MANILA,  July 19, 2004
By Marichu Villanueva -  President Arroyo has reunited with her estranged ally, Eddie Villanueva, who ran and lost along with three others in the presidential election last May. "Yes, (I met with Villanueva), but not recently," Mrs. Arroyo said without giving any details. The meeting between Mrs. Arroyo and Villanueva was arranged by a "mutual" friend, who organized the preparatory talks between their representatives. A few days after she was sworn into office on June 30, Mrs. Arroyo went to a private house outside Metro Manila, where she met with Villanueva. One of those involved in the preparatory talks told a select group of reporters that Mrs. Arroyo and Villanueva, who had met twice, have agreed to a government of national unity.

Housing Secretary Michael Defensor, who served as Mrs. Arroyo’s campaign spokesman, denied rumors that two top officials of Villanueva’s Bangon Pilipinas party would be named to key government positions. "There were no talks about positions in government, but on concepts of government," he said.

"At the very least, the agenda of Bangon Pilipinas and Bro. Eddie will be integrated into the program of the President like the moral recovery agenda of Bangon," Defensor said. He said the "open line of communications" between Mrs. Arroyo and Villanueva would help of great the country because Bangon Pilipinas is an organization committed to moral recovery and values formation. "So it could be a tremendous help to the government in instituting reforms," he said.

Just last Saturday, Villanueva defended Mrs. Arroyo against criticisms arising from her decision to withdraw the remaining Filipino troops from Iraq. Through his spokesman Luis Sison, the television evangelist said the decision to pull out the RP contingent to save the life of De la Cruz was her most plausible "Christian move."

"It is a laudable move to save the life of Angelo de la Cruz," Sison said, quoting Villanueva. Defensor also said he hopes that the camp of Fernando Poe Jr. would follow the example of Villanueva and Bangon Pilipinas.

"Of course we would like to reach out to all," he said. "We’re still hoping and working to reach out to (Poe’s camp) so all of us can join hands because if we have unity, we can all work for a brighter future together," he said. Defensor said he does not know who from Mrs. Arroyo’s camp is negotiating with the group of Poe. Villanueva and Poe are the two remaining presidential candidates who have refused to concede to Mrs. Arroyo after Congress had proclaimed her as the winner in the May 10 presidential elections. Former education secretary Raul Roco and Sen. Panfilo Lacson were the first to recognize Mrs. Arroyo as the winner in the elections. — Marichu Villanueva

GMA showed courage, leadership in ordering Iraq pullout — Lakas lawmaker The Philippine Star 07/19/2004

Administration lawmakers said yesterday President Arroyo’s act of assuming full responsibility for the decision to pull out its peacekeeping forces from Iraq reflects her "courageous brand of leadership" amid international disappointment and local criticisms. Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay said it took courage for Mrs. Arroyo to decide for a pull out in an effort to stave off the execution of Filipino truck driver Angelo de la Cruz by Iraqi militants who took him hostage. Pichay said Mrs. Arroyo made the decision to save De la Cruz despite knowing this would trigger negative reactions from the United States and other nations actively involved in "coalition of the willing" in the occupation of Iraq.

"For this, the President once again exemplified real leadership which is standing by what is good for our people and our nation," Pichay said. "By not abandoning De la Cruz, the President has shown unity with our people and deep concern even for an ordinary citizen like De la Cruz or any other overseas Filipino worker for that matter whose life is at stake," he added. Pichay said Mrs. Arroyo’s proven leadership was one of the reasons for her electoral victory last May 10 and her decision for a pullout further justified her being given a six-year mandate.

"Her courage and wisdom earned her support and praise not only from her supporters but also from the opposition who have cited the need to rally behind her for such crucial decision to pullout earlier our troops," Pichay said.

For his part, Nueva Ecija Rep. Aurelio Umali said Mrs. Arroyo deserves praise rather than condemnation for her pullout decision for which she has assumed full responsibility. "Despite the unpopularity of her decision to the diplomatic community, especially the US, the President opted for an earlier pullout to save the life of De la Cruz. She did not give in to pressures and threats of diplomatic backlash. That is sheer courage," Umali said. Umali joined a number of sectors calling to support Mrs. Arroyo for her decision to pull out the small Philippine contingent from Iraq. He said the hostage taking is a "crucial time where the life of our countryman is at stake."

Compostela Valley Rep. Manuel "Way Kurat" Zamora said the people should keep faith for the immediate release of De la Cruz from his Iraqi captors. He cited the release of an Egyptian hostage yesterday after the departure of his Saudi employer from Iraq which he said "is a good sign the militants will honor their word to let go of De la Cruz after the pullout completion."  "We are confident the July 20 pullout deadline will be met by our government, paving the way for De la Cruz’s release," Zamora said.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan said the Philippines cannot afford to keep its international commitments such as deploying peace keeping forces in Iraq in the war against terror if it is unable to rally critical domestic support. "To be committed to the war on terror yet to have a different view of one’s engagement in Iraq are not mutually exclusive stand as certain sectors would want it to appear," he said. Pangilinan called on other allied nations for a deeper understanding and respect in Mrs. Arroyo’s decision since the hostage taking of De la Cruz presented a unique situation.

The Philippines has been criticized by its allies, including the United States, for withdrawing its peacekeeping contingent in Iraq earlier than planned after insurgents threatened to behead De la Cruz, whom they captured near Fallujah. Despite the disappointment expressed by US officials over the decision, US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone had expressed sympathy to Mrs. Arroyo. Ricciardone said Mrs. Arroyo had shown strength and compassion in her decision to pull out the 51 members of the peacekeeping force out of Iraq in an effort to save the life of a single Filipino. "It is a tough crisis and leaders are called upon in a crisis to do hard things and she has stood up, and she’s shown deep, deep care for this hostage, but also care for the country’s longer term interests," Ricciardone said. — Paolo Romero

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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