MANILA, December 11, 2004
(STAR) By Marichu Villanueva - Three-year-old Estella Marie Sor, one of four people who miraculously survived 10 days trapped under a building crushed by a landslide in Real, Quezon, will be a special guest at a Christmas party for indigent children to be held at Malacañang.

First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, who will play Santa Claus at the party, will send his family-owned helicopter to fetch her. He added, however, that he will be guided by doctor’s advice if Estella Marie can already be taken for a chopper ride by Dec. 23, when the party will be held.

While not known to many, Mr. Arroyo has lent out his helicopter to augment rescue and relief operations for landslide and typhoon victims in the provinces of Quezon and Aurora.

Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Corazon Soliman said yesterday they have been using the First Gentleman’s chopper to go back and forth between Manila and disaster-stricken areas in Luzon.

Soliman said she took the chopper when she joined President Arroyo last Thursday when they flew to the Lucena provincial hospital to visit Estella Marie, her grandmother Maria Luba, and two teenagers, Modesto Manoguid and Ian Carl Bungat.

Estella Marie’s mother was among those killed when the building collapsed last Nov. 30, burying about 120 people who sought refuge during the height of typhoon "Winnie."

Soliman said the President gave each of the four survivors P10,000 in cash "for starters," to answer their immediate needs.

The DSWD is preparing the possible adoption of Manoguid, whose parents are still missing and believed to have been buried under the rubble, according to Soliman.

She added that Bungat still has his father, a soldier, to take care of him but the DSWD will also give them further assistance.

The First Gentleman said he was overwhelmed by the private sector’s response to a story in The STAR that came out yesterday about his launching the "Share-a-Toy" project for indigent children.

"The businessmen kept calling me and my office (to see) how they can help or join in this project," he said.

The STAR interviewed Mr. Arroyo at Malacañang while he gave a guided tour of the Palace to Ho Ching Lee, the wife of visiting Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who arrived here for a state visit.

The Christmas party will be hosted by his two granddaughters, two-year-old Mikaela Gloria "Mika" Arroyo and Eva Victoria "Eve" Arroyo. It will be held on the grounds of the New Executive Building at Malacañang.

Mika is the firstborn of Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo and his wife Angelica, while 10-month-old Eve is the firstborn of the First Couple’s younger son Diosdado Arroyo and his wife Victoria.

The First Couple’s two granddaughters will lead the culmination of the project, in which children aged from three to 12 years from well-to-do families will give their extra toys as Christmas gifts to indigent children at the party.

Mr. Arroyo said his staff at the Office of the First Gentleman has started sending solicitation letters inviting well-to-do families to join the Share-a-Toy project in the spirit of Christmas.

The First Gentleman said the letters were sent to families living in posh, exclusive villages all over Metro Manila — from Bel-Air and Forbes in Makati City to their own family’s neighborhood in La Vista, Quezon City.

Mr. Arroyo said he targets at least 1,000 children from well-to-do families will donate brand new toys or extra toys they have not yet played with to children from indigent families, who reside in various depressed areas in Metro Manila.

He added that he is also thinking of bringing some of the children from families displaced by landslides and flashfloods brought by recent typhoons.

Meanwhile, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the 1,500 Malacañang employees working at the Office of the President told him they will forgo their Christmas party for this year and instead donate the funds earmarked for the party to the typhoon victims.

Ermita told The STAR that as much at P700,000 has been earmarked in the OP’s budget. This amount will be turned over to the National Disaster Coordinating Council to help augment the depleted calamity funds for the government’s relief and rehabilitation efforts.

"The Malacañang employees have told me they would just hold a Mass for everybody and if some offices would proceed with their own Christmas party, they would just have potluck among themselves," he said.

Ermita said the President greatly appreciated this gesture from the OP employees. He added there is no need to issue presidential directives to follow the example set by OP employees, saying he prefers to leave it to the government workers themselves to decide how they will spend their Christmas party funds in the light of the government’s fiscal situation.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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