VATICAN CITY, April 9, 2005
(STAR) By Preciosa Soliven  —  President Arroyo paid tribute to Pope John Paul II for providing the moral impetus for the bloodless people power revolt that toppled the administration of her predecessor Joseph Estrada in January 2001.

The Pope, who died last weekend at 84, "had a very, very keen sense of understanding of what was happening in the Philippines," she told CNN when asked about the role the Vatican played in inspiring the military-backed uprising that toppled Estrada amid corruption charges.

"And (the Pope) was very encouraging towards me with regard to my taking steps to make sure that I would do what I could do in order to promote morality in Philippine society," the President said.

Mrs. Arroyo led the Filipino faithful who joined her in showing the love and respect of the nation yesterday to the late Pontiff in solemn interment ceremonies held at the courtyard of St. Peter’s Basilica here.

The President showed the warmth and affection of the Philippines along with millions of other mourners who braved the chilly morning breeze and brief rain showers yesterday morning in Vatican City.

Even as the skies drizzled, as if the heavens themselves were weeping for the passing of the much-loved Pope, John Paul seemingly worked his final miracle on his burial day as the skies cleared and the weather gradually cooperated.

During the CNN interview, senior correspondent Richard Quest noticed the pair of butterfly brooches Mrs. Arroyo was wearing.

The President said the butterflies represent "the souls of those who have just left us but are still with us, the good spirits, and Pope John Paul II is one such good spirit that is still with us."

Mrs. Arroyo last met the Pope in September 2003 during a state visit, when it was said she was guided into seeking a fresh mandate in last year’s presidential election.

She first met John Paul II in October 2000, when she was still vice president. It was at the height of the impeachment trial against Estrada.

Press Undersecretary Isabel de Leon, who joined Mrs. Arroyo’s first trip to the Vatican as a newspaper reporter then covering the Office of the Vice President, said the meeting took place after she attended the International Women’s Global Forum in Johannesburg, South Africa.

She said Mrs. Arroyo even asked her staff to look for a Catholic church in South Africa where she could pray for discernment. From Johannesburg, she sought a private audience with the Pope.

De Leon said when Mrs. Arroyo emerged from the meeting, "She looked so peaceful, happy and light." From the Vatican, Mrs. Arroyo proceeded to Turkey for the last leg of her trip, where she submitted her irrevocable resignation as Estrada’s social welfare secretary.

"It was after my conversation with the Pope, I finally found the – shall I describe it as courage or conviction – that I should make a break and join the bloodless revolution," Mrs. Arroyo said.

She came to power after Estrada was impeached by Congress in January 2001 and then deposed in a popular revolt. Estrada was accused of embezzling state funds and taking illegal kickbacks. He is currently on trial for plunder.

A similar church and military-backed popular revolt had unseated another corruption-tainted president, Ferdinand Marcos, in 1986.

The President and her five-man official delegation to the interment rites represented the Philippines, and were among the millions of people who took part in the two-hour long final rites.

Philippe Lhullier, Philippine ambassador to Italy, disclosed that there were about 3,500 Filipinos based in Italy out of 150,000 overseas Filipino workers in the whole of Europe.

On the eve of the Pope’s burial, the President joined the Filipino community in Italy in hearing the special Mass held at the Santa Maria Maggiore located near the St. Peter’s Basilica.

The special Mass was celebrated by the delegation of bishops led by Archbishop Fernando Capalla of Davao, Paciano Aniceto of Pampanga, Bishop Antonio Ledesma of Ipil, Zamboanga and Bishop Soc Villegas of Bataan.

In her extemporaneous remarks at the end of Mass Thursday night, Mrs. Arroyo recalled her last meeting with the Pope in September 2003 in which he expressed concern for the millions of Filipino migrant workers as well as the conflict in Mindanao. Home For Bataan Day

Arroyo, a devout Catholic who won a fresh six-year term in last year’s elections, had flown to Rome for the Pope’s funeral yesterday. She is expected to arrive in Manila at 10:30 a.m. today and lead the "Araw ng Kagitingan" celebration at Mt. Samat in Bataan.

She said the Pontiff had also played an important role in some key policy decisions she had made in her four-plus years in office.

She said the Pope put pressure on her government to refrain from imposing the death penalty on convicted criminals. Mrs. Arroyo suspended capital punishment soon after coming to power.

"He was very happy that I applied my deep Catholic ideals in government with regard to matters like the death penalty and also, you know, we have a law against divorce and preventing anything that has to do with abortion becoming part of the law," the President said.

Mrs. Arroyo said the late Pontiff told Philippine ambassador to the Vatican Leonida Vera that he was very happy the Philippines is led by a "very pious and religious and Church-abiding person."

Most of the Philippines’ 68 million Catholics support the church stand on issues like abortion, divorce, and birth control.

The President assured that as a good Catholic, she advocates natural family planning but does not impose it. Her population policy promotes informed choice and responsible parenthood.

"In other words, we are a democratic country and we try to (encourage) Filipino families and parents to practice responsible parenthood," she said.

The President joined the call made by local church leaders for the selection of another conservative pope. The College of Cardinals that will elect the new pope begin meeting on April 18.

"I have my great faith in the wisdom, the collective wisdom of the princes of the church that they will choose a pope who will carry on the important work of promoting morality in public life and in the private lives of people all over the world," she added. – With Paolo Romero, AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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