[PHOTO AT LEFT - SIGN LANGUAGE: Students of the Philippine School for the Deaf in Pasay City greet President Arroyo with the international hand signal for ‘I love you’ on her arrival at the school grounds yesterday. Photo By WILLY PEREZ]

MANILA, February 15, 2006, (STAR) By Aurea Calica - While she had no love to spare for her critics and detractors on Valentine’s Day, President Arroyo spent most of the "love day" with physically handicapped students in a school in Pasay City where she received special gifts from them.

The President said she wanted to spread cheer and share her love with deaf, mute, blind and other special children — who in turn prepared some special presentations for her.

One group composed of 30 high school students interpreted the President’s favorite song — "You" by the Carpenters — using sign language.

Mrs. Arroyo also joined other pre-school children in hand-signing a song that went: "Welcome to the family, we’re glad that you have come, to share your life with us."

During her visit at the Philippine School for the Deaf (PSD) and the Pasay City Special Education Center for Special Children (SPED) on F. B. Harrison street, the children likewise waved at the President and made an "I love you" sign, shouting with excitement when she arrived.

Another Valentine’s Day gift from the students — a dozen red roses — prompted the President to flash the "I love you" sign to more than 800 students of the special school.

Mrs. Arroyo was the first President to visit the PSD and the SPED where she was entertained by 12 special children who performed a cultural dance.

After her visit to the special schools, the President joined her husband, First Gentleman Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo, along with some 30 of his staff members for lunch at the fourth floor of Mabini Hall at Malacañang Palace.

Palace insiders said the First Couple was later joined by sons Juan Miguel, or Mikey, and Dato. Only grandchild Mikaela Gloria, the daughter of Mikey, was present at the affair where fried chicken, lumpiang shanghai and dinuguan were served.

The First Gentleman said he had not been expecting the President to join them for lunch.

The First Couple was also expected to have dinner together in a hotel, as they traditionally do.

Mrs. Arroyo gave her husband a compact disc holder as a Valentine’s Day gift while the First Gentleman gave her the usual dozen red roses along with a one white.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said although the President had a working day yesterday, she "also appreciates the air of romance that fills the air and is looking forward to the end of this hectic workday for some private time with her family."

Before her visit to the disabled and special children, the President stopped by radio station dzRH for an interview in which she lashed out at efforts to bring her down despite the economic gains of the administration.

She said instead of promoting unity and cooperation, her critics and detractors from the opposition and other sectors stubbornly refused to think of the people’s future.

Established in 1907, the PSD was the country’s first school for the handicapped. In June 1963, it was renamed Philippine School for the Deaf (PSD) by virtue of Republic Act No. 3562.

The semi-residential school is the only government-owned institution for the deaf in the country.

School officials said PSD’s mission is "to provide quality education and other services to the hearing impaired to maximize their potential, for them to be globally competitive and responsive to the demands of a technologically advancing world and ensure their integration in the mainstream of society."

SPED, on the other hand, is committed to providing quality and equal opportunity education for children with mental retardation (Down’s syndrome), autism, cerebral palsy, hearing impairment, behavioral problems, learning disability and other conditions. The school is celebrating "Mental Retardation Week" from Feb. 13 to 19. It has 247 pupils.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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