[PHOTO AT LEFT - BIRTHDAY GIRL: President Arroyo acknowledges greetings from local officials and residents of Mapandan, Pangasinan who also gave her a birthday cake during their annual fiesta celebration yesterday. Photo By WILLY PEREZ]

MANILA, APRIL 5, 2006 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - On the eve of her birthday, President Arroyo’s Cabinet members surprised her yesterday with a birthday cake adorned with carnations and wished her success in her programs for the country and the people.

Vice President Noli de Castro led the Cabinet greetings, telling the President they "will rally behind you in pushing for your pro-poor agenda and will work as one in realizing your great vision for our nation."

Meanwhile, all the political opposition wishes on Mrs. Arroyo’s 59th birthday today is that she finally sees the light of political reality and ensures that everything she does will benefit the nation’s 84 million Filipinos.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said De Castro led the Cabinet in greeting the President and presenting a Haagen-Dazs coffee ice cream cake, after which they approached her to shake her hand.

Bunye said the President did not have a specific wish for herself but thanked them before the National Economic and Development Authority board meeting, which focused on policies and the status of various infrastructure projects.

In behalf of the Cabinet, De Castro also wished the President good health, happiness, peace and love.

"I hope that unity and cooperation will overcome political differences in order for our nation to heal and finally move forward," De Castro said.

"May you remain steadfast in your mission to unite the people and bring our country to progress... May God give you wisdom and fortitude to pursue reforms needed for a better Philippines," De Castro told the President.

House Minority Leader Francis Escudero, at whose wedding Mrs. Arroyo was a godmother, said, "Sa aking ninang, ang aking pagbati sa inyong kaarawan, tanging ang hiling ko po na mapagpulutan mo ng aral itong nagdaang taon upang mangibabaw ang interes ng sambayanan at katagang katotohanan, katarungan, kalayaan at kapayapaan."

Escudero, a congressman from Sorsogon and the secretary general of the United Opposition, has continuously called on Mrs. Arroyo to step down on charges of fraud in the May 2004 presidential polls.

On the other hand, five militant lawmakers holed up inside the House of Representatives made use of "Pinoy Big Brother" winner Keanna Reeves to greet the President on her birthday.

Reeves, who won the reality show with the help of text votes sent by the Gabriela women’s party represented by Liza Maza, advised Mrs. Arroyo to open her heart and look after the welfare of others, not just herself.

"Open your heart, GMA, intindihin mo rin yung ibang tao," Reeves said on behalf of Maza, and Reps. Satur Ocampo, Teddy Casiño, Rafael Marino and Joel Virador, who are all facing rebellion charges for allegedly trying to topple the celebrant.

Closer to home, First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo said he wished his wife "to be very, very happy" and for Filipinos to unite again.

"It’s time to move on," he said.

"Let her do her job, let her work... let’s all unite so that the Philippines can move forward," he added.

Mr. Arroyo said he would give Mrs. Arroyo 12 roses today and have a private dinner with the rest of the family.

This morning, the President is scheduled to hear Mass at St. Augustine Parish Church in her father’s hometown of Lubao, Pampanga, which she normally does on her birthday. — With Delon Porcalla, Pia Lee-Brago

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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