MANILA, August 10, 2005
(STAR) By Paolo Romero - Malacañang expressed confidence yesterday that the public would no longer be swayed by new witnesses in the jueteng controversy despite a nationwide survey showing that eight out of 10 Filipinos believe some members of the First Family have benefited from illegal gambling operations in the country.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said the Pulse Asia survey, conducted from July 2 to 14, was taken before key witnesses in a Senate inquiry into the matter started to "expose the politicking and smear tactics behind the jueteng issue."

"We are confident that the public is now aware of the truth. I think the number of people who believe that some members of the First Family are involved in jueteng will go down," Bunye said, adding that the people are already fed up with the jueteng issue.

After calling the jueteng allegations against the First Family a "dead issue" on Monday, Bunye sought to bury the topic, saying the issue is now "double dead" and will soon be "six feet under."

"The President’s detractors can now close down their ‘witness academy’ because their graduates have miserably failed the truth and credibility tests," he said.

So far, none of the witnesses paraded by the opposition have given any credible evidence against Mrs. Arroyo and her family members, he said.

The disclosures of two key witnesses — Richard Garcia and Demosthenes Abraham Riva — that they were pressured by the opposition to involve Mrs. Arroyo’s family in jueteng revealed the true intention behind the hearings was to destabilize the government, Bunye said.

On the reported surprise witnesses to be presented by the opposition, including an Army captain and a member of the Presidential Security Group (PSG), Bunye said their statements would no longer have any material effect on the Senate inquiry as some of the whistle-blowers have already cleared the First Family.

He said the Armed Forces have their own system in place to deal with the political activities of active military officials.

PSG chief Brig. Gen. Delfin Bangit told The Star that none of his men or women would testify against Mrs. Arroyo.

"We belong to a very professional organization. None of our personnel are involved in unscrupulous activities and we do not tolerate the same," Bangit said. "We limit our job to protecting the President, her family and the seat of government."

Secretary to the Cabinet Ricardo Saludo said Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz is right in rigorously screening future witnesses.

"Strict witness screening and due process will counter black propaganda and bring out the real truth," Saludo said.

Meanwhile, a staunch ally of the President in Congress urged the people to be more objective and give the President her constitutional right to due process in the impeachment case.

"It is a constitutional right guaranteed for every Filipino and the President is no different," Parañaque Rep. Eduardo Zialcita, chairman of the House committee on housing and urban development, said.

Mike A goes back to exile today The Philippine Star 08/10/2005

First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo is leaving again for the United States this morning, claiming his continued exile would help protect President Arroyo and the First Family from "vicious political attacks."

The First Gentleman is taking a 5:30 a.m. Philippine Airlines flight PR 104 to San Francisco, and hopes his exit will end speculations about whether he planned to resume his exile after returning here last July 31 to attend the burial of a sister.

Arroyo and his son, Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel "Mikey" Arroyo, left the country last June 29 to ease public criticism of the First Family brought about by an ongoing jueteng scandal. Mrs. Arroyo also suspended her husband’s charity operations, which had become a magnet for controversy and criticism.

The latest exodus was apparently Mrs. Arroyo’s idea.

"She (Mrs. Arroyo) told me the other day that I have to leave very soon. So I decided to leave tomorrow," Arroyo said in a telephone interview.

He clarified, however, that the indefinite leave taken by he and his son was not an exile but "a withdrawal and sacrifice" to protect the family from further political controversy.

Mr. Arroyo arrived last July 31 to bury his eldest half-sister, Rosario Tuason Matute Llora. His time here since, he said, was spent with the family and meeting with relatives. Malacañang officials had said the First Gentleman would leave shortly after the burial last Aug. 1.

The First Gentleman lamented that he and the President were not able to celebrate their 37th wedding anniversary last Aug. 1. He also dismissed rumors that he might have had a hand in recent retractions by witnesses against the First Family in the jueteng controversy, saying: "I think that’s just too much."

"I came home to grieve and bury my sister," Mr. Arroyo said.

In a press briefing at Malacañang, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said that despite the retraction of testimonies of two anti-Arroyo witnesses, the First Gentleman and his son are likely to remain abroad.

He said he was saddened by the various charity work and sports programs halted due to the controversy.

Mr. Arroyo said even his project to provide free dentures to military and police personnel was turned into a political issue by the opposition. He said perhaps the indigent patients should now go to his critics for help.

"Never mind the dentures, but what about those (patients) whom we promised corneal transplants, cataract operations, and even kidney patients who have life-threatening conditions?" he said.

Mr. Arroyo’s chief of staff, Juris Soliman, said more than 40 kidney and cancer patients who were scheduled for operations to be funded by their office are now uncertain as to how they will receive treatment.

"If they want to attack me, they can do so but they should not include my charitable activities. They should not impute any malice to them because many poor people with serious ailments are being deprived of assistance," the First Gentleman said. — Paolo Romero, Rainier Allan Ronda

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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