PACQUIAO:  CHAMPION  FOR  LIFE
 

MADRID, SPAIN,
JULY 2, 2006 (STAR) (via PLDT) Though she is facing several impeachment complaints back home, President Arroyo returns today physically and spiritually recharged after her journeys to the Vatican and other holy sites here in Spain on side trips taken after her official visits in Europe.

Mrs. Arroyo is also ready to cheer on Filipino world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao today as "Pac-Man" squares off against Mexican challenger Oscar Larios at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City this morning.

Although she returns to the country in the morning, the President said she may not be able to watch the fight at the Big Dome. First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, too, will not be at the ringside as he did in previous Pacquiao fights because he is staying behind in Spain to trace his roots in Avila, a city known for its walls.

And win or lose, the President said she will confer on Pacquiao a national award for his achievements in the boxing arena.

She said she would issue an executive order that will add the rank of "Champion for Life" in the "Order of Lakandula" awards being handed out each year.

"This is for those who give us honor in the field of sports and Pacquiao will be the first to receive this, win or lose" in the bout with Larios, the Chief Executive said.

Speaking in Madrid before her departure, the President said she was not distracted by the developments back home and remained focused on what she could do for the economy.

"What I am attending to is the economy. I leave politics to the Lord and my allies," she said.

The President said she would rather devote her energy to poverty reduction programs, adding that her administration has brought down the level of poverty incidence since she assumed office and that she is hoping to do much more.

"As regards politics, let them be," the President said, referring to her political opponents.

While here in Europe, the opposition and other anti-Arroyo groups filed successive impeachment complaints against the President, which she and Malacañang officials merely brushed aside.

Palace officials said the President is confident in her position now, especially with the various reforms she has instituted.

The President wrapped up her visit here with the celebration of the Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day on the night of June 30.

She was looking refreshed and jovial as she attended the events scheduled here.

The President said on June 27 she and her family went to San Sebastian, where St. Ignatius of Loyola was born, and then proceeded to Santiago de Compostela, where St. James was buried.

First Gentleman Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo, in an earlier interview, said he prayed for all Filipinos during the First Family’s trip.

"When you’re there, you feel very holy. You’re floating on air," he said.

He also said he and his family got a spiritual high after meeting with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican and visiting the two other holy places here in Spain.

"We are still on a spiritual high, never mind the issues… We know what’s happening (back home). But it’s all in God’s hands now," he said.

The First Gentleman’s chief of staff, Juris Soliman, said she was happy to see the President laughing much of the time and enjoying her brief vacation.

Soliman is one of the Arroyos’ closest friends and she accompanied the First Couple to San Sebastian and Santiago de Compostela.

The President and the First Gentleman were able to shop a bit, she said, adding that members of the First Family were relieved to be away from the media’s prying eyes for two days.

"Even her (official) photographer, Jerry Carual, was not there," Soliman said, laughing.

Since it was the First Gentleman’s birthday recently, the President said she bought him a blazer that he could wear to various functions.

"He needs blazers a lot, being the husband of the President. So it’s a not-so-formal, not-so-casual type of blazer, just the appropriate one," the President said.

After her visits to the Vatican and Rome, the First Couple, their children Evangeline Lourdes and Diosdado, along with his wife, Maria Victoria Celina, and daughter, Eva Victoria, went to San Sebastian and Santiago de Compostela with a few close friends before proceeding to Madrid.

The President returns this morning from her seven-day official trip to Italy, the Vatican and Spain where she managed to secure investment commitments, forged agreements to promote the welfare of Filipino workers and elevated the Philippines’ international image as pro-life, Malacañang officials said.

The President and the rest of her official delegation are scheduled to arrive at 8 p.m. at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City aboard a chartered Philippine Airlines (PAL) flight.

She is expected to deliver a speech summarizing the accomplishments of her official trip.

At the Vatican, Mrs. Arroyo met with Pope Benedict XVI where she informed him of the repeal of capital punishment in the Philippines and invited him to visit country, being the third largest Catholic nation in the world and the largest Catholic country in Asia.

The Pope thanked her for enacting the law abolishing the death penalty. Mrs. Arroyo also met with Vatican Secretary of State Angelo Cardinal Sodano.

The President also held meetings with Italian leaders led by President Giorgio Napolitano and Prime Minister Romano Prodi to increase economic links through more trade and investments.

In Spain, Mrs. Arroyo met separately with King Juan Carlos I and President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, as well as with leaders of the Spanish business community and Spain’s local officials.

She also witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Manila and Madrid allowing the entry of more Filipino professionals and other skilled workers to the Spanish capital.

In her speech before the Confederation of Employers and Industries of Spain, Mrs. Arroyo called on business leaders to invest in the Philippines, pointing out the many advantages and opportunities of investing in the country, particularly in tourism. — Aurea Calica and Paolo Romero


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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