Malacanang, July 4, 2003 (Star) It is the burden of the presidency to heed the call of duty and serve the interest of the nation rather than oneself.

This ordinarily innocent statement became a ticklish subject for Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye yesterday as he struggled to explain if "national interest" could persuade President Arroyo to run in the May 10, 2004 elections.

"This is really a divisive issue so let us set it aside for the time being. Let’s concentrate on catching the crooks, trying them and putting them behind bars," Bunye urged reporters who linked his briefing on the government’s anti-narcotics drive to next year’s elections.

Bunye was buttonholed on this issue during his daily press briefing a day after Presidential Chief of Staff Rigoberto Tiglao admitted in a television talk show that "national interest" may prompt Mrs. Arroyo to reconsider her earlier decision not to seek a full six-year term next year.

Bunye tried to clarify Tiglao’s controversial statement that Mrs. Arroyo would decide whether she would run on the basis of "national interest," a statement that was interpreted to mean the President may run.

"It is the duty of any president to serve the national interest and to sacrifice self-interest in doing so," Bunye said, triggering a deluge of questions similar to what met Tiglao’s statement.

But after a few agonizing moments, Bunye stressed that Mrs. Arroyo has not changed the decision she announced in Baguio City on Dec. 30 that she would not run in next years elections.

Bunye said such a debate is "highly divisive" and would not help in the government’s drive against narcotics trafficking in the country.

"She wants the nation to be united, not divided, on all issues relating to the anti-drug campaign," he said.

"The President has made a decision in 2003, that decision has not changed. That decision has allowed her to concentrate on issues that require her personal attention," he added.

"She is engaged in this total war against crime and she believes that the strategy for success would be unity among the people. So she would like to refrain or avoid issues that would divide the people," Bunye said.

At the same time, Bunye belittled a survey conducted by the newspaper BusinessWorld and said the President should not have been included because she had already declared she would not run.

According to the survey, business people in the Philippines say the President is doing a good job, but most want her to make way for a new leader’s election next year.

The survey was conducted by New York-based Roper ASW last month and found that most respondents believed Mrs. Arroyo would lose if she contested the May 10, 2004 vote.

The survey showed 63 percent thought Arroyo was doing a good job compared to 15 percent who disagreed, the paper said Thursday.

Three hundred executives working for the country’s top corporations were polled, it said.

Forty-six percent believe the economy would prosper under Mrs. Arroyo while 38 percent disagreed.

However when asked if the President should run for another term, only 37 percent said she should while 61 percent said she should not.

If she does run, only 23 percent believe she will win while 52 percent say she would lose.

Sixty-five percent say Mrs. Arroyo is sincere against 21 percent who believe otherwise.

Mrs. Arroyo announced in December that she would not seek a new six-year term and instead concentrate on economic reforms. Her current term ends on June 30, 2004.

However the opposition has charged this is just a trick to boost her image and that Mrs. Arroyo will later change her mind and eventually run.

Although she is credited for carrying out economic reforms, surveys have said that Mrs. Arroyo would face an uphill battle in getting elected as there are other prominent personalities who outpoll her. — Marichu Villanueva, Jose Rodel Clapano, Paolo Romero, Jess Diaz, Lito Salatan, Pia Lee-Brago, AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved