[PHOTO: First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo kisses President Arroyo during a public engagement before the Jose Pidal controversy erupted. - REVOLI CORTEZ ]

MANILA, September 11, 2003  (STAR)  By Nikko Dizon And Marichu Villanueva  - Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is his "life and heart," and life without her is unimaginable.

With tears glistening in his eyes, First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo said yesterday that he "cannot imagine a life without my wife beside me."

The First Gentleman dismissed Valenzuela Rep. Magtanggol Gunigundo Jr.’s suggestion that President Arroyo file a suit for legal separation from Mr. Arroyo to spare her and the ruling party from further scandal over the "Jose Pidal" controversy.

Since the Jose Pidal exposé of opposition Sen. Panfilo Lacson hit the headlines, the First Gentleman had made himself scarce to the press, assigning a lawyer to speak on his behalf.

But he broke his silence yesterday to personally address Gunigundo’s recommendation at a press conference at the LTA building in Makati City, where he poured his heart out despite the fact that he has yet to have a heart-to-heart talk with his wife on whether they should remain together.

Besides accusing the First Gentleman of using the alias Jose Pidal to launder funds, Lacson had also alleged that Mr. Arroyo was having an affair with his personal accountant and secretary, Victoria Toh. Both the First Gentleman and Toh have denied this.

The First Gentleman said that while politicians in favor of a legal separation of the First Couple could be "well meaning and earnest about the welfare of the country," he said his marriage to Mrs. Arroyo has nothing to do with the Jose Pidal scandal.

"My marriage is a private matter between my wife and myself," he said, trying to contain his emotions.

Mr. Arroyo asked the politicians to leave him and the President alone.

By recommending a legal separation of the First Couple, these politicians have unfairly dragged the President into the Jose Pidal controversy, Mr. Arroyo said.

Gunigundo, a member of the President’s own Lakas party, was not alone in his sentiment, however.

"I think she should throw him out and apply for nullity of marriage (annulment)," lawyer Katrina Legarda said in an interview with ABS-CBN, commenting on the proposal that the President sue for legal separation from the First Gentleman. "There is no divorce in this country."

"I think she could win. That would be good for her and for all womankind," said Legarda, who is a niece of Mr. Arroyo.

Opposition Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, on the other hand said the matter of whether the First Couple should remain together is "not our business."


"I am more concerned about the impact that this proposal would have on my family," the First Gentleman said. "Gloria and I have been married now for 35 years and we have been blessed with three wonderful children."

"Like any couple, we have had our ups and downs and our moments of joy and sadness," the First Gentleman said. "But through all these times, we have been together, our love has sustained us throughout all our trials."

"I realize that my wife is President of the Republic and, as she has said, she is now married to the country and that the country is always paramount," he added.

The First Gentleman said that despite Mrs. Arroyo’s position at the helm of government, "we are still human beings with our lives to lead. Like you, we are a family with domestic and private concerns. We get hurt. Our children feel the pain. We are people who have feelings and get hurt."

He acknowledged that the Jose Pidal scandal has adversely affected his family, particularly the First Couple’s only daughter, Luli, "and I have apologized to them."

While he implied that his relationship with his daughter is strained, the First Gentleman said he and the President are on speaking terms. He belied rumors that they are separated and that he is living on his own in an apartment.

"They said separate the properties. However, let me stress that we have kept our personal finances separate and distinct from any transactions and concerns which involve the public interest," Mr. Arroyo said.

He has appealed to the public to be more discerning. "The people are intelligent and they will not fall for tomfoolery. All of the accusations (against me) are mere fabrications designed to destroy President Arroyo and our family," he said.

He lamented the campaign launched by some sectors to destroy his family, but expressed confidence he will be vindicated because he knows Lacson’s camp had used malicious and vicious lies and fabricated documents.

Mr. Arroyo also said he and the President attend Mass together and receive holy communion daily. He said he is unsure if he will join the President when she embarks on her forthcoming trip to Europe and the United States.

Uncalled For, Misplaced — Palace

Meanwhile, Malacañang was irked by Gunigundo’s statements, which Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye branded as "uncalled for" and "misplaced."

"I think this statement was uncalled for and let me say that such statements were misplaced," a fuming Bunye said.

"These things that have something to do with the private relations of husband and wife... (are) not appropriate for a congressman to meddle in," he said.

Speaking in an interview over government-run Radyo ng Bayan, Bunye expressed disgust over Gunigundo’s statements, which he read in the newspapers yesterday.

"At first, I did not believe that these kinds of comments would come from Congressman Gunigundo," Bunye, himself a Lakas stalwart and former congressman, said. "When I read the newspapers this morning, it seemed that he really made such statements."

Besides recommending legal separation from the First Gentleman as a measure to prevent the Jose Pidal scandal from destroying the President and the ruling party, Gunigundo also suggested Mrs. Arroyo file a suit for separation of property against her husband.

The Valenzuela legislator said many leaders of the ruling party feel scandalized by the Jose Pidal controversy.

However, Lakas-CMD national chairman Heherson Alvarez belied Gunigundo’s statements.

Bunye said the best way to end the vicious politicking resulting from the Jose Pidal controversy is to "file the proceedings in court, because we have laws that govern here. He have the Bank Secrecy Law and the Anti-Money Laundering Act and other related laws, which would be violated or set aside in these Senate investigations."

"If the senators want to speed up these investigations, the proper forum would be in the court, because the courts themselves have the power to open and look into these bank transactions," he added.

Responding to queries about his reaction to the First Gentleman’s plea for politicians to leave his marriage be, Bunye said, "I don’t have to add to nor subtract (from) the First Gentleman’s statement because it’s very eloquent already."

Presidential chief of staff Rigoberto Tiglao was very touchy on the issue.

Bunye reiterated the Palace’s concern that the Senate investigation into the Jose Pidal accounts will do the country more harm than good, with the banking and finance sector dragged unnecessarily into the issue.

Fears that the Senate probe may lead to violations of the Bank Secrecy Law, he said, could erode investors’ confidence.

While the Palace may wish that the Senate will elevate the Jose Pidal controversy to the regular courts, Bunye said "the stance of the President is to stay away from the legislative inquiry and we will leave it to the people to judge the ongoing investigation, as well as the actuations of all those participating in this inquiry."

"The (Senate) hearings have been conducted in full transparency and the people know who has been engaged in innuendo or deception and who has been civil and adherent to the rule of law and due process. We leave the issues and conduct of political leaders to the judgment of the people," Bunye said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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