(STAR) By Ding Cervantes – President Arroyo has not just one, but three challengers to her congressional bid in this province’s second district.

Provincial Liberal Party (LP) leaders picked civil society leader Adonis Simpao, 41, of Barangay San Matias in Guagua as their candidate against Mrs. Arroyo, who filed the other day her certificate of candidacy (COC) for Congress.

The other candidate, electrical engineer Feliciano Serrano, 55, of Barangay Sepung Bulaon in Porac, filed his candidacy Monday last week.

Another candidate is businesswoman Filipinas Rosario Dayrit Sampang, wife of a doctor, of Barangay Sta. Cruz, Porac, who filed her COC Tuesday morning.

Simpao filed his COC Tuesday night at the provincial office of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) here where the President, together with First Gentleman Mike Arroyo and their son Rep. Mikey Arroyo, filed her candidacy 12 hours earlier.

Simpao said he had no plans to enter politics until Gov. Ed Panlilio, provincial chairman of the LP, and leaders of civil society groups persuaded him last Monday, the eve of the last day for the filing of COCs, to be their candidate against Mrs. Arroyo.

“It was a last-minute decision. We were hoping that others with name and means would come out and accept the challenge because we knew President Arroyo would run for Congress, but no one did,” he said.

Among those invited by the LP to run in the second district was presidential sister Cielo Macapagal Salgado. University of the Philippines Prof. Randy David, also of Guagua, had vowed to challenge the President in the congressional race but recently backed out.

Simpao said, however, that he was not aware of Serrano’s candidacy until he filed his COC at the Comelec Tuesday.

“Had we known about him earlier, we could have met with him to find out whether he was qualified and therefore could be supported by us so we could have only one candidate,” Simpao told The STAR.

Serrano told reporters he would run as an independent and conduct his campaign largely through text messages and the Internet.

Simpao is an architecture graduate at the Don Honorio Ventura College of Arts and Trade, the oldest vocational school in Asia, in Bacolor, Pampang.

He admitted, however, that he never took the architectural board examinations because he immediately worked after graduation.

He is the second of 11 siblings, some of who are working with him in the family enterprise Simpao Construction Inc. which he built in 1998.

Simpao is also the chairman of a civil society group called Kasaup which has been helping Panlilio boost his campaign for good governance at all levels of government in Pampanga.

“I have no personal anger towards President Arroyo, but a Kapampangan must stand up for principles. I had no plans to join the congressional race but the situation presented itself in a way that I had no choice,” he said.

He said the President should give way to other candidates who would like to serve in Pampanga.

“There are other Kapampangans who would also like to serve (in the second district) but have been intimidated by her candidacy,” he added.

Simpao also said there could be truth to allegations that the President decided to run for Congress as a means to protect herself and her family from legal cases that could be filed against them once she leaves Malacañang.

“Already, I have been asked whether I have the resources to equal those of President Arroyo. I don’t. But at this moment, I am not thinking of winning yet, as my concentration is on standing up for the principles that we fought for in 2007 (gubernatorial elections),” he said.

Simpao insisted it is still too early to say he had no fighting chance, saying, “I expect Kapampangans who believe in change and the need to weed out a rotten political system.”

He has asked media not to publish his photo until he launches his congressional campaign.

GMA’s immunity to end June 30

President Arroyo’s immunity from suit will end on June 30 even if she gets elected to Congress or becomes Speaker of the House of Representatives.

By then, those asking the Office of the Ombudsman to file charges for her alleged involvement in the NBN-ZTE bribery scandal can seek that window and file their complaints without worry or fear that their petition would be junked due to presidential immunity.

University of the Philippines professor Harry Roque made this clear yesterday after Mrs. Arroyo filed her certificate of candidacy for representative of Pampanga’s second district.

“We will not allow her to be prime minister,” he told The STAR, referring to alleged plans to install the President as prime minister after the 2010 polls through Charter change.

“We will file cases against her at noon of June 30,” Roque said.

GMA’s fate up to her town mates

Critics of President Arroyo should stop blabbering about her intention to run for congresswoman because it is her town mates and not them who will elect her, House leaders said yesterday.

Administration lawmakers made this statement in light of harsh criticisms thrown by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, particularly Jaro, Iloilo Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, saying that Mrs. Arroyo is addicted to power.

“Though we respect the opinion of Archbishop Lagdameo, we should also respect the decision of GMA to run and let the people of the second district of Pampanga decide her fate,” said Zambales Rep. Ma. Milagros Magsaysay.

Other House allies also do not see a problem with Mrs. Arroyo’s bid for Congress.

“That is expected. She still wants to serve and she is back to her roots and hometown which made her in politics. Like me, I’m also back home in Davao City to serve my local constituents,” said Speaker Prospero Nograles, who is seeking the mayoralty post.

The Liberal Party, in a statement, said they respect Mrs. Arroyo’s desire to run for Congress.

“The LP would have preferred that she retires from politics to end any form of speculation on what her true agenda may be. But the LP respects her decision if she wants to run for another position since she is not prohibited by the Constitution or any law,” it declared.

Rather, LP spokesman Quezon Rep. Lorenzo “Erin” Tañada III called on Filipinos “to continue to remain vigilant and ensure that the Constitution will not be subverted and that the will of the people in a clean and honest election is upheld.” With Ric Sapnu, Michael Punongbayan, Delon Porcalla

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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