MANILA,  November 13, 2004
By Marichu Villanueva - The country can only pray that while she’s away, troublemakers won’t come out to play.

President Arroyo will be out of the country for at least eight days — her longest absence ever from Malacañang — when she attends this year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Santiago, Chile, from Nov. 19 to 22.

In his regular media briefing yesterday, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo had again designated Vice President Noli de Castro as government "caretaker" during her absence.

"She will be out for about eight working, or eight calendar days. In the meantime, the President will designate Vice President Noli de Castro as caretaker, as she has done before in her previous trips," Bunye said.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita squelched suggestions that coup rumors might force Mrs. Arroyo to cut short her scheduled trip.

He spoke of the President’s confidence in the professionalism and loyalty to the chain of command of the leaders of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Efren Abu and Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Edgar Aglipay.

The APEC trip will be Mrs. Arroyo’s longest period of being out of the country since she first assumed office in January 2001.

Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo will make side trips to California and Mexico, before and after the APEC summit.

She is expected to return from her penultimate foreign trip for the year on Nov. 26, via a flight from Los Angeles to Manila.

But a few days after her arrival, Mrs. Arroyo is scheduled to leave again for her last foreign trip for the year. She will fly to Laos for an informal meeting with leaders of the ten states that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Nov. 29 and 30.

While the details of the APEC trip are "still a work in progress," Bunye sees bilateral meetings taking place in the sidelines of the summit, including one with re-elected US President George W. Bush.

"During the APEC conference, the President will have some bilateral meetings with some of the heads of the 21 economies, and we’re anticipating a meeting between (Mrs. Arroyo) and President Bush," he said.

Bunye said the meeting between the two estranged allies in the war against terrorism was confirmed by no less than US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone during a recent dinner hosted by STAR publisher Max Soliven.

But Bunye could only speculate what the two leaders would take up in their discussion.

The STAR learned that in line with her self-imposed austerity program, Mrs. Arroyo will take a regular commercial flight on Nov. 17.

The flight will take her to San Francisco, California, where she is to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of San Francisco.

During the ceremony, Mrs. Arroyo will deliver a policy speech on the future of Philippines-US relations.

From California Mrs. Arroyo and her small party — including Bunye and First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo — will take a chartered Lear jet flight to Santiago, Chile for the APEC summit.

After the APEC summit, Mrs. Arroyo will fly to Mexico for a brief working visit on the invitation of President Vicente Fox.

Bunye said the bilateral meeting between the leaders of the two former Spanish colonies will coincide with the "anniversary of the Manila—Acapulco galleon trade."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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