Lacson formalizes 2004 bid

- Jose Aravilla and Jess Diaz -
It’s official.

Opposition Sen. Panfilo Lacson filed his certificate of candidacy for president yesterday morning with the Commission on Elections (Comelec), further widening the rift within the largest opposition party in the country.

The 55-year-old Lacson filed his certificate as a presidential nominee of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) although the Comelec has yet to resolve an internal dispute in the party’s presidential nomination.

Leaders of the ruling Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD) said the Lacson candidacy "finalized" the split of the opposition and bolstered President Arroyo’s chances of victory in the May 10, 2004 polls.

Speaking to hundreds of supporters at the Plaza Roma in front of the Manila Cathedral in Intramuros, Lacson vowed to pursue his presidential bid after his "best efforts" failed to resolve the rift within the LDP.

The senator is backed by an LDP faction led by the party’s secretary-general, Makati Rep. Agapito Aquino, while the faction led by the party’s president, Sen. Edgardo Angara, is supporting the candidacy of actor Fernando Poe Jr., popularly known as FPJ.

"There is no more turning back," Lacson told his supporters before he walked to the packed Comelec main office accompanied by a brass band and a throng of supporters, including a set of Chinese dragon dancers who cheered him on as he filled out the forms.

If elected, he told his supporters, he would stop crimes, fight corruption and revive the country’s shaky economy.

"You’re with me in my plan to rescue our country from the claws of criminality, from too much anomalies in our government," said Lacson, who became the 32nd person to file his candidacy as president but is considered the first serious candidate to do so.

Aquino said the Lacson wing is still studying who it should draft as vice presidential candidate, preferably from the southern part of the country.

The congressman also revealed that the Lacson wing is open to the possibility of adopting a common senatorial slate with the Angara wing.

The Lacson group, however, was not represented in an "arbitration committee" meeting at the Mandarin Hotel in Makati City over the weekend which was supposed to explore the possibility of the opposition fielding a common ticket from the senatorial level down to town councilors.

Lacson revealed that they have already chosen six senatorial candidates but refused to identify them except for House Minority Leader Carlos Padilla Jr. of Nueva Vizcaya who also filed his candidacy yesterday.

The senator assured his supporters, however, that he will announce his running mate and his senatorial slate before Jan. 5, the last day for the filing of certificates of candidacy.

Lacson, a freshman senator who has become an arch-critic of the Arroyo administration, also said he was not closing doors to talks with the opposing LDP faction.

"For all we know, we might end up with one opposition candidate — Senator Lacson," he told journalists.

"There is no conflict with FPJ," he said. "I am the official candidate of the LDP. (Comelec) Chairman (Benjamin) Abalos announced it already."

But Abalos denied that the poll body had already ruled on whom it would recognize as the LDP’s presidential candidate.

Officially, Lacson was nominated by Aquino but Angara argues that the party endorsement signed by the Makati congressman was unauthorized.
‘Ping Can Be Disqualified’
The Angara wing said Lacson could be disqualified from the presidential race for allegedly "misrepresenting" himself as the party standard-bearer, said Angara wing spokesman and former congressman Miguel Romero.

Romero argued that the party’s by-laws provide that only Angara can sign the party’s certificate of nomination.

"The party’s by-laws and constitution clearly provide that only Senator Angara, as party chairman, could sign the certificate of nomination. Aquino does not have the authority to nominate Lacson as standard-bearer," Romero said.

For his part, Laguna Rep. Joaquin Chipeco said that Aquino has been sowing chaos and confusion within the party.

"Aquino is claiming to have suspended Angara from the LDP. That is ludicrous. the secretary cannot suspend his boss. It is Aquino who’s out of the party. He was suspended for acts inimical to the LDP," Chipeco said.

Chipeco said that an overwhelming number of party officials and members, including the national executive committee, have fully and unqualifiedly backed the leadership of Angara.

"Aquino only has his noisy ‘Gang of Four.’ They are a tiny minority. They cannot represent the party in any and whatever capacity," Chipeco said.
‘Lacson Bid A Boost To GMA’
Meanwhile, House assistant majority leader Allan Peter Cayetano of Taguig-Pateros, Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay and Bulacan Rep. Willie Villarama said Lacson’s bid is favorable to Mrs. Arroyo because it divides the opposition while the ruling party is consolidating its voter base.

"While we welcome all those who want to run, we Filipinos should read between the lines because the President remains the candidate to beat," Cayetano said.

Pichay said Lacson’s candidacy only dimmed the chances of the opposition to gain power in 2004 as there are factions supporting Poe.

"The opposition has to contest candidates within and outside its own camp," Pichay said.

Villarama said the LDP rift is one of the "signs from heaven" that favor Mrs. Arroyo’s candidacy.

"While I don’t want to sound sacrilegious, the presidency is made in heaven. Nobody can dispute that," Villarama said. — With Jose Rodel Clapano, Paolo Romero, AFP











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