[NO BIRTHDAY BREAK: Cabinet secretaries fete President Aquino with a birthday song as he turned 53 in Malacañang on Friday. Except for the song and a birthday cake baked by Malacañang chefs (inset), it was a no-fuss occasion for the President. Among those who attended the first official Cabinet meeting for the year were Education Secretary Armin Luistro, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson, Vice President Jejomar Binay, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman and Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr., among others. LYN RILLON/RTVM FACEBOOK PAGE]

By Michael Lim Ubac - Except for a morning visit to two indigent patients at a government hospital and a birthday treat of toasted corned beef for Malacañang reporters, it was business as usual for President Aquino who turned 53 on Friday.

The bachelor president did not take a day off from his official duties and in fact held his first full Cabinet meeting for the year in the afternoon, Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang said.

The President, Carandang added, was scheduled to start his day with a visit to Jericho Rafols, a 15-year-old bone cancer patient at the Philippine Orthopedic Center.

Time off

“It was Jericho’s wish to meet the President, so he took time off from his schedule—he had a meeting with the Presidential Management Staff (PMS)—to personally (meet) the boy,” the Palace official said.

The Chief Executive also brightened the day for Mario Maniego, 47, who has been suffering from a spinal injury for the last 16 years. Maniego, who can no longer walk, is confined in the same hospital.

Mr. Aquino met with the PMS staff when he returned to the Palace and with his Cabinet family later in the afternoon, Carandang said.

The President’s official schedule made no mention of a banquet to celebrate his natal day, although members of the media waiting at the nearby New Executive Building for word on the outcome of the meeting, were served toasted corned beef, the President’s favorite dish.

Members of the Presidential Security Group greeted Mr. Aquino early in the morning as he was about to leave his official residence, Bahay Pangarap, to go to Malacañang, according to Carandang.

Texted greetings

“They have access to him earliest (so) they greeted the President in person. (But) I am sure my fellow colleagues in the Cabinet also texted him (birthday greetings) very early this morning,” he added.

Carandang said that “economic matters” were on the agenda, with Budget Secretary Butch Abad reporting on the country’s fiscal conditions and the President reminding his economic managers of the glaring disparity between the unemployment numbers and the number of college graduates every year.

Fiscal outlook

“Not much to report. The fiscal outlook for the next three years was presented and discussed,” Carandang said in a text message following the meeting.

Mr. Aquino was also slated to have a “quiet” dinner with his sisters late Friday, possibly at Bahay Pangarap.

“I am not sure what he is going to do after our Cabinet meeting,” the Palace official said. “As you know, I don’t ask about his personal life. Whatever the President’s plans are, I think he would appreciate being given (some) privacy.”

Birthday wish

His birthday wish for the President, which Carandang said he was able to convey to him, was for the Chief Executive to find happiness in the things that ordinary people enjoy.

“I hope he (would have the) chance to enjoy the simple pleasures (in) life that perhaps he is no longer able to… because of his being President. And that’s why this weekend, I will not bother him or ask him what he’s doing. I want him to be able to enjoy those simple pleasures,” the communications secretary said.

Palace unfazed by dismissal of cases vs Gloria Arroyo By Michael Lim Ubac Philippine Daily Inquirer

[PHOTO - Former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. AP FILE PHOTO]

MANILA, Philippines—The courts throwing out cases against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo one after another will not jeopardize President Aquino’s campaign to exact accountability from the allegedly corrupt Arroyo administration, according to a Malacañang mouthpiece.

“We must make a distinction between cases that are being built up by the DOJ (Department of Justice) and the government, and cases that are being filed by third parties,” said Ricky Carandang, the strategic communication secretary.

The cases filed by “other parties” were the ones that have been dismissed, he said.

According to Carandang, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima had told him that the latest case to have been dismissed by the courts was filed by “someone we did not personally know or coordinate with.”

“The Department of Justice did not find sufficient strength in the allegation, so that was dismissed,” he said.

He must have been referring to the Jan. 17 decision by Supreme Court’s 3rd Division that upheld the Office of the Ombudsman’s dismissal of a criminal complaint against Arroyo over the alleged misuse of Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) funds during her term.

The Ombudsman had upheld the legality of the transfer of P530,382,445 from the Owwa Medicare Fund to the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

The Ombudsman also did not find anything irregular in the transfer of $350,000 from the Owwa Capital Fund to labor attaches in the Middle East during the invasion and occupation of Iraq by the US-led coalition in 2003.

In early February, Arroyo scored a legal victory when the Manila Prosecutors Office ruled that she was not criminally liable for the November 2009 Maguindanao massacre that left 58 people dead.

The prosecutors dismissed a criminal negligence case filed against Arroyo by Marconi Abdulaziz Paiso, a candidate for vice governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Carandang claimed that the DOJ cases against Arroyo are “more airtight” because they underwent “case build-up” and thorough investigation.

Arroyo is still facing several cases related to her acts as President: electoral sabotage charge pending in a Pasay City court, and alleged misuse of more than P300 million of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office funds, and plunder for the botched $329-million NBN-ZTE deal at the Sandiganbayan.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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