BUSINESSMEN: WE DID SUPPORT GMA

Manila, August 2, 2003 By Mayen Jaymalin (STAR) She wasnít alone.

Contrary to President Arroyoís declaration Thursday that she did not have the support of the business community during the darkest hours of the failed July 27 coup, the local business community said it supported her government throughout the 22-hour standoff in Makati Cityís central business district.

"To say the business community is not supportive (of her government) is wrong. We truly support the government," Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) president Donald Dee said.

During the siege of the Oakwood Premier Ayala Center luxury apartments on Ayala Avenue in Makati City Sunday, a group of businessmen, including Dee and Raul Concepcion, went to MalacaŮang.

In a press conference at the MalacaŮang briefing room, the businessmen did not categorically express their full support for the Arroyo administration, but condemned the mutiny, which they said could hurt the economy.

However, Mrs. Arroyo claimed that the local business community failed to support her during the Oakwood siege and insisted that she quashed the rebellion by herself.

Although businessmen are supportive of the Arroyo administration, and did so during the mutiny, Dee said the business community is opposed to the existing state of rebellion, which the President declared Sunday and has not yet lifted.

Dee said Mrs. Arroyo must immediately lift the state of rebellion to avert further economic problems as a result of the mutiny.

He also said investments are at a standstill, as both local and foreign businessmen refused to undertake expansion due to the prevailing uncertainty in the country. "The sooner the problem is resolved, the better for the economy," Dee said.

In a separate statement the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) "commends President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for handling the crisis of 27 July 2003 like a seasoned CEO (chief executive officer)."

The statement said the President "showed firmness, decisiveness and she obviously kept communication channels open all throughout the crisis. She was creative in exploring all avenues to resolve the crisis and even reached out to the opposition and to the families and friends of the rebels."

This creative approach, MAP president Edward Pereira said, "was a humane solution to a difficult situation."

"We heard the issues and concerns raised by the Magdalo group," Pereira said. "We agree with them that corruption has no place in the military. We agree that selling military resources to the enemy is an act of treason and any soldier who perpetrates this has no right to be called a soldier of our armed forces."

"We agree that playing with the lives of soldiers to achieve political ends should not be tolerated. We agree that the government should leave no stone unturned to get to the bottom of these accusations," he said.

However, Pereira said the MAP deplores the method and vehemently denounces "the manner by which the soldiers attempted to address their grievances. The method (used by the Magdalo mutineers) has absolutely no place in a democracy like ours."

In its statement, the MAP issued an appeal "to the decision-makers in government to pursue in earnest the investigations and implement the programs needed to ensure that the grievances identified in the Davide Commission report of 1990 and the ones that will come out in the new commission tasked to investigate the (failed coup) be acted upon expeditiously."

They also called on the President "as the countryís CEO, to do what good CEOs do ó follow through."

Still Smarting, But Firm

Still smarting from the Johnny-come-lately expressions of support given to her at the height of the failed Makati mutiny, Mrs. Arroyo vowed Thursday night to turn Makati Cityís commercial and business district into a "hard target" against terrorists and future putschists.

The President vowed to do this as part of her administrationís determination to turn the Makati central business district into one of the countryís premier tourist-shopping destination under the eight-point program she identified as among her priorities for the remaining 11 months of her term.

Despite the foiled power grab against her administration, Mrs. Arroyo remained optimistic that the "long-term" results of her economic reforms would cushion the "short-term" impact of the failed coup on the economy.

"If you look at the stock market and the dollar, theyíre not that bad," Mrs. Arroyo said. "In fact, the stock marketís going up and Trade Secretary Mar Roxas said his worst projection is that the peso would go down to 60 to $1, but it didnít."

Speaking at the traditional Presidentís Night of the Manila Overseas Press Club (MOPC) at the Hotel Intercontinental, located beside the Oakwood Premier, Mrs. Arroyo admitted that she was "irritated" by the statement issued by the Makati Business Club (MBC) headed by Ricardo Romulo.

The MBC denounced the Presidentís decision to maintain Proclamation 47 putting the whole country under a state of rebellion. It has not been lifted since is was declared Sunday.

"To begin with, I didnít think they (MBC) would appreciate that I solved (the siege) peacefully, within 20 hours, without destroying Makati... without destroying lives," Mrs. Arroyo said.

Still fuming, the President said, "What do I get? This awful statement from the president of the Makati business Club. What do I expect from the lawyer of Piatco (Philippine International Air Terminals Co.)?"

The press was not spared the Presidentís disappointment, as she went on to call the attention of media, which she criticized as devoting too much airtime and space "to glamoriz(ing) the good-looking" mutineers led by Ltsg. Antonio Trillanes IV.

"I respect press freedom. I get irritated, but even if in the state of rebellion, I donít expect to pick up any of you (the media) unless youíre a plotter," the President said in a thinly veiled warning.

The President also took up the cudgels for Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Hermogenes Ebdane, who is under fire over the failure of police intelligence to detect and prevent the Makati siege.

"The earlier intelligence report said that (the mutineers) were gonna target the general headquarters (of the AFP at Camp Aguinaldo) and take over right away. But, you see, all the other targets were very well fortified and thatís why they took the softest target they could find, and thatís Makati," she said.

"I believe we should harden that shopping center as a target," the President added.

"The President just expressed her disappointment they (MBC) were not very vocal with their support at a time she needed their support," Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said. "The support she needed by way of public statement to condemn the siege did not come, save for a few who came here, especially during the early hours."

Bunye added that the President has not closed her doors to reconciliation with her former supporters in the business community. ó With reports from Marichu Villanueva


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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