[PHOTO AT LEFT - FEELING GOOD: President Arroyo answers questions from The STAR at the presidential suite of the St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City early last night. Photo By WILLY PEREZ]

MANILA, JULY 29, 2006 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo asked the nation last night not to worry about her health and called on the people to take care of their health as well. The President also vowed to make more changes in her lifestyle to reduce her risk of being hospitalized in the future.

Mrs. Arroyo granted an exclusive interview with The STAR at the presidential suite of St. Luke’s Medical Center (SLMC) in Quezon City to make up for her not attending the newspaper’s 20th anniversary celebration last night.

The President was rushed to SLMC on Thursday with symptoms of influenza.

In response to questions about the state of her health, Mrs. Arroyo said the medical bulletins on her condition twice a day were meant to allay the concerns of the people.

"Right now my main concern is the people," Mrs. Arroyo said. "Lots of people caught the bug. It’s flu season. I hope everyone can take care of themselves to avoid catching the bug as I did."

"What I have is just a simple classic flu," she said.

The President was wearing a dark blue jumpsuit and looked very refreshed and First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo was with her, while Presidential Management Staff chief Arthur Yap looked on from one corner of the hospital room.

"As far as I’m concerned, like other people who got the flu, I would like to get back to work as soon as possible," she said, adding that Health Secretary Francisco Duque and Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. were also stricken with influenza, though they too insisted on working.

The President said she cautioned De Venecia not "to be up and about yet" so he can recover.

Contrary to some reports that she is being stubborn on insisting that she continue working despite being confined, she said she is "usually a very good patient and I follow the doctor’s orders very strictly."

The President said that when she was asked by the Malacañang doctor on Thursday afternoon if she wanted to be hospitalized because of her high fever, she agreed.

Mrs. Arroyo said she has not yet decided when she wants to be discharged, whether it will be today, tomorrow or Monday: "Now I have no more fever. I suppose I can go home anytime now but the important thing is the best (and) the only real cure for the flu is complete and simple rest."

The President admitted that she has already begun making lifestyle changes, including avoiding certain foods, since she was hospitalized for intestinal flu in June.

"The doctor put me on a diet. No fat, no fried (food), no oil, no spice, so that is the diet I have now," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo said she reminded presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor "to fix and stick to 10 (a.m.) to 3 (p.m.) schedule" for her public engagements.

The Chief Executive said she only agrees to dinner engagements if they are not "too mentally taxing."

She admitted that prior to being stricken with intestinal flu, she accepted engagements that went past dinnertime several days in a row and that her doctors had advised her to lighten her load.

However, because of her preparations for her State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, she had been keeping awake well into the wee hours of the morning, working.

"I was not (working until after midnight) before. I admit I did do a lot of work way beyond midnight," the President said as she vowed not to do so again.

Doctors advised the President to remain in hospital for at least another day.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo is raring to get back to work now that she is feeling better after her overnight stay at the SLMC’s presidential suite: "Like many who have been bitten by the flu bug, she wants to get back on her job as soon as possible but is prudently following doctors’ orders."

He said the President’s attending physicians will continue to issue periodic bulletins on Mrs. Arroyo’s condition.

Dr. Juliet Gopez-Cervantes, the main attending physician, told reporters staking out SLMC foyer early yesterday that the President "is a lot better today and feels a lot stronger" and that her fever has abated.

While the President’s fever has gone down, she will continue to be treated with influenza medicines and will still be fed fluids intravenously "to increase her feeling of well-being," a bulletin issued by SLMC said.

Cervantes, who treated Mrs. Arroyo last month for intestinal flu, said the doctors and members of the First Family have asked the President to stay in the hospital and rest.

"We can probably discharge her tomorrow," Cervantes said. "However we think, and the (First) Family requested that, really, she has to rest. If we see that she will again work once we will send her back to Malacañang, I think this (hospital) is the best place where she can rest."

SLMC director Dr. Joven Cuanang said Mrs. Arroyo may be discharged from the hospital tomorrow, but added that doctors will continue to monitor her progress "to be very sure that she is very well-rested and ready to go ahead and fulfill her duty as our president."

Cervantes said that, except for members of the First Family, the "no visitors" rule was strictly observed. However, Mrs. Arroyo managed to slip in a few short meetings with some Cabinet officials, particularly Defensor, Yap and Bunye since Thursday night.

Bunye said the President "has single-mindedness or purpose, she has a clear schedule and, as much as possible, she would like to stick to schedule — but I believe that every now and then, not only the President but everyone of us... will slow down."

"The President, I believe, is the best judge of what she can’t and what she can do. She has, of course, very important work to accomplish, but I believe, that given the circumstances, the President will prudently follow her physician’s advice," he said.

Yap said all the members of the First Family stayed by Mrs. Arroyo’s side long into the night and that they managed to take away Mrs. Arroyo’s mobile phone to keep her from calling up government officials.

However, the President may have managed to regain use of her cellular phone, as Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita disclosed during a press conference yesterday on the Lebanon crisis that Mrs. Arroyo called him up thrice to give him instructions from 11 a.m., before he met with Palace reporters at 3:30 p.m.

Yap said the President’s son and Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo told his mother that, if he had his way, he would have her stay in the hospital until Monday.

He said Mrs. Arroyo brought her laptop computer along with her, but was not using it as she did when she was confined at SLMC last month for infectious diarrhea. "She’s not using it (computer), she’s a very good patient now."

However, Yap admitted that the President continues to monitor trading in the markets, her confinement notwithstanding, as she customarily does while working in her private office in the Palace.

He also said Mrs. Arroyo continued to issue instructions to him and Defensor as they accompanied her to hospital room Thursday regarding the appointment of Cabinet officials as point persons for the country’s five "mega-regions."

It will be recalled that Defensor has been streamlining Mrs. Arroyo’s heavy schedule after the President’s doctors warned her after her previous confinement that she needed to lighten her workload.

In her previous and present hospitalizations, the doctors said that the President’s immune system weakened and this made her susceptible to illness.

Meanwhile, Vice President Noli de Castro said he has received no "special" instructions from the President, though he added that he was informed of Mrs. Arroyo’s confinement Thursday by Defensor.

De Castro had been at a housing conference in Vancouver, Canada when he received Defensor’s call; "Mike (Defensor) called me immediately to inform me that the President was hospitalized while I was in Canada. He also immediately reported to me that the President was brought to the hospital. I appreciate that."

He sent the President flowers yesterday and said her health problems are a reflection of the hard work Mrs. Arroyo is putting in for the country’s growth: "It is a challenge for us in the Cabinet and those in the government to work harder so as to relieve some of the burden from the President’s shoulders."

In the House of Representatives, administration lawmakers said in a press statement that they wish that the President will be blessed with a speedy recovery and called for "everyone, even the opposition" to support her, noting that "too much work and political problems have taken their toll on the Chief Executive."

House Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Gerry Salapuddin and Bulacan Rep. Lorna Silverio said the people should "appreciate how hard-working the President is, sacrificing her own health just to keep her vow of service while her foes continue to give her headaches."

Salapuddin sought "an end to political intramural, which do not help the President and the nation at all. We call on the opposition to be part of the solution rather than a major part of the problems."

Silverio said: "We commiserate with the President for the unfair treatment by the opposition. With all the sacrifices she has done for the country, it’s only fitting that we support her efforts and programs."

She added that the people "are getting sick and tired of the opposition’s partisan politicking, which is the single biggest thing holding the country back."

"If the people have enough of the opposition’s negativism, what more the President, who is at the helm of the nation? The opposition should wait until the President completes her term in 2010 instead of continuously trying to unseat her," Silverio added. — With Pia Lee-Brago and AP

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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