MANILA, June 30, 2005
(STAR) All for the love of his wife.

First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo said he would do anything — even if it means going away for a while — to avoid becoming a "distraction" to his wife, who is grappling with the most serious crisis to threaten her presidency.

"I love my wife very much. It has been difficult for me to see her suffer through the negative press I have received," he said in a one-paragraph statement.

"If there is anything I can do, any sacrifice I can make, to get her peace of mind, I would never hesitate to do it. That is why I have offered to leave. Being away from my wife and my family is a very painful decision."

Arroyo did not say where he would be going or how long he would be in foreign exile.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said Arroyo might leave on July 6.

Bunye denied earlier reports that the President wanted her husband and eldest son, Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel "Mikey" Arroyo, to go into foreign exile to defuse the political tension between Malacañang and the political opposition allied with former President Joseph Estrada.

Mikey Arroyo and Mrs. Arroyo’s brother-in-law, Negros Occidental Rep. Ignacio Arroyo are facing allegations that they took payoffs from jueteng operators.

Bunye said it was a "family decision" over which the President’s Cabinet no longer had a say and that it was an "incomparable and unprecedented sacrifice" for the Arroyo family.

Bunye said Arroyo would not become an ambassador-at-large but would just disappear from the public arena and be removed from any intrigue that could undermine his wife’s presidency.

"He is doing this so the President can concentrate on her governance. We have to defuse the tension, avoid intrigues so we can have clear direction as to where the country should be going."

Veteran actress Susan Roces, widow of action star Fernando Poe Jr., made no comment on the First Gentleman’s decision to leave the country.

"That is the personal decision of the couple. As for my marriage, I wouldn’t agree to it," she told a press conference. "I’m not privy to their relationship."

Mrs. Arroyo won a narrow victory over Poe, the opposition frontrunner in last year’s presidential election. Poe had accused Mrs. Arroyo of cheating and lodged a complaint.

His electoral protest was dismissed by the Supreme Court shortly after Poe died of a stroke in December.

Mrs. Arroyo made the announcement about her husband’s decision to go into foreign exile at the Philippine Business Leaders Forum at the Manila Polo Club in Makati City to assure businessmen that her administration’s economic recovery efforts remain on track.

It was the first time for her to meet with the business community since her public admission and apology last Monday over improper phone calls to an election official which she described as a clumsy bid to protect her vote amid a slow count.

For his part, Mr. Arroyo said the decision was a difficult one.

"I cannot imagine a life without my wife beside me," he said. "She is my life and my heart."

Although the media each year covers the First Gentleman giving his wife red roses on their wedding anniversary, there have long been rumors that the two are estranged.

But Mrs. Arroyo has always maintained they are happy together.

"Plenty," the President told a room of guffawing journalists in 2003 when asked if she got much sex.

"But please make foreign policy the headline."

Optimists had hoped Mrs. Arroyo, barred by the Constitution from another term, would embark without fear on programs to crack down on corruption and ease entrenched poverty that feeds social division and insurgencies by communist and Muslim rebels.

But economists gave her a mixed report card for tax reforms after she compromised in the face of opposition from lawmakers.

The President, an admirer of Britain’s former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, is undeniably a hard worker. A devout Roman Catholic in a country of Catholics, she goes to Mass every day and says God is her best friend.

"Faith and trust in divine providence," she told Time magazine in a recent interview when asked what kept her going.

"Being a president is a lonely job."

‘Good for business’

Businessmen gave the President a standing ovation after her speech.

Forum chairman Michael Clancy, Hong Kong Corporate Network director Graeme Maxton and Philippine Chamber of Commerce chairman Miguel Varela said Mrs. Arroyo’s announcement showed her resolve to do her job.

"Her move makes sense… she has done what she feels has to be done," Clancy told reporters. "I think President Arroyo is a woman who is prepared to make tough decisions, who is prepared to make tough calls and she has demonstrated that today and you guys should be thankful for that."

Clancy said political disturbances had always been a problem in the Philippines and it was good the President had the right priorities — God, country and family.

"I think her commitment to all three is high," he said, adding it was clear that the President was trying to make the country move forward despite political opposition attacks on her and her family.

He dismissed observations that Mrs. Arroyo’s announcement was a sign of weakness, although she had been very emotional during the announcement.

"Certainly, it had an effect on me in a sense," Clancy said. He noted the decision was surely "geared to win sympathy for her" and it did. But he said it was a sincere speech nonetheless.

Maxton said Mrs. Arroyo appeared to be fit and ready to institute much-awaited reforms for the Philippines.

Maxton noted Asian Development Bank president Haruhiko Kuroda mentioned the Philippines’ need to meet the challenges and competition posed by other countries.

He cited the surge in oil prices and the prospects of declining exports to the United States and China.

Maxton said policies were in place and the President seemed able to manage the country.

He said Mrs. Arroyo’s commitment to economic reforms and "deep change" was proven when she announced her husband was leaving.

"(That is) part of that personal commitment. On a personal note, I wish her the very best, for her family under these difficult times," Maxton said.

Varela said it was a very difficult decision to be separated from loved ones but the President had to do it.

"It may not have answered all the issues," Varela said, but at least Mrs. Arroyo showed she was serious and wanted to focus on her governance.

"I think it’s a sincere effort on her part," he said. Varela added the allegations against her and her family must be resolved through legal means.

National Economic and Development Authority director—general Romulo Neri said he and some other officials were not aware of the President’s announcement beforehand.

"It’s a big personal sacrifice, we have to give her credit for that. (It’s a) personal decision after deep soul-searching," he said.

One of Mrs. Arroyo’s economic advisers, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, said the First Gentleman’s departure is the "first of difficult personal choices" the President must make "for the country to quickly transcend the present political turmoil brought by the issues raised by the opposition."

"I think the people can expect the President to make profound changes in the coming days. Mark my words, she will be making major announcements on a regular basis on drastic reforms in governance, and these pronouncements will be embedded with firm and quick action," the former stock market analyst predicted.

Senate President Franklin Drilon, a close Arroyo ally, said the "best defense of President Arroyo against her critics is good governance and doing the right things for the good of the country."

"If she believes that allowing her husband to leave the country at this critical stage will help her provide good governance, then I applaud her for making such an enormous sacrifice in her family. Her decision only shows the extent of her determination to fulfill her mandate as president of the country," Drilon said.

"It was a very difficult decision for Mike Arroyo now that his wife is in crisis. This clears the air for the President to be able to focus on governance and the case that may be filed against her," said Sen. Richard Gordon, referring to Mrs. Arroyo’s admission last Monday that she made improper phone calls to an election official during last year’s presidential vote count.

Local government officials praised Mrs. Arroyo’s decision to let her husband go into exile. "President Arroyo is putting the presidency and the interests of our country above everything else, even sacrificing her need to seek solace from her husband, a reliable pillar of her family, which is her primary source of support in times of crisis," the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines, the country’s umbrella group of local government units, said in a statement. — With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Christina Mendez

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved