FORMER president Joseph Estrada is not taking any chances in the May 10 elections in Cebu, seen as a bailiwick of the administration party.

The Estrada camp will double the number of watchers in Cebu to ensure that votes cast for Estrada and his running mate, Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, will be counted, said Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) campaign manager Ernesto Maceda.

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The camp vowed not to repeat their 2004 debacle, when they failed to mount an organized opposition in Cebu, where President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo led by over one million votes.

Estrada won the 1998 presidential elections, but lost badly in the province to former Cebu governor Emilio “Lito” Osmeña.

With 2.4 million registered voters as of December 2009, Cebu is one of the vote-rich provinces in the country.

“In the 2004 elections, FPJ (Fernando Poe Jr.) had no watchers, no lawyers or watchdog groups to take care of his votes (in Cebu),” Maceda said. “This time, it will not happen.”

Maceda also said “special arrangements” with local officials known to be supporters of administration candidate Gilberto Teodoro Jr. could also make a difference for Estrada.

“Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia is for Gibo (Teodoro), but her son-in-law, who is a mayor here in the province, is for Erap,” said Maceda, referring to Liloan Mayor Duke Frasco.

“Likewise, in the municipalities of Sibonga and Dalaguete, the mayors are for Lakas but their fathers are for Erap,” he added.

Also yesterday, former president Estrada disowned a Cebuana congressional candidate who allegedly lost P4 million to a group that promised to help her duplicate her campaign funds.

Estrada, in a press conference, told reporters congressional candidate Luna Sabalones of San Fernando town is not a part of the PMP lineup.

Sabalones, 53, sought the help of the National Bureau of Investigation early this week, saying she was duped by a “budol-budol gang” that stole P4 million from her. She also identified herself as a PMP candidate.

But Maceda said they only have candidates in the fourth, fifth and sixth districts of Cebu Province.

Department of Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Lito Ruiz is running under PMP as a sixth district congressional candidate, while former Compostela mayor Gilbert Wagas is running as a congressional candidate in the fifth district.

Learning from Sabalones’ case, however, Estrada and Maceda reminded the PMP’s candidates not to gamble campaign funds on suspicious transactions. (Sunnex)/JKV)