GMA willing to reunite with Roco

- Marichu Villanueva and Sheila Crisostomo -
President Arroyo remains open to a reconciliation with Raul Roco, who is running against her in the presidential elections on May 10.

Roco served as the President’s education secretary and was being pushed as a vice-presidential candidate by the Liberal Party (LP) under the administration’s "unity" ticket.

The President expressed her willingness to reconcile with Roco, who was the first candidate to declare his bid for the presidency and had topped numerous surveys on presidential aspirants.

In a recent poll, however, Roco slid down to second place against actor Fernando Poe Jr., standard-bearer of the opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP), after Poe joined the race for the presidency.

The President has since picked Sen. Noli de Castro as her running mate.

Responding to queries in Filipino over radio station dzRH, the President did not rule out a possible reconciliation with Roco, despite the fact that both she and Roco had filed their respective certificates of candidacy (COC) with the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

"You know, I really want reconciliation with all as much as possible," the President said.

She did not elaborate on her answer but cited her focus on her campaign platform of reform and reconciliation.

Roco, for his part, said he is willing to accept the President’s reconciliation offer, provided she adheres to certain conditions.

"There’s no problem with reconciliation," he said, "but reconciliation must be based on justice and unity must be based on honor. There can be no generalization."

Roco said that though the President was catapulted to power by the Edsa II uprising, Mrs. Arroyo has forgotten the goals of that revolt, which are "truth and justice."

Besides this, Roco said he would not agree to the proposal to shift to a parliamentary form of government, which the President supports.

"We oppose the shift to a parliamentary form of government which deprives the people of the right to select their president and, instead, concentrate power in (the hands of) politicians," he said.

He also expressed opposition to Malacañang’s proposal to grant amnesty to plunderers, drug lords, gambling lords and smugglers.

He said amnesty is granted only to political crimes, like insurgency, subversion and treason.

"If we don’t punish the plunderers , the drug lords, the gambling lords and the smugglers, these crimes will be repeated all over again," Roco said.

He said, "it’s always good to talk about reconciliation, but how does she propose to reconcile truth and justice, shift to (a) parliamentary form (of government) and amnesty?"
Heated Debate
Up to the last minute Sunday night, LP stalwarts were in "heated debate" whether to support the President’s bid for a full six-year term of office or for her to run under a "unity" ticket with Roco.

This was confirmed by Tarlac Rep. Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, who is LP secretary general. Aquino was outvoted when he insisted on the proposed unity ticket.

Aquino said it was only when this final vote and decision was reached that LP president Batanes Rep. Florencio Abad and LP national chairman Senate President Franklin Drilon went to Malacañang to inform the President of the LP’s decision to join the administration coalition for the coming elections.

Sources who attended the LP meeting Sunday night, however, told The STAR that Aquino was berated by elder party leaders for asking why the LP would support the President after she fared badly in the surveys against Poe.

The same sources told The STAR that LP vice president for the national capital region and Manila Mayor Lito Atienza castigated Aquino for being a "greenhorn" in insisting on his political views.

"We have made a commitment as a party to support President Arroyo, who is our honorary chairperson and, therefore, we must abide by this commitment," Atienza was quoted as telling his party-mates.

Aquino, who was present at the President’s proclamation rally at Plaza Roma in Intramuros, Manila last Monday, said he did raise the issue of popularity surveys in relation to the need to push the proposed unity ticket.

Aquino cited the need to combine the popularity of the President and Roco in order to defeat the definitely popular Poe.

"All I’m saying is for the sake of national interest, President Arroyo and Roco should join forces... because (Poe’s) way ahead in the surveys," Aquino said. "It would be better for the country if the two of them join together."

Aquino and his group of LP stalwarts pushing for the unity ticket were out-voted by the majority of pro-Arroyo members of the LP led by Atienza, former Trade and Industry Secretary Manuel Roxas II and presidential campaign spokesman Michael Defensor.

Aquino told The STAR that he has finally given up pushing the unity ticket after Roco rejected the idea of sliding down to the vice-presidential race.

"President Arroyo told us she was open to (a unity ticket), but it was Roco who has the hard line and a closed mind,’ Aquino said. "That prodded us to support (the President) instead."

The Tarlac lawmaker and son of the late Sen. Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. admitted he could not accept the idea that political leaders identified with the discredited administrations of ousted Presidents Ferdinand Marcos and Joseph Estrada were back in the political mainstream.

Aquino fumed that these political personalities, "like former senators Juan Ponce Enrile and (Francisco) Tatad" are back in the political arena.

Enrile served as Marcos’ defense minister, while Tatad was the man who read Proclamation No. 1081 declaring martial law in 1972. Enrile and Tatad are also allies of Estrada.

Marcos was ousted in the 1986 EDSA people power revolt and Estrada was ousted by a similar uprising now called EDSA II in 2001.

It will be recalled that Ninoy Aquino opposed the Marcos regime and was one of the political opposition leaders who was jailed during the martial law years.

He went into self-exile in the United States and was assassinated upon his return to the country on Aug. 21, 1983. His murder was blamed on the Marcos administration, though his killers have never been identified or brought before the bar of justice.

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