(STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo will preside in today’s top-level meeting of the ruling Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD) in Clark in Pampanga that would start the crucial selection process for the administration’s standard-bearer in the 2010 elections, officials said yesterday.

Mrs. Arroyo, the party’s national chairperson, will lead the meeting of the expanded executive committee that includes founder and chairman emeritus f former President Fidel Ramos, Speaker Prospero Nograles and Quezon City Mayor Feliciano Belmonte.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs Gabriel Claudio said in separate interviews that one of the agenda is whether they would adopt a winnable presidential candidate from other parties in the administration coalition or field a Lakas-CMD member.

Among the members of the administration are the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi), the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), the Nacionalista Party, the Liberal Party (Atienza wing), and the Partido Demokratiko Sosyalista ng Pilipinas.

Ramos earlier told reporters that he sees some six to seven possible presidential candidates from the ruling coalition.

Claudio said it would be premature for the party to announce its standard-bearer in today’s caucus.

“What will be discussed are ways to strengthen the party in preparation for the elections including pursuing the merger with Kampi, exploring alliances with other parties, establishing and activating the criteria and mechanism for selection of national and local candidates, setting up the procedures for arbitration at the local level, and other measures to secure the unity and cohesion of the party,” Claudio said.

“Inevitably, we expect discussions to touch on the qualities and qualifications of the current field of ‘presidentiables’ in relation to the objectives of the party for 2010,” he said.

Lakas executive director Ray Roquero said the administration coalition “is leaving no stone unturned to ensure victory in the 2010 presidential elections less than 18 months from now.”

He said the meeting’s agenda “is crammed with election concerns and the task of keeping the party together for the long haul.”

On top of the agenda is the creation of a Lakas-CMD national selection committee that will screen and select the 2010 national and local candidates based on criteria that would be set by the executive committee itself, Roquero said.

The selection committee, he said, will be comprised of representatives from Congress, Malacañang and local government units.

The selection committee is the first significant step to ensure a “fair and transparent process” and enable Lakas to field its strongest candidates in 2010, he said.

“Our primordial concern is to win the presidency in 2010. This is the objective which Lakas-CMD will not compromise,” Roquero said.

He said Lakas-CMD has “the program of government and research-backed policy initiatives to confidently seek the Filipinos’ mandate for its continued stay in power amid current difficulties unleashed by the global financial crisis.”

“Lakas-CMD has shown leadership in crisis. The country needs this kind of leadership—not someone who hasn’t been there to run the programs of government,” he said.

Roquero said the executive committee would also move strongly to ensure that Lakas-CMD is safe from opposition raids that are expected to heat up this year.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader and Lakas-CMD secretary-general Juan Miguel Zubiri said it’s high time for Mrs. Arroyo to lead the party in coming out with a shortlist of candidates for president and other positions in the 2010 elections. – With Mike Frialde, Aurea Calica

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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