, October 27, 2005
(STAR) By Paolo Romero -Yet again, the olive branch is offered in the hopes that it will bear fruit.

In what could be seen as an offer to share power with the opposition and reduce attacks against her, President Arroyo announced yesterday that she is beginning talks with political leaders for them to "share in public leadership and responsibility" to form a government of national unity.

In her speech at the grand opening of the Hilton Cebu Resort and Spa here, the President immediately clarified that her offer was not a power-sharing scheme, nor was it meant to please the opposition.

"To strengthen our republic, of course, means not only muscle. It may be establishing a government of national unity — and to do this, I shall initiate consultations on this," Mrs. Arroyo said.

"The proposal of the government of national unity is not meant to please the opposition, but to consolidate the nation behind our economic takeoff," she clarified.

Mrs. Arroyo added: "They (the opposition) talk about rejecting power-sharing, this is not power-sharing… it’s sharing the public leadership and responsibility for the common good."

Mrs. Arroyo said power sharing is only applicable under a parliamentary form of government, which has yet to be put in place.

Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Michael Defensor is one of the Cabinet members spearheading the current reconciliation efforts. He said opposition members will be offered Cabinet and other official posts to allow them to actually participate in governance and, concurrently, be accountable to the people.

"In a parliamentary system, there is power-sharing," he said. "In this particular case... the President... doesn’t have to share (power), but here there is accountability and responsibility by appointing people to the Cabinet," Defensor said.

He said the offer of posts to the opposition was not a sign of surrender from Mrs. Arroyo, who has been battered by political attacks over the past several months.

Nor does the offer mean the administration is "waving the white flag," he said. "It’s not only a show of humility, but (it is an example of) the brand and kind of leadership (espoused by) the President."

He added his observation that "the President also saw that she needed to do something to unify the leadership."

The President, however, had apparently already begun initial talks in inviting opposition leaders to join a unified government.

While saying others had rejected her reconciliation offer, Mrs. Arroyo praised Sen. Edgardo Angara for expressing openness to the proposal. "I want to thank him (Angara) for that," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo also unveiled another initiative to reduce political tension. The initiative involves the use of "a more democratic and participatory" mechanism, which "would be set up with the help of policy makers and industry leaders to maintain dialogue with the people in lieu of militant street demonstrations and rallies."

According to Defensor, he and the President discussed the matter of asking opposition members to join a unified government during their visit to the bird sanctuary at Olango Island yesterday.

He said House Minority Leader Francis Escudero is one member of the opposition who may be invited into the unity government and who may be receptive to Mrs. Arroyo’s offer.

Defensor said he maintained close contact with Escudero after the 2004 elections, adding that Escudero had said he was open to accepting a Cabinet appointment.

He also believes the President has already begun talks with various opposition leaders through several channels.

"I believe many from the opposition will believe and join us," Defensor added. "They can remain critical of the government as part of fiscalization and not destabilization… by sharing power, by being accountable in the leadership direction of our country. I think we can do it."

He said is willing to give up his Cabinet post to accommodate an opposition member, adding that his colleagues are likely to share the same sentiment.

When asked when discussions with the opposition will be completed, Defensor said: "I hope by Christmas this would be done, so that by next year we have this government of national unity."

However, he also acknowledged that some of the President’s detractors will not be swayed by such overtures — particularly those who want to oust her at all costs. He singled out the Hyatt 10 and former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, criticizing their hypocrisy in attacking Mrs. Arroyo.

Opposition lawmakers reject coalition government The Philippine Star 10/26/2005

Opposition congressmen rebuffed Sen. Edgardo Angara yesterday for saying the political opposition is willing to accept President Arroyo’s offer of a coalition government.

Deputy Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said he and his colleagues in the minority led by Minority Leader Francis Escudero is not about to accept Mrs. Arroyo’s offer.

"This political crisis is not an issue of power-sharing but of good government and good governance," Cayetano said.

He said the opposition is not "hungry for Cabinet posts and other positions, but for the truth, and genuine change, reform and progress."

"Even if all those positions are given to the opposition, if Mrs. Arroyo remains in power, that will amount to nothing. This political crisis will persist," he added.

He stressed that what is important is for the President to account for her actions and fully answer the opposition’s charges of lying, stealing and cheating, including the election fraud she is purportedly heard discussing with "Garci," believed to be former commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, on the "Hello, Garci" recordings.

For his part, Rep. Rolex Suplico of Iloilo said Angara cannot speak for the political opposition.

"He can speak for himself only. He can bind no one in the opposition," he said.

He said Angara’s Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) has turned from the biggest opposition group that once controlled the Senate into a marginal party that counts only one senator — Angara — as a member.

Suplico and several other LDP members, including the party secretary general, Makati Rep. Agapito Aquino, supported the failed presidential candidacy of their party mate, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, in the May 2004 elections. Angara, on the other hand, backed the late actor Fernando Poe Jr.

Shortly after the elections, Lacson and his supporters quit the LDP. Angara and Lacson then became bitter enemies. They still trade charges and counter-charges every now and then.

In the course of the recent unsuccessful process to impeach Mrs. Arroyo, Laguna Rep. Benjamin Agarao, who belongs to LDP, accused Angara, his party president, of trying to pressure him into withdrawing his signature from the opposition’s amended impeachment complaint against the President. Angara has denied the accusation. — Jess Diaz

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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