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Post  Admin on Wed May 13, 2009 7:41 pm

MANILA, Philippines - It was their first chance for a face-off, but no fireworks lit up the gathering of presidential hopefuls at a forum where the Arroyo administration took much of the beating.

Senators Manuel Roxas II, Richard Gordon, Francis Escudero, Pampanga Gov. Eddie Panlilio and Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro were thrown questions ranging from serious and sensitive to light and personal during the ANC Leadership Forum at the Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City the other night.

The forum, which was also in line with ABS-CBN’s multi-platform launch of “Boto Mo, I-Patrol Mo: Ako Ang Simula,” was launched exactly a year before the May 11, 2009 elections. Most of the audience were students of the university.

Invited but conspicuously absent were senators Panfilo Lacson, Manuel Villar, Loren Legarda, Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay and Metro Manila Development Authority Bayani Fernando.

Asked whether they would support an investigation of the Arroyo family for alleged corruption, all five said they would but Teodoro and Gordon stressed the need for evidence and that they would not do it out of vindictiveness.

Roxas said the anomalies that occurred during the Arroyo administration should be laid out in the open “because it would be difficult for a society to move forward if (the people) are not able to learn from experiences in the past.”

“There should be an investigation to know the whole truth. Justice must be blind. We should not side or defend anyone. The point here is we need to know so we can learn and not allow these things to happen again,” Roxas said.

But Gordon cautioned that presidents must not be threatened with lawsuits all the time because the country might not be able to function well but as a general rule, those who broke the law must be charged.

“But it should not be based on speculations, unless there is evidence, (a case) must not be pursued,” Gordon said.

Escudero said when he was minority leader in the House of Representatives, the opposition tried twice to hold Mrs. Arroyo accountable for allegations raised in the impeachment complaints against her.

“My position then was the people must know the truth and that the wheels of justice should spare no one, not even the President,” Escudero said.

Panlilio, for his part, said the Philippines as a country of laws, must prosecute the Arroyo family if there are evidence that they had been involved in anomalies.

“Let justice take its course,” Panlilio said.

Teodoro also said the legal process should take precedence “but if they are mere speculations and do not have basis but only political harassment then I have said this, I would help my President.”

Also at the forum, Panlilio, a “priest-on-leave” was asked about family planning. He said it could be discussed with the different sectors of society, including the non-Christians who might have a different view from the majority Catholics.

He also stressed that it’s not his ambition to run for president and that he’s willing to give way to a more deserving candidate.

“If I find a candidate who will have positive influence, I will not even run. Perhaps, I will support that candidate because I don’t have a political agenda,” he said.

Teodoro said he is proud to be an administration ally and stressed he would not have accepted his job if he were ashamed of it.

When told by ANC host Ricky Carandang that his affiliation with Mrs. Arroyo could be a kiss of death, Teodoro was unfazed.

“No matter what one says for or against any administration, history will be the judge,” Teodoro pointed out. Tina Monzon-Palma co-hosted the forum.

He said the Arroyo administration could also boast of a lot of achievements and that he was not afraid of being a “John McCain,” the presidential candidate in the United States who was identified with then incumbent and unpopular American President George Bush, just like Mrs. Arroyo at this time. McCain lost to US President Barack Obama.

He said he is also in favor of changing the constitution through a constitutional convention.

“I will urge Congress to pass a law calling for Constitutional Convention. In my view, what we need as a nation is not only values renewal but institutional changes. Institutions shape behaviors,” he said.

Roxas was asked how he felt about insinuations that he was using his fiancée, top-rated broadcaster Korina Sanchez to advance his political career. “I love Korina. We have been together for long, five years. We understand each other, we have dreams for each other and our relationship is strong. Like what you said, my critics are the ones saying that, so they are just envious,” Roxas said to the audience applause.

There were light moments during the forum especially when Escudero said that the last movie he saw was “Kasal, Kasali, Kasalo” of showbiz couple, Judy Ann Santos and Ryan Agoncillo.

The audience also obviously liked it when he said he was willing to coalesce with Filipino boxing champion Manny Pacquiao as long as he would not be bringing with him the one “in Malacanang” apparently referring to Mrs. Arroyo.

He said Mrs. Arroyo’s best contribution was to unite the country in rage against alleged venality in her administration.

“She has so angered Filipinos that they are now seriously looking at whom to choose as our next leader, and to actively participate in the coming elections,” he said.

Escudero admitted his being young could be both a weakness and strength. He said that while he was not born rich and might not be able to run a massive campaign, he and just about any presidential candidate may spend only about P600 million and not P3 billion for his campaign.

“The law says one can spend only P10 per voter. If there are 40 million voters, then one needs P400 million. The party can contribute another P200 million.

Thus, spending beyond that would be a violation,” Escudero said.

Gordon became emotional at one point when they were asked about their personal heroes.

He said his father is his hero because despite his being born an American he elected to be a Filipino, raised his children as Filipinos and died as a Filipino hero.

Gordon said it was his father who made him realize that public service was a “365-day, 24/7” job and that one must learn to sacrifice for the sake of the common good.

He said every Filipino must learn to be a leader and that the country should have a President that could serve as good example and inspiration to the people.

‘101% sure’

In a separate interview, Lacson said he is “101 percent” sure of running for president in 2010.

Lacson made the announcement amid insinuations that he has begun his political offensive ahead of 2010 with the filing of ethics complaint against Villar, a potential rival in the presidential race.

Lacson said he would run as an independent. Already, some of Lacson’s supporters have been using stickers with numbers – 7142010. 71 is Lacson’s call sign when he was chief of the Philippine National Police. He also belongs to the Philippine Military Academy batch 1971.

“Ako independent ako (I’m independent) but we’re trying to form coalition with other parties. Right now nasa preliminary stage yung pag-uusap (discussions) so I cannot tell you any concrete (plans),” the former police chief said.

Lacson rejected the possibility of striking a coalition with Pacquiao’s party.

“Pacquiao’s is a local political party. And in all indications, he will be coalescing with the administration party,” he said. “I’m an out and out opposition since the time I entered politics,” Lacson said.

Lacson, who ran and lost when he ran for president in 2004, said he would not slide to vice-presidency. He said he would pursue criminal cases against Mrs. Arroyo and some of her officials if he gets elected.

No to premature campaigning

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago warned that some officials, including senators, are fomenting a culture of impunity with their blatant violation of the law against premature campaigning through the so-called “infomercials.”

“If this deplorable trend continues, all potential candidates for local and national offices will start campaigning simply through insidious infomercials and commercials,” she said in a statement.

Santiago filed a resolution Tuesday seeking an investigation into possible misuse of funds for infomercials.

“If they are using public funds, they are guilty of malversation,” Santiago said.

“It is public knowledge that some of the public officials featured in the infomercials have already manifested their intention to seek for elective office in the 2010 national elections,” she added.

“Public officials with greater connections and deeper pockets have resorted to all means possible to popularize themselves and gain a decidedly advantageous position for the 2010 national elections,” Santiago said. “This is in blatant violation of the policy behind our election laws to even the playing field for candidates, rich and poor,” she said. with Katherine Andraneda, Jaime Laude - By Aurea Calica And Christina Mendez (Philstar News Service,

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