MANILA, FEBRUARY 12, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - In a solid display of camaraderie, members of the ruling coalition’s "Team Unity" met for the first time to map out their strategy for the three-month campaign en route to the Senate elections.

No less than President Arroyo hosted the gathering and announced that the 11th member of the team will be Leyte Gov. Jericho Petilla.

With the exception of Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis "Chavit" Singson, who was represented by his provincial board member son Ronald, all senatorial candidates attended the lunch meeting held at Mrs. Arroyo’s residence in Forbes Park, Makati City.

Over servings of lobster, fish, shrimps and garlic soup, the Unity candidates discussed their campaign plans and suggestions with much "laughing, light banter and ribbing," top administration officials said.

Mrs. Arroyo told the candidates that they would be running under the slogan "Together Everybody Achieves More."

Petilla will now be joining former presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor, former senators Teresa Aquino-Oreta, Vicente "Tito" Sotto III, reelectionist Senators Joker Arroyo, Ralph Recto and Edgardo Angara, Bukidnon Rep. Juan Miguel Zubiri, Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay, Zambales Gov. Vicente "Vic" Magsaysay and Singson.

"The meeting was really good. Not only was it convivial, it was happy. There was a lot of warmth and spontaneity among us. Even after the meeting, the candidates were hanging around to talk to each other. The chemistry among them was very encouraging and promising. There’s every indication that everybody will get along with each other," Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs Gabriel Claudio said.

Dousing reports of possible infighting among the candidates following the inclusion of opposition stalwarts, Claudio said the meeting happened "as if there was no ice in the first place."

He said Pichay, Oreta and Sotto got along well and even kidded each other.

"There was no iciness at all between Congressman Pichay and the two. They were very charming and deferential at the same time with each other," he said.

Pichay, who was among the most critical against the opposition, said Sotto and Oreta had assured him that they are both tired of political intrigues and want to run under the administration for the sake of national unity.

"Pare (brother), I did not answer you back because I understood your principle. But as you know, right after the President was proclaimed (in the 2004 elections), we kept our peace," Pichay quoted Sotto as telling him.

Claudio, on the other hand, revealed the 12th candidate was already chosen and the name will be announced at noon today.

"Diverse but united"

The meeting began with cocktails where the candidates began sizing up each other as Mrs. Arroyo chatted with each of them. "Work as a team," a senatorial candidate quoted the President telling them during the gathering.

Claudio said Mrs. Arroyo did not give any speech or any marching orders as "the mood and the composition of the team said it all."

After the lunch, long-time public relations practitioner and campaign strategist Reli German gave Mrs. Arroyo and the coalition candidates a Power Point presentation on their campaign strategy, a party official present during the meeting disclosed.

Mrs. Arroyo and her candidates paid close attention to the briefing made by German.

"The strategy basically remains to be about uniting the country, maximizing the administration machinery in the first 45 days (of the campaign) and there would be really a lot of meetings with our core political and sectoral leaders in the provinces. We will make sure we maximize the advantage we have," another senatorial aspirant said.

Former press undersecretary Michael Toledo was named spokesman for the team.

A lawyer and an expert public relations practitioner, Pearl Viernes, who worked with the administration in the 2004 elections, was also included in the campaign sorties team, an official said.

All had been prepared and laid out before the candidates, even the sub-theme: "Magkakaiba, pero Nagkakaisa (Diverse but United)."

Claudio said Mrs. Arroyo was "very pleased and delighted" with the lineup.

Claudio said the slate "is not only a ticket, it’s a team with excellent balance and mix."

There are political veterans and newcomers as well as diversity of political advocacies among members of the administration ticket, he said.

Claudio said all political parties of the ruling coalition and main geographical areas were represented in the slate.

He said the camaraderie of "Team Unity" will be felt by voters and the people attending the campaign rallies. "We are now revving up the formidable administration machinery."

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said grand proclamation rallies would be held in Metro Manila and Cebu led by Mrs. Arroyo.

Members of "Team Unity" would attend Mass at the Manila Cathedral at 8 a.m. followed by a short preelection rally that would be followed by a press conference.

Erap boys

After inviting opposition figures to its senatorial slate, the Arroyo administration is stretching its "unity’’ effort a bit further by naming German, former President Estrada’s publicist, as its campaign manager.

German, Estrada’s high school classmate and a veteran public relations practitioner, will lead the administration’s campaign team which includes Estrada’s press officers Toledo and Guitierrez.

It was not clear whether Toledo would be taking a leave from his lucrative position as the president and chief executive officer of the Philippine office of Weber-Shandwick, one of the world’s largest public relations firms.

In a telephone interview, Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs Gabriel Claudio said the three would give the administration’s Team Unity the advantage over the United Opposition’s divided slate.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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