APRIL 13, 2006 (MALAYA) MALACAÑANG declared April 15, Black Saturday, a special non-working day nationwide. The declaration would give the public four non-working days as April 15 falls between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, which are non-working legal holidays like Maundy Thursday.

THE First Family left yesterday for Baguio City where it will spend the Holy Week. The family will be back on Monday.

Cabinet members will join President Arroyo in Baguio for a two-day retreat on April11-12 at the Mansion House.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said the retreat will be a good occasion to "reflect and to gain wider and broader and deeper perspective on the national situation." The Cabinet is also expected to hold meetings in Baguio, he said.

Bunye said the Holy Week should be spent on reflection, "not just by the administration" but by everyone. He said the reflection should be on an "official and private basis."

"We can reflect on the status of our nation, we can reflect on where we were, where we are and where we’re going and from our point of view, we believe that we have a clear direction and that’s what the President wants to do. She has a clear direction as far as fiscal reforms and political reforms are concerned and she has the political will to implement her plans," he said.

Arroyo will tape her Lenten and Easter messages in Baguio tomorrow.

On Maundy Thursday, the President is expected to join her family in their Semana Santa visita iglesia to different churches. The rest of the Holy Week will be spent privately with her family.

Before returning to Manila on Monday, Arroyo will inaugurate and tour the newly renovated ward of the Baguio City General Hospital. – Jocelyn Montemayor

Malacañang: Popularity no guarantee of performance

MALACAÑANG yesterday said President Joseph Estrada may be more popular than President Arroyo but popularity does not guarantee jobs, investments and law and order.

The Palace was reacting to a March 2006 Pulse Asia survey showing that Estrada topped the list of best persons not connected to Malacañang to lead the country.

Estrada got a rating of 22, second only to Vice President Noli de Castro who got 23 percent. Sen. Panfilo Lacson was third with 18 percent. President Corazon Aquino had 16 percent, Susan Roces 14 percent, Arroyo 11 percent, President Fidel Ramos 9 percent, and Jesus Is Lord preacher Eddie Villanueva 6 percent.

Former Maguindanao Rep. Didagen Dilangalen, Estrada spokesman, said the ratings debunk Malacañang’s claim that there is no alternative to Arroyo.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said what the country needs is not someone who is popular but one who has the guts "to do the right things even against the flow of political convenience."

"We are past the era of counting popularity points. Popularity will not guarantee jobs, investments, social justice or law and order. This has been clearly shown by recent history…People are not interested in alternative leaders but alternative futures," Bunye said.

He said all leaders encountered fluctuations in their popularity ratings "but only a few have made a difference in the lives of the Filipino."

He said the economic takeoff and charter change drive will tell whether the country will "slide back to the dark age of division and stagnation, or break out to a new dawn of stability and shared prosperity."

Estrada obtained the highest rating from Mindanao respondents with 33 percent. Luzon gave him 24 percent, National Capital Region 14 percent, and Visayas 12 percent.

Among socio-economic classes, Estrada obtained the highest ratings from the E class at 31 percent, while the D class gave him 20 percent. The ABC class gave him 4 percent.

Estrada’s trust rating of 48 percent is his highest since he assumed the presidency in 1998.

In December 1999, his trust rating was 39 percent, rose to 43 percent in 2000, but went down to 29 percent after his ouster in the 2001 coup and the subsequent filing of a plunder case against him.

In 2002, Estrada obtained a rating of 33 percent and 30 percent the following year and in 2004. In March of 2005, Estrada’s rating started to climb at 35 percent. It rose by two points in June 2005 to 37 percent and then to 39 percent in October.

Arroyo’s distrust rating for March 2006 was at a high 50 percent, while her trust rating was at 22 percent. – Regina Bengco

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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