MANILA,  October 13, 2004
By Marichu Villanueva - Journalists in RP an endangered species, Arroyo says.

If Filipino journalists are an "endangered species," at least they can take comfort they won’t go the way of the dinosaur.

President Arroyo was a no-show at the "Gridiron Night" held Monday at the Manila Hotel. But that didn’t stop her from delivering her response to the roasting she got from members of the National Press Club (NPC), organizers of the annual affair intended to poke fun at the failings, imagined or otherwise, of the nation’s top public officials.

Mrs. Arroyo sent Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye to deliver her speech and represent her in the P5,000 a plate fund-raising dinner where government and private offices were asked to sponsor a table of as many as 10 people.

"I just could not believe what I heard about our newsmen being an endangered species. For as long as they can keep their sense of humor, I firmly believe that they will not only survive but will outlive even the ancient crocodile," she said.

Presidential appointments secretary Marilou Frostrom said "conflict of schedule" prevented Mrs. Arroyo from attending the Gridiron.

But other Palace sources intimated to The STAR that Mrs. Arroyo snubbed the affair for the first time because of her displeasure over the failure of the NPC to account for the pair of P1-million donations she gave in 2002 and in 2003 to facilitate its financial rehabilitation.

The NPC had twice postponed the Gridiron because of Mrs. Arroyo’s unavailability as the affair’s traditional guest of honor.

In the speech Bunye read, Mrs. Arroyo lamented that her relations with the press during her first 100 days in office were "short of being a honeymoon."

"The first 100 days of my administration have come and gone, but I have to remind you before this night is over, that we have yet to have our honeymoon," she said.

Traditionally, the press gives each president a "honeymoon" period where criticism is toned down to give her a "window" to put her new government in order.

While she insisted that she had no "quarrel" with the press, Mrs. Arroyo renewed her appeal for vigilance against "self-serving interests" that try to "mislead the people with lies dressed as legitimate news."

Titled "OPM (Oh Promise Me)," this year’s Gridiron was a take-off on the May 10 presidential elections. It was directed by Jake de Asis from a script written by Henry Lopez, head writer of the "Wow Mali" comedy show of ABC-Channel 5.

Former reporter, now public relations practitioner Annie Laborte led a cast of acting wannabees from the press in her role as "President Arroyo."

The one-hour show started with a chorus singing the children’s nursery rhyme "Ten Little Indians" in spoof of the "10-point legacy" agenda Mrs. Arroyo promised to implement under her new term.

"I maybe maliit (small), but I’m not Indyan," Laborte’s character sang in the number.

In Tagalog, the word "indyan" is slang for a person who fails to show up for an appointment, a possible reference to Mrs. Arroyo non-appearance at the Gridiron.

Since she took office in January 2001, Mrs. Arroyo and her husband Jose Miguel Arroyo had yet to miss the roasting by irreverent journalists who would spoof in song and dance the most controversial personalities and issues of the day.

While known for her public displays of temper, Mrs. Arroyo had gamely sat through past programs despite the biting and sometimes personal attacks on her and members of her family.

One former president, Fidel Ramos did make an appearance as one of the guests who joined Bunye at the presidential table, along with NPC officials led by president Antonio Antonio.

The only other president who stood up a Gridiron Night was former President Joseph Estrada, who in 1999 sent then press secretary Rodolfo Reyes to represent him. Estrada justified his absence on his sympathy for the striking employees of the Manila Hotel, the venue of the NPC affair.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved