MANILA,  October 21, 2004
By Marichu Villanueva - President Arroyo chose to commemorate history rather than be part of it.

Mrs. Arroyo skipped the inaugural yesterday of Indonesian President-elect Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Leyte Gulf landing.

Yudhoyono won a landslide victory over re-electionist Megawati Sukarnoputri in Indonesia’s first direct presidential elections last Sept. 20.

In the opening of her speech in Leyte, the President said she had dispatched Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo to represent her at Yudhoyono’s inaugural.

"Secretary Bert Romulo was supposed to introduce me but I sent him to Indonesia," she said. "I cannot go to Indonesia because this is a very important time in our country’s history."

But in her Malacañang message, Mrs. Arroyo expressed optimism that the country’s good relations with its neighbor will continue under Yudhoyono.

"He leads at a time of crisis and opportunity in Indonesia, and we are confident that he will wield a firm hand to unify his people on the road to stability and progress," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo acknowledged Indonesia’s contributions to "security and progress" in Southeast Asia, especially in "the fight against terror."

"I am also hopeful that (Yudhoyono) will sustain Indonesia’s durable support for peace in Mindanao," she said.

Yudhoyono has a Philippine connection in Army commander Lt. Gen. Efren Abu, who was appointed last Tuesday as the new Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff.

Yudhoyono and Abu both attended the army staff college at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Abu replaces Gen. Narciso Abaya, who is stepping down on Oct. 29 when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 56.

In Leyte Mrs. Arroyo gave her audience a capsule lesson on the history behind yesterday’s rites.

"Sixty years ago today, the largest naval battle in the Pacific was fought and won here in Leyte. It marked the beginning of the end of the war in our shores," she said.

One of the principal figures immortalized in photographs and film footage of the Leyte landing was former foreign secretary Carlos P. Romulo, who Mrs. Arroyo described as her godfather.

The late Romulo, an uncle of the incumbent foreign secretary, is the young Filipino military officer shown in photographs wading ashore with Gen. Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander of the Allied Forces in the Pacific.

Brass statues of MacArthur and Romulo have been erected at the landing site now known as the MacArthur Landing Memorial.

Mrs. Arroyo told her audience – which included members of the diplomatic corps led by US ambassador Francis Ricciardone, former first lady Imelda Marcos, and war veterans from the Philippines, Japan, Australia and New Zealand – that she had chosen to tone down what could have been a more "grandiose celebration" because of the country’s fiscal situation.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved