabilization effort against the Arroyo administration.

However, Razon admitted that the 17,000-strong National Capital Region Police Office is on red alert to curb criminal and terrorist activities during the Christmas season.

The report said the protesters will be from the ranks of the Christian National Union, a group that played a vital role in installing Mrs. Arroyo as president in 2001, and Estrada’s supporters. The CNU is led by Salvador Enriquez, who once served as budget secretary during the Ramos administration.

The meeting at the PMAP headquarters, according to the report, was attended by Enriquez, former agrarian reform secretary and Revolution Against Hunger president Horacio Morales, former Maguindanao congressman Didagen Dilangalen, Wilson Go, Joseph Ong, Masa as Riwasa ni Erap president Mina Nanette Tayag and PMAP president Ronald Lumbao. — With Marichu Villanueva, Nikko Dizon, Paolo Romero, Non Alquitran

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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