MANILA, December 27, 2005
 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - Surviving her worst political crisis ever makes President Arroyo especially grateful this year.

After thanking the officers and members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for their loyalty, the President also expressed her gratitude to El Shaddai leader Bro. Mike Velarde for backing her all this time.

The President also assured Velarde that she will pursue the government of national unity that he was proposing despite the rejection of the political opposition.

"Maraming salamat po sa lahat ng tulong, payo, suporta at sa panalangin na ginawa mo para sa akin (Thank you very much for all the help, advice, support and prayers that you have given me)," the President told Velarde and his flock at their Christmas party.

The President arrived at 5 a.m. and greeted the thousands of El Shaddai members who gathered in Parañaque City for the celebration.

Mrs. Arroyo reiterated her call for unity and vowed to follow Velarde’s advice to govern well and effect changes for the betterment of the country.

"Maraming salamat sa panalangin ng pagkakaisa (Thank you so much for praying for unity)," the President said as she greeted them a "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year."

Velarde said the President asked him not to stop calling for a government of national unity, since she was in favor of that, too.

He also admitted he was saddened by the outright rejection of his proposal, because he meant well and thought that proposing a government of unity could help the country move forward.

"I cannot do anything if they refuse but the President said I should continue to push for it because she would pursue it as well," Velarde said.

Velarde stood by the President at the height of calls and mass protests asking for her resignation in July due to the alleged loss of her ability to govern after the "Hello Garci" controversy hit the headlines in June.

The influential Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and other religious leaders’ decision not to ask the President to quit then was said to have saved Mrs. Arroyo from ouster.

Alongside the protests and the political attacks, 10 of Mrs. Arroyo’s Cabinet members resigned and asked her to do the same, while former President Corazon Aquino, a faction of the Liberal Party led by Senate President Franklin Drilon, a group from the Makati Business Club and the opposition also demanded that Mrs. Arroyo step down.

Velarde also supported the President’s proposal for Charter change and suggested that elections be held in 2007, which could cut short Mrs. Arroyo’s term of office.

He also called for the formation of a coalition government to end the current political bickering.

After Velarde made his suggestion that a coalition government be created, the President announced her willingness to appoint members of the opposition to her Cabinet and other positions for the sake of unity — an offer that was immediately shot down by the opposition.

The President left for Dagupan and La Union yesterday morning for some engagements before proceeding to Baguio City for her family’s traditional holiday retreat.

GMA off to Baguio for New Year The Philippine Star 12/27/2005

President Arroyo flew yesterday to Baguio City where she and the First Family will hold their traditional New Year’s Day celebration.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo stopped by Dagupan City for a private lunch meeting before proceeding to Baguio.

An official schedule of Mrs. Arroyo released to the media by the office of Secretary Conrado Limcaoco, Cabinet Officer for Presidential Engagements, said she would swear into office the regional officers of the Cordillera Indigenous Elected Women Leaders’ League at the Mansion House in Baguio City at 10 a.m. on Dec. 29.

On Dec. 30, Mrs. Arroyo will lead the flag-raising and wreath-laying ceremonies in commemoration of Rizal Day at 7 a.m. at the Rizal Monument in Baguio City.

In brief remarks at the Christmas party of the Catholic charismatic group El Shaddai yesterday, Mrs. Arroyo called for national unity.

She thanked El Shaddai leader Bro. Mike Velarde for his support, and reiterated her proposal for a government of national unity with the opposition.

In her Christmas message, Mrs. Arroyo expressed hope that there would be "one Philippines."

Several weeks ago, Velarde and Iglesia ni Cristo Executive Minister Eraño Manalo called on political leaders to end their bickering. — Paolo Romero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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