MANILA, June 29, 2005
(STAR) By Des Ferriols - President Arroyo will meet with the business community today for the first time since her public admission and apology last Monday concerning her wiretapped conversations with an election official.

Mrs. Arroyo is expected to assure businessmen that she remains focused on her job and is committed to fully carry out her economic recovery efforts, particularly to wipe out the chronic budget deficit.

The meeting was scheduled in the midst of reports that businessmen wanted Mrs. Arroyo to send her husband Jose Miguel Arroyo out of the country and order her son, Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel "Mikey" Arroyo, to take a leave of absence for at least a year from the House of Representatives.

The luncheon meeting will be held at the Manila Polo Club in Makati City. Mrs. Arroyo will be accompanied by key members of her economic team led by Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima.

Mrs. Arroyo is also expected to brief the gathering of some 200 businessmen about her administration’s accomplishments in the past 12 months.

She has taken pride in the budget surplus posted in April, the first monthly surplus in four years as a result of her fiscal reforms and belt-tightening measures.

Exports grew 8.8 percent to $3.2 billion in April from its previous month level, according to official figures, while the government reported that over a million jobs were created in the first six months of the year.

According to presidential assistant spokeswoman Corazon Guidote, today’s meeting was set to give businessmen the opportunity to discuss their concerns directly with the President.

"It will be a private meeting between the president and the leaders of the business community," Guidote said. "Hopefully it will clear the air once and for all so we can move on."

Certain members of Mrs. Arroyo’s Cabinet were reportedly instrumental in her decision to make the public statement on Monday night where the president owned up to a "lapse in judgment" during the 2004 presidential elections.

Guidote declined to comment but according to cabinet sources, members of the cabinet met on Saturday and came up with a set of recommendations that also echoed the recommendations made by the business community.

Present in the meeting were senior Cabinet members led by Purisima, Budget Secretary Emilia Boncodin, Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla, Education Secretary Florencio Abad, Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas, Science Secretary Estrella Alabastro and Palace communications director Silvestre Afable.

After the meeting, sources said, the group made a presentation to Mrs. Arroyo recommending, among other things, that she make an open statement to address the wiretap issue instead of ignoring the controversy.

The group also reportedly echoed the recommendations of the business community for Mrs. Arroyo to dissociate herself from her husband and son while also removing all government appointees identified with the First Gentleman.

According to a source, the cabinet members in the Saturday meeting made the "presentation as a collegial body."

"It was a clear and honest presentation of public perception and what their respective constituencies believed was the best thing to do," the source said.

"In fairness to the President, she listened to her cabinet because they are in the core of her economic reform agenda. In turn, the cabinet just made recommendations also derived from what was said by their constituencies."

Boncodin confirmed the Saturday meeting but she said the group did not presume to make any recommendation to Mrs. Arroyo in relation to the Monday statement on national television.

"I arrived late towards the end of the meeting but as far as I know, it was just an informal gathering," Boncodin said. "We can not claim credit for recommending that the President make the statement that she did on Monday night."

However, Boncodin said the decision was "the right thing to do" since it would put the issue at rest.

"In my view, it was a no-win situation for her so she might as well do the right thing because either way she was going to be hit by something," she said.

Boncodin noted that the government’s fiscal consolidation program should not be derailed by controversies at a time when investors have started to show renewed interest in the country following the key economic reforms so far put in place.

According to Boncodin, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had made a glowing report on the Philippines after its recent consultation with Philippine officials.

"In all my years in government, that was the best IMF report I have ever seen," Boncodin said. "It was so short because they had nothing alarming to say!"

Purisima made a similar statement, saying that Mrs. Arroyo’s admission of a lapse in judgment and her decision to take responsibility was a "courageous move."

"Now we must seize this opportunity to move forward," Purisima said. "We should use the gains we have accomplished to propel us towards more reforms."

Meanwhile, the Makati Business Club (MBC) yesterday stressed the need for "due process and the rule of law" to prevail following Mrs. Arroyo’s admission.

MBC executive director Guillermo Luz said the admission is a "significant" step which should now be followed by a "legal and constitutional process."

Luz assured that Mrs. Arroyo’s admission will not hurt the economy so long as due process and the rule of law prevails. "Any process outside of that may be more dangerous."

The legal process, Luz said, may involve possible impeachment, although some sectors believe that it may be entirely "feasible."

He said Mrs. Arroyo’s admission also set a "clear line in the sand" with regard to proper and improper behavior for government officials. This incident emphasized the need for more "transparency and accountability for all government officials."

The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) was more supportive of Mrs. Arroyo.

PCCI president Donald Dee reiterated the business community’s support for Mrs. Arroyo as the "duly-elected president of the country."

Dee said her admission was "very positive" and should enable the country to move on. It also showed to the international community that "we are a very rational people capable of solving our own problems."

Ismael Cruz, a former director in the Philippine Stock Exchange, is confident that "positive economic fundamentals will prevail over negative political settings," citing the stock market’s performance in the past days.

"There is no panic. Everything is calm and composed. The peso is stable and there was even foreign buying. It’s a wait-and-see move." — With Marianne Go, Aurea Calica, Michael Punongbayan

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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