FIRST GENTLEMAN TO JOIN GMA FOR 5 DAY-WORKING VISITS ABROAD

MANILA, September 12, 2003  (STAR)  By Marichu Villanueva  - New York, Rome, Paris.

The First Gentleman will join President Arroyo for five days when she goes on a working visit to three cities abroad at the end of this month.

This was confirmed by Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye yesterday when he announced that Mrs. Arroyo will be accompanied by her embattled husband in her scheduled Sept. 25-30 official trips to New York, Rome and Paris.

"Actions speak louder than words," Bunye said, responding to queries on how the President reacted to public statements of her husband on the issue of legal separation of the First Couple, as suggested by one of her Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrat partymates.

Over the daily breakfast meeting with senior Palace officials yesterday, the President was her usual self and did not show any emotions after seeing and hearing her husband in a press conference profess his love and fidelity to her, Bunye said.

"The President did not say anything one way or the other during our breakfast meeting. But when I asked her if the First Gentleman is joining her in her trip, she said ‘Yes,’" Bunye said.

But Mrs. Arroyo did not elaborate, he said. "I guess the message is clear that all’s well."

Bunye added: "She did not qualify (if Mr. Arroyo would join her for the entire trip). So I assume it’s for the whole duration of US, Europe trips."

Valenzuela Rep. Magtanggol Gunigundo Jr. earlier this week suggested that Mrs. Arroyo file for either legal separation or separation of conjugal properties from her husband to spare her and the administration party of the fallout from the money laundering charges against the First Gentleman.

Mr. Arroyo has denied he is Jose Pidal, the alias Sen. Panfilo Lacson claimed the First Gentleman used to launder millions. Lacson also insinuated that Victoria Toh, personal secretary of Arroyo, was romantically involved with her boss.

But with tears welling in his eyes, Mr. Arroyo the other day dismissed Gunigundo’s suggestion and said he "cannot imagine a life without my wife beside me."

Bunye for his part fumed over Gunigundo’s suggestion which he said smacked of meddling into the First Couple’s private affairs.

Through her spokesman, the President has vowed a hands-off policy as three Senate committees began public hearings on the Jose Pidal affair.

This was why, Bunye conceded, the President could not come out publicly with any statements that can be misconstrued as helping her husband.

"I’m sure there will be occasion for such expression, that would be forthcoming," he quipped.

Pressed on how soon this would be, Bunye teased back Palace reporters saying: "Just watch for the developments. Just stick around."

Bunye evaded giving details of the presidential activities during the trip to US and Europe, including naughty queries by reporters if the First Couple would be staying in the same room.

"He (Arroyo) is joining the trip," the spokesman curtly replied.

One of the highlights of the forthcoming trip is a visit to the Vatican to have an audience with Pope John Paul II, not necessarily to renew their marital vows of 35 years.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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