FEBRUARY 18, 2007 (STAR) By Mitchelle L. Palaubsanon and Fred P. Languido The Freeman - President Arroyo yesterday came for more of the same warmth and comfort that had given her strength and solace in an otherwise tumultuous presidency and the Cebuanos gladly obliged.

Nothing extraordinary was expected, and nothing extraordinary was given. Everything was as it has been since 2004 when Cebuanos handed her the winning margin that won her the presidency in a clear exercise of intelligent voting choice.

If there was anything different, it was that this time the president had guests in tow, 12 to be exact, the entire senatorial slate of what her administration has euphemistically called Team Unity, which is in reality an almost incomprehensible mix of rabid allies and just-as-rabid former enemies.

Whether Arroyo can still work her magic on Cebuanos remains to be seen in May when the midterm elections will send to an increasingly controversial Senate 12 new senators.

But she is not one to stop trying. She worked the crowds at the jampacked 10,000-seater Cebu Coliseum as if her own presidency was on the line.

Exploiting her facility in Cebuano, a skill she acquired while growing up in Iligan, Arroyo switched back and forth between English and Cebuano to make an impassioned, if less than substantial, pitch for her candidates.

Arroyo pleaded with Cebuanos to support her candidates who she said will continue to pursue her administration's national agenda.

" Let us support our candidates and help in our national agenda such as job generation, peace and order, stable prices, better education and healthcare, among others. Dili na kita anang politika nga sige ug away aron makab-ot nato ang pagpanglambo sa tanang lugar sa atong nasud ug dili lang sa Metro Manila, " Arroyo said.

The proclamation rally of the administration's Team Unity was to have been held at the Folk Arts Theater in Manila but was moved to Cebu in a clear bid to woo the huge Cebuano vote, which in 2004 gave her the one million votes she needed to clinch victory over movie star Fernando Poe Jr., who has since died.

Taking her lead, all 12 senatorial candidates - Senators Ralph Recto, Joker Arroyo and Edgardo Angara, Reps. Prospero Pichay and Miguel Zubiri, former senators Tessie Aquino Oreta and Vicente " Tito " Sotto III, Govs. Vic Magsaysay and Luis " Chavit " Singson, Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram, former Malacanang chief of staff Michael Defensor, and movie actor Cesar Montano - tried their best to insert something associated with Cebu, no matter how trivial or remote, in the two minutes that each was given to speak before the wildly cheering crowds.

Sotto, whose grandfather Vicente and uncle Filemon are considered among Cebu's early great men, received thunderous applause when he said: " Ang tinud-anay nga Cebuano dili lang sa baba, apan Cebuano and imong dugo ug ang imong kasingkasing ( A true Cebuano is not known only by his words but by his heart and his blood as well ). "

Zubiri, who is from Bukidnon and therefore speaks fluent Cebuano, tried to tie his mestizo good looks with a little bit of history by suggesting that " Magellan lang ang akong nawong pero and akong dugo kang Lapulapu ( I may have the face of Magellan but I have the blood of Lapulapu ). "

On the other hand, Recto made no bones about his depending on wife Vilma Santos to earn a huge chunk of the votes needed to send him back to the Senate. He opened his speech by introducing himself as the husband of the popular actress, sending the crowd into a wild cheer.

As the candidates launched their spiels, their slogans also flashed on the giant screens behind them. But of all the slogans, among the most catchy was that of Pichay - " Itanim sa Senado. "

That of Defensor - " Yan si Tol " - tried to touch base with the common street greeting, Tol being slang for " utol " or brother.

But not everything was national in scope.

On the local front, Lakas stalwarts said the party will continue to support the One Cebu party that Gov. Gwen Garcia formed only just a few days ago.

Reelectionist Rep. Antonio Cuenco said Lakas did not consider Garcia as having bolted the party, saying One Cebu is being seen as part of the wider administration coalition.

Garcia formed One Cebu in an attempt to consolidate her forces against attempts to break Cebu up into several provinces. With majority of Cebu's mayors under her wing, One Cebu has emerged as a force to reckon with and the governor quickly moved to exploit this advantage before the national crowd.

Garcia has dangled vote-rich Cebu as a lip-smacking prize for anyone who would make a written commitment to join and support her fight against the attempts to fragment the province.

One senatorial aspirant who has signified an intention to execute such a written commitment is Pichay. (/JST)

Oreta asks for forgiveness for dancing during Erap trial The Freeman 02/18/2007

Former Senator Tessie Aquino-Oreta is asking forgiveness from Cebuanos for "hurting their sensitivity" at the height of the aborted Estrada impeachment trial in which she earned the tag as the "Dancing Queen."

Now a senatorial candidate, Aquino-Oreta, who was the guest during the grand alumni homecoming of Cebu Normal University, yesterday said it's about time to bury the past, move forward and forget about politics of negativism and hatred.

"Let us bury the past, it's over. If I have hurt the sensitivity of the Cebuanos, then I am asking their forgiveness," said the younger sister of Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr.

Aquino-Oreta had been widely criticized after she was caught by television cameras dancing at the Senate Session Hall after majority of the senators blocked the opening of the controversial second envelope that was said to contain vital evidence against former President Joseph Estrada, who was facing a plunder charge before the Senate.

Although she was politically aligned with Estrada even after the impeachment trial, Aquino-Oreta bolted the opposition after she was not included in its senatorial lineup for the May elections.

Now running under the Team Unity of the administration, Aquino-Oreta said she strongly believed that every Filipino child should receive a better education before entering Grade One.

She said it was during her stint as chairman of the Senate committee on education that the issue as to whether to add additional year in the child's schooling cropped up. But the issue, she said, has remained unresolved.

She explained that several suggestions came out that the additional year should be included in the elementary level, but other suggestions call for an additional year in the secondary level.

Aquino-Oreta, however, believed that it is better to put the additional year in the child's pre-elementary education.

"This is one thing that I would like to pursue if given another chance to serve the Filipino people. Majority of the Filipino children enter Grade One in public school without enrolling in the preparatory level. We have to give our children a competitive edge," she said. - Mitchelle L. Palaubsanon/LPM

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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