New York, May 23, 2003 (MALAYA) By Jocelyn Montemayor - President Arroyo lost her temper yesterday after repeatedly being asked if there is a chance she would change her mind and join the presidential race next year.

Arroyo, in a teleconference from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York Wednesday night (Thursday morning in Manila), said she was comfortable "not being" a presidential candidate and she would to stick to her announcement on December 30 last year that she is not seeking the presidency in 2004.

"You're so fixated in 2004. My focus is what I need to do in the next 14 months. And if you are fixated on that, I'm not going to feed your insatiable appetite for the wrong, wrong issues that should be occupying our mind," she said.

Arroyo was also asked Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) if she would reconsider her decision after receiving a warm reception from the Filipino communities in the US. She answered with a "no comment."

But Heherson Alvarez, presidential adviser on overseas Filipino workers and spokesman of Lakas-CMD which is co-chaired by Arroyo and Speaker Jose de Venecia, said party officials would try to convince Arroyo to reconsider.

He said it was not Arroyo's decision alone.

"Pinaalala namin sa kanya na sa ganoon bagay ginagalang ang kanyang paninindigan nguni't higit sa kanyang paninindigan, kinakailangan isaalang-alang din ang paninindigan ng kapartido o kasangga o bayan. Leader ka, hindi ka maaaring magsarili lamang, kailangan tingnan mo ang kapanalig, mga katungkulan," he said.

He added Arroyo's joining the presidential race might also help convince Filipinos abroad to participate in next year's polls, particularly after the warm welcome that she got from the Filipino in the US.

Opposition Sen. Teresa Aquino Oreta said "Palace sycophants restless over becoming jobless by July 2003" should stop capitalizing on Arroyo's US trip to convince her to reconsider.

Oreta said an Arroyo turnaround would derail the implementation of reforms.

"Mrs. Arroyo should ignore the suggestions of her Palace toadies who are obviously afraid of losing their jobs next year, and focus instead on carrying out urgent reforms," she said.

Administration Sen. Joker Arroyo said the President is hoping her US visit would improve her ratings which dipped in the past weeks because of her staunch alliance with the US in the war against Iraq.

And from all indications - her "actuation, her body language and the boost that she is getting from the US President" - Mrs. Arroyo is interested in seeking the presidency in 2004, Senator Arroyo said.

"Whether the US trip will improve her ratings is another question. I suppose June or July, when the ratings game comes up again we can judge if she benefits from the trip or not. And if she does then perhaps, that will fix her determination to run," he added.

Sen. Ralph Recto said Mrs. Arroyo could be testing the waters and her Rizal Day announcement "was not chiseled in stone."

"She's qualified for another term, so no felony is committed if she changes her mind," Recto said.

A Palace official who admits to praying for Arroyo to change her mind said the second quarter of this year would be crucial.

The official said factors like Arroyo's rating in the second quarter and the endorsement of Cardinal Jaime Sin who would retire in August would be considered in her decision on whether to run.

Earlier, an administration congressman said Mrs. Arroyo is "95 percent" sure of running. The 5 percent that is holding her back is the fear of backlash from so-called civil society leaders and Edsa 2 prime movers like Sin and former President Corazon Aquino, and her poor survey ratings.

Mrs. Arroyo, in her teleconference, said she did not "sacrifice" her political ambition to accommodate any query or satisfy the curiosity of some people on politics.

She stressed her teleconference should be focused on her eight-day state visit which she said did not include politics.

Asked how she could sustain the "new revitalized relations" with the United States if she would not run in 2004, Arroyo said: "If you work on a template and it works, it becomes virtually irreversible."

"If we are able to get our workers in Iraq, will May 2004 bring them back? If we get GSP (general system of preferences) privileges as we are getting them and expanding them, will May 1004 cancel them? If we have a $300 million investment from a specific company, will that company pull out after putting in the first $50 million?" she said.

Sen. Arroyo said that US President George W. Bush and President Arroyo are "buddy-buddy."

"I got this from Asian Wall Street Journal ... President Bush is coming in sometime in October so he included the Philippines in the agenda ... I would think that President Bush is interested in Gloria's presidency so he does not have to establish linkages again with the new president," he said.

"From the point of view of the US, they'd rather deal with Gloria because their relationship is already established and warm ... from the point of view of US better to deal with Gloria than with anyone else. I think that's a given. Why court another President?" he added. (With JP Lopez)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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