DECEMBER 18, 2006 (STAR) Despite its focus on the now-shelved Charter change, the administrationís preparations for next yearís senatorial and local elections have not been hampered, MalacaŮang said yesterday.

Presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor said the nationwide effort for Charter change among lawmakers and local officials in the past several months had improved the administrationís communications with its political machinery down to the grassroots.

"The Charter change exercise could be seen as a practice for oiling our machinery for the coming elections now that we are now on the election mode," he said in a telephone interview.

"Our past exercises will serve us well in the elections, especially with all those coordinations."

Since President Arroyo called for Charter change in her State of the Nation Address last year, the administration has poured its political energies to plans to amend the Constitution.

However, the administration suffered successive setbacks after the Supreme Court dismissed the petition for a peopleís initiative to amend the Constitution, and the House of Representatives backtracked on its plan to convene itself as a constituent assembly.

Mrs. Arroyo herself shelved Charter change efforts following pressure from various church groups.

Defensor, who belongs to the Liberal Party (LP) and is reportedly among the administrationís senatorial candidates next year, believes there is enough time for the majority coalition to come up with line-ups for 12 seats in the senate as well as for local posts.

Apart from 12 senators, elective posts up for grabs are over 1,600 slots for municipal and city mayors as well as over 230 seats in the House of Representatives.

Presidential political adviser Gabriel Claudio said after Mrs. Arroyo placed her constitutional reform campaign on the back burner. "All roads now lead to the elections of May," and he expected the opposition to be on "a gloating mode" and make Charter change an issue against the administration.

He predicted that Charter change would become a non-issue by next year when the election fever has set in.

"The administration will campaign on a platform of accomplishment and rising optimism, domestically as well as internationally, about the countryís prospects for an economic take-off while the opposition will campaign on a platform of hate," he said.

He said the administration coalition, which includes the ruling Lakas Christian and Muslim Democrats, the LP, the Nacionalista Party, the Nationalist Peopleís Coalition and the Partido Demokratiko Sosyalista ng Pilipinas, remain united and cohesive.

"Its (majority coalition) and determination as well as the vast superiority of its nationwide political machinery in every province, city, municipality and barangay are intact and eager to give the opposition a terrible nightmare," he said. ó Paolo Romero

Zubiri seeks coalition slate in 2007 to counter strong opposition By Ding Cervantes The Philippine Star 12/18/2006

SAN FERNANDO, Pampanga Ė Expressing fears over a stronger opposition that could impeach President Arroyo, Lakas party secretary general Bukidnon Rep. Jose Miguel Zubiri bared here plans for a possible coalition slate for the 2007 elections.

Zubiri said Lakas will be forced to come out with a common slate to neutralize the opposition in the May 2007 midterm elections.

"We have to come out with a common slate. Otherwise, the force of the opposition might come out stronger and (the administration would) lose many districts to the opposition," Zubiri said.

The Bukidnon lawmaker made the statement while gracing the provincial Lakas forum that later turned into a proclamation of local candidates at the Bren Z. Guiao sports complex here last Saturday.

According to Zubiri, the last three years of the Arroyo administration will be "crucial," noting the efforts of the opposition to unseat the President in filing impeachment complaints every year.

Zubiri expressed the possibility that if the opposition secures a landslide victory in next yearís polls, another impeachment complaint against Mrs. Arroyo at the House of Representatives might eventually succeed.

"Itís not only the impeachment case we are concerned about," Zubiri said. "But also the continuation of the programs and projects of the President. Our economy is experiencing resurgence."

Zubiri noted the recent surveys indicating the opposition leading the list of favorites for the 2007 polls.

He said Lakas is currently working out a "unification or a coalition ticket" with Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi) and the Nationalist Peopleís Coalition (NPC).

Zubiri though conceded there was a struggle occurring within the administration ranks since many have been preparing to run for the same positions in the local elections.

Zubiri stressed the need to realign 80 percent of the party candidates to strengthen their chances.

He said negotiations are now underway for Lakas, Kampi and NPC to come out with a coalition ticket which would be formed immediately after another nationwide survey comes out.

At the local level where there are conflicts among administration candidates, Zubiri said arrangements are being made with Kampi secretary general Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte to enforce the "equity of the incumbent" principle among the candidates.

"Itís only largely in Metro Manila that oppositionists seem to be popular. In the provinces, especially at the local level, administration politicians were able to deliver basic services to their constituents and have remained popular among their constituents," he said.

"All is not lost," Zubiri stressed as he recalled that in the 2004 elections, some of those who won in the senatorial race were not even included in the pre-election popularity surveys.

He cited the case of Senators Pia Cayetano and Richard Gordon whose popularity zoomed in the last phase of the campaign period due to "media blitz."

Zubiri noted the President continues to have the solid support of local government units.

"If she can use this machinery, administration candidates will (surely) win," he said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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