, February 15, 2005
(STAR) By Marichu Villanueva  -  The First Couple celebrated Valentine’s Day yesterday with a gift that shows "greater love than romantic love."

In ceremonies at Malacañang, President Arroyo and First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo formally turned over P500,000 worth of Paulowina seedlings to Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Michael Defensor and National Resources Development Corp. (NRDC) chairman retired Gen. Victor Corpus.

"This Valentine’s Day, the President and I would like to give a gift that would show a love greater than romantic love," the First Gentleman said at the launch of the "Puno ng Buhay" reforestation project.

"These seeds represent a gift of love for country, for the earth and for the next generation," he said. "Hopefully, these seeds will blossom into beautiful trees for everyone."

Mr. Arroyo said he and the President decided to shell out the money for purchasing the seedlings from their personal funds because they believe this is a gift that will benefit the future generation of Filipinos, including their granddaughters Gloria Mikaela and Eva Victoria.

Gloria Mikaela is the two-year-old daughter of the First Couple’s elder son Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo and Eva Victoria is the daughter of their younger son Diosdado Ignacio.

Through the Puno ng Buhay program, Mr. Arroyo hopes to help bring to fruition the President’s dream of bringing back the glory of the country’s forests.

Last month, Mr. Arroyo and Corpus visited China to purchase the seedlings of the Paulowina tree, which is considered a "wonder tree" extensively used for inter-cropping and agro-forestry.

He had ordered 100 million seeds — the first delivery of which was 20 million seeds. The Paulowina tree is suited to Philippine weather conditions and soil and is known for its ability to prevent soil erosion.

These trees can grow to the height of a two-story house within five years. Its leaves are edible, with a taste comparable to the local leafy vegetable alugbati, and can be used in herbal medicine and as an animal feed.

Besides the Paulowina seeds, the First Gentleman said his foundation has already made the down payment on the purchase of Chinese bamboo seedlings to support the President’s reforestation program.

In a more romantic note, the First Gentleman presented the President with a dozen roses — 11 red blooms surrounding a single white rose.

Each year for the last 36 years, Mr. Arroyo has presented a similar bouquet to his wife, a tradition that began while he was courting her.

Mr. Arroyo said he gave Mrs. Arroyo the bouquet "this morning and tonight at our dinner, I will give her two red (roses) and one white rose."

As is tradition for the First Family, they will have a Valentine’s dinner at the Prince Albert restaurant in the Hotel Intercontinental in Makati City, he added.

Mr. Arroyo also gave his wife a pair of earrings, and sang a few lines from a love song: "It’s in her ears, which I hope she will wear tonight."

He said the President gifted him with a new barong designed by Pitoy Moreno, who had to fit the First Gentleman anew "because I have lost a lot of weight and many of my barongs are too big for me now."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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