MANILA, January 11, 2003 (STAR) By Paolo Romero and Mayen Jaymalin  - Malacañang moved yesterday to concretize the Council of State, which would be the core of the unity government being forged by the Arroyo administration.

This developed as President Arroyo sought to change the term "government of national unity" with "government of national cooperation" in order "to avoid the wrong impression of an ongoing civil conflict that has reached a stalemate."

In her speech at the signing of Republic Act 9183 or the Special Purpose Vehicle Act at the Philippine Stock Exchange in Makati City, Mrs. Arroyo said the new term is about "cooperation on essential things we cannot quarrel about – on the need to reform and good governance, on the components of national survival in these perilous times, and on the elements of national progress in a worldwide recession."

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said an executive order that would outline the mechanics and composition of the Council of State is being prepared.

"(The Council of State is) a forum where you accommodate political forces and their ideas," Bunye said.

He said that Mrs. Arroyo’s father, the late President Diosdado Macapagal, formed a similar body composed of representatives from different political parties.

Bunye added that one of the most active and productive members of that consultative body was the late President Carlos P. Garcia, Macapagal’s predecessor and political opponent.

Garcia, Bunye said, was even appointed by Macapagal to lead the constitutional convention.

"It was very productive, the cooperation was high ... he (Garcia) was really active and assisted the government," he said.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) yesterday gave its full support for the creation of a Council of State to help the President run the government.

CBCP’s former president and Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz said the Catholic Church favors the proposed Council of State or any plan that would promote national unity.

"Anything with (a) unifying element, that would unify us as one nation, there is no problem (with the Church)," Cruz in a telephone interview.

He noted that the Church prefers the Council of State over the proposed government of national unity.

"The Council is very much better because it would still be the President who would be calling the shots, unlike the government of national unity which is expected to trigger more questions," Cruz said.

In Mrs. Arroyo’s bid to erase political divisiveness and spur economic growth, she approved the creation of a Council of State, to be composed of representatives of both allied and opposition groups.

Cruz said the proposal to form the Council of State is nothing new but the Church would be willing to support the Arroyo administration’s move to try the scheme again.

He said that Mrs. Arroyo previously formed a Council of State composed of former Presidents Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos, but it did not work too well.

The new Council of State, according to Cruz, could be more effective than the previous one because its membership has expanded to include those from ideological groups.

Cruz also welcomed the idea of becoming part of the council, so long as representatives of other church denominations will also be members.

All rights reserved