HUMBLER, MORE TOLERANT  GMA APPEARS  BEFORE  PALACE  PRESS  CORPS

MANILA
, July 28, 2005
(STAR) By Aurea Calica - Amid the worst political crisis to hit her administration, a humbler, more tolerant and cooler-headed President Arroyo faced Palace reporters yesterday to say she was ready to sacrifice even her own feelings to move the country forward.

The "new" Mrs. Arroyo appeared relaxed, even laid-back, throughout the 30-minute interview, during which nary a trace of the famed "Taray Queen" behavior was in evidence. The President earned this nickname because of her occasional haughtiness in answering reporters’ questions.

Dressed in a light blue suit, she looked refreshed, a marked change from appearances in the past, when no amount of makeup could hide her eye bags.

Mrs. Arroyo remained seated throughout her engagement with Palace reporters, laughing occasionally and expressing thanks to God for her continued political survival: "It’s not because we are worthy but because God is good."

This was the first time the President met with the press face-to-face since the controversy erupted in June over her wiretapped conversations with a man believed to be former elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano.

She has since apologized for calling the election official but denied rigging election results to ensure her victory.

Asked how she felt about the resignation of the "Hyatt 10," the group of Cabinet members who — along with former President Corazon Aquino, a faction of the Liberal Party led by Senate President Franklin Drilon, officers of the Makati Business Club and other groups — asked her to resign, the President said she had moved on and was grateful that her new appointments were received well by the financial market and had "hit the ground running."

During the press briefing, however, the President made no direct references to the impeachment complaint filed against her, the truth commission she had proposed to look into allegations that she rigged the 2004 elections or whether she would be willing to leave office early in favor of fresh elections should Congress push through with Charter change.

Action, Not Feelings

"It’s not my feelings that matter," she said. "The important thing is what we do to move on."

The President said she would stick to vital issues and refrain from making personal attacks against the opposition and others who have asked her to resign, acknowledging the fact that they, too, were concerned for the country’s welfare.

"They have cornered negativism and that has become their niche," the President said of her critics. "I have to move on. We have an economy to run and we have a system to transform."

The President said she is still focused and is telling her detractors that "I have a plan. They don’t have a plan."

"I think that my plan on the economic field is poised to bring about results, even the market is anticipating that. But our politics is something that we have to reform," she said.

"My feelings are not important. I did not become President to enjoy myself," she said when asked how she was coping with the political problems besetting her administration. "My father told me that, as president, you should be ready to sacrifice. I’m ready to sacrifice."

She said she still respected "as individuals" those who had turned against her, but is especially grateful for the support of former President Fidel Ramos.

She lauded Ramos for his "strategic outlook" regarding the economy and Philippine society.

"If you notice, I did not attack the other side. I kept my peace. I believe that everybody cares about what’s good for the country," she said, expressing hope that, "while there are differences of opinion on how to promote the good of the country, everyone would agree to minimize the collateral damage to the Philippines, (which is) poised for takeoff as we fix the deteriorating political system."

After the press conference, the President gamely posed for photos with members of the Palace press corps as well as Malacañang officials and staff.

Too Good To Be True?

For some members of the press, however, the "new" President Arroyo was "too good to be true."

Mrs. Arroyo herself heard some journalists complaining that they were not given the opportunity to ask questions. Some said the treatment of reporters covering the briefing was "unfair" and complained that it had been "stage-managed."

These disgruntled journalists said the Office of the Press Secretary selected representatives from the media who were perceived to be supportive of the Arroyo administration.

They also said the conference was meant to project a "new image" of the President at the expense of the media, so the questions were limited to prevent Mrs. Arroyo from getting irked.

They said the President must improve her image amid plunging popularity and the political crisis triggered by the impeachment case filed against her for allegedly cheating in the last elections and allegedly anomalous deals made by members of her administration.

Some members of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) also assailed the decision of the OPS to bar them from attending the press conference even though they had been there early and were not told they could not participate.

But the OPS said the FOCAP was not invited in the first place, as the affair was exclusively for the Malacañang Press Corps.

This, however, was not clearly explained to the FOCAP the day before the press conference, when the OPS asked the reporters to submit their names and their topics for when they would be called during the press interaction.

At least 10 FOCAP members were told to leave the meeting room and several others were barred from entering. They were taken to another room where they watched the briefing on television.

FOCAP president Karl Wilson sent Malacañang a letter expressing his disappointment: "This being the President’s first press conference since the political crisis began in early June, I would have thought it warranted maximum exposure both locally and internationally." — With Artemio Dumlao, AP


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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