APRIL 11, 2006 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - Malacañang dismissed yesterday the latest survey showing ousted President Joseph Estrada still remained a popular alternative to President Arroyo.

Last Sunday, former lawmaker Didagen Dilangalen, Estrada’s spokesman, said the disgraced leader remains a viable alternative to President Arroyo after he ranked second as the "best person to lead the country now" in a nationwide survey conducted last month by pollster Pulse Asia despite facing charges of plunder and corruption before the government’s anti-graft court.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye downplayed the poll findings, saying the necessary political will to institute difficult economic and political reforms, no matter how unpopular, must always come before ratings.

"People are not interested in alternative leaders but alternative futures," he said.

"What we need is someone who has the guts to do the right things even against the flow of political convenience... Every leader has encountered the ups and downs of popularity, but only a few have made a difference in the lives of the Filipino."

Bunye said the country should go beyond counting popularity points because such surveys will not guarantee jobs, investments, social justice or law and order. "This has clearly been shown by recent history," he added.

Bunye said the country’s economic takeoff and Charter change would be the real signs of whether the nation achieves stability and prosperity.

"Shall we stay put or shall we cross the threshold of economic takeoff and fundamental political change?" he asked.

Agreeing with Bunye, three pro-administration lawmakers yesterday described Dilangalen’s claims that Estrada is a "viable alternative" to Mrs. Arroyo as "illusory."

Accusing Dilangalen of "spinning" the survey results, Representatives Antonio Cuenco of Cebu City, Federico Sandoval of Malabon-Navotas and Eduardo Veloso of Leyte said Vice President Noli de Castro actually topped the Pulse Asia Survey at 23 percent as against Estrada’s 22 percent at second place.

Cuenco said Estrada’s 22 percent rating is not a clear indication that he is the top pick to take the place of Mrs. Arroyo.

"Being an alternative leader is open to anyone as the 1987 Constitution says anybody who can read and write can run for public office," he said.

"But the big question is the viability."

Sandoval said if the survey is to be believed, it only proves what they have been saying all along — that no one in the opposition overwhelmingly holds the support of the majority to be an alternative to Mrs. Arroyo.

"Erap’s 22 percent is hardly near the majority number plus the fact that he ranked only second," he said.

Veloso said Estrada’s non-bailable plunder case before the Sandiganbayan is another obstacle which would make it "impossible" for him to be considered an alternative to Mrs. Arroyo.

"The legal issues against him have not yet been resolved," he said. "To be a leader of the nation, one has to be morally upright."

Results of the survey showed that 22 percent of Filipinos still favor Estrada, as compared to Mrs. Arroyo who got 11 percent.

Estrada won an overwhelming popular vote in 1998, but was embroiled in charges of corruption and allegations that he pocketed illegal gambling money. He was ousted in a popular revolt n 2001 and replaced by his then vice president, Mrs. Arroyo.

Topping the survey list of "best persons to lead the country today" was De Castro with a rating of 23 percent.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson obtained a rating of 18 percent, while former President Corazon Aquino got 16 percent.

Susan Roces, widow of Fernando Poe, Jr., obtained 14 percent, while former President Fidel Ramos got nine percent, followed by Jesus Is Lord leader Eddie Villanueva with six percent.

Dilangalen said these survey findings "disproves with finality" Malacañang’s claim that there is "no viable alternative" to Mrs. Arroyo as president. — With Delon Porcalla

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved