Manila, August 1, 2003 (Star) A hurting President Arroyo rebuked the local business community for failing to support her during the crucial hours of the weekend siege of Oakwood Premier Ayala Center and immediately after its bloodless ending.

In an exclusive interview yesterday with The STAR columnist Babe Romualdez at Malacañang, the President asked: "Who supported me? Did the business community support me? I did it by myself."

She continued, "What did they do? Did they condemn the mutineers? Did they even encourage me that I solved it peacefully? Were they thankful that there wasn’t any damage in the financial district?"

From the early hours of the seizure of Oakwood in Makati City till the end of the crisis, few people had responded to a call from Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin to rally behind the President, and there was silence from the local business community.

On Wednesday night, an agitated Mrs. Arroyo noted during a cocktail party in Makati that local business leaders had expressed no clear support for her government during the weekend siege. STAR sources present at the party said among the guests were business giants Washington SyCip, Lucio Tan, Jose Cuisia and Enrique Aboitiz.

Yesterday the Makati Business Club issued a statement lauding the President’s "firm and decisive handling of the weekend Makati mutiny which resulted in its swift and peaceful resolution."

"We were deeply concerned with and extremely disturbed by the incident since it occurred in the center of the Makati business district and at the heart of the country’s financial center, damaging the country’s interests and image abroad," the statement said.

During The STAR interview, Mrs. Arroyo emphatically declared that the international community supports her, "and I thank them for it now." It was conspicuous that the White House, the US Embassy in Manila, and other foreign governments were swift in rallying behind Mrs. Arroyo, in stark contrast to the local response by the Filipino business community.

Characterizing herself as "an accidental president," Mrs. Arroyo said that she will not be "distracted by destabilization" and that there were "no accidents in God’s eyes." She said Sunday’s mutiny was just "a blip" that will be dealt with by proper government authorities. "Justice has to be done," she said.

"God has put me here to do what I have to do... And I will go on and do the work that I believe God has put me in the position to do," she said. "My audience is... really... God. What are the reforms I must do so that tomorrow will be better?"

Mrs. Arroyo assumed the presidency following the ouster of Joseph Estrada in January 2001 after his aborted impeachment trial on charges that he had enriched himself illegally.

On the issue of the presidential election next year, the President told Romualdez that the "2004 is an even greater distraction than the (Sunday’s) destabilizers."

Mrs. Arroyo said she has been tackling the issue of corruption, especially in the military, but belabored that "these legitimate grievances should be addressed through democratic means."

Accusing unnamed politicians of having links with the Sunday siege, she said, "Let us not gloss over the fact that there are unscrupulous politicians who use these gullible young officers... We must stop the politization of the military... I have to do something about it."

She said, "The number one corruption is the politization of the military."

Mrs. Arroyo lamented the failure of the Aquino administration to implement proposals by the Davide Commission to punish military officers found to have links with several attempts to topple the administration at the time. She said that if the suggestion by the Davide Commission were "carried out, some people would have been in jail instead of being in the corridors of power now."

Ironically, a former member of the Davide Commission — UP Prof. Carolina Hernandez — was appointed by Mrs. Arroyo to a panel that will investigate Sunday’s siege. The Davide Commission was formed to probe the December 1989 coup bid that almost toppled then President Corazon Aquino.

"There is a mutiny commission that should begin with the findings of the Davide Commission and go on from there and see what progress has been made and what progress we can make. Even provocation that transformed those legitimate grievances into an armed rebellion,’ she said.

The President repeatedly mentioned throughout the interview that guilty parties to the Sunday siege must "face the full consequences of the law" because they have set back the economy for years. She said that light punishments corrupt people.

Mrs. Arroyo said she has not lifted the state of rebellion to enable government authorities to "mop up elements seeking to destabilize the country.

Meanwhile, Press Secretary Milton Alingod told The STAR that the President’s schedule has normalized from yesterday. Mrs. Arroyo flew to her home province of Pampanga for a hectic series of official engagements.

Yesterday, she went to San Fernando for the 25th anniversary of Carworld Inc. and then later proceeded to inspect the San Fernando-Mexico river de-silting project to prevent lahar-induced flooding.

The President ended her official engagement last night by appearing at "The President’s Night" of the Manila Overseas Press Club at the Hotel Inter-Continental in Makati City. The hotel is practically nextdoor to the site of the Sunday siege.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo would fulfill her official engagements both locally and internationally. — With reports from Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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