APRIL 12, 2007 (STAR) By Marvin Sy - It’s not exactly business as usual for President Arroyo, but she continues to attend to governance even as she keeps watch over her husband, First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, at the St. Luke’s Medical Center (SLMC) in Quezon City.

The President has been meeting with Cabinet members and other government officials at the hospital.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, who visited the President at the SLMC Tuesday night, said that the presidential suite occupied by Mrs. Arroyo and her family is now full of documents brought from her private office.

All of the President’s visitors have been briefing her on the developments in their respective areas of jurisdiction and receiving her instructions, Ermita said.

"Everything is business as usual except that, of course, the President is at the hospital, keeping constant watch on the First Gentleman as would any spouse," he said.

He said that the President frequently calls him to issue her instructions and to get updates on various matters: "Everybody is just one telephone call away."

He also said it is up to the President to decide whether she would resume her activities outside of Malacañang, since much would depend on the recovery of the First Gentleman after the first 48 hours of his emergency surgery.

Ermita said governance, as far as the President is concerned, should remain normal and that the only possible cause for concern is that Mrs. Arroyo lost a lot of sleep during the first 24 hours of her husband’s illness.

He also said the President constantly prays at the SLMC chapel.

The stress of worrying over the state of her husband, coupled with the lack of sleep, are not likely to affect the health of the President, Ermita said, because Mrs. Arroyo is already well-adjusted to the hectic life of a world leader.

"President Arroyo is a seasoned political leader. Imagine, she had gone through two senatorial elections, became Vice President; she had gone through the more stressful times, from the time she took over from President Estrada, she had even gone through the presidential elections... all of these contribute to the stable behavior of our President."

Ermita also said the President got a bonus three-day rest last week in Baguio City.

According to Ermita, what the President needs is for the people to give her a chance to fully recover from the effects of her husband’s medical crisis.

As far as the President’s functions outside Malacañang are concerned, Ermita said these are evaluated on a daily basis by Mrs. Arroyo and all of the concerned officials.

Since the First Gentleman was confined at St. Luke’s, the President has not left the hospital. Ermita said that there is no word yet as to whether the President would be pushing through with her trip to China on April 19, where she is scheduled to speak at the Boao Forum in Nanjing.

He said the President will have definitely been briefed on the matter by Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, Trade Secretary Peter Favila and Finance Secretary Margarito Teves.

Meanwhile, Malacañang announced that a Mass for the speedy recovery of the First Gentleman will be held at 12 noon on Friday at the St. Jude Parish in San Miguel, Manila.

The public is invited to join the Mass, particularly those "whose lives have been touched by the First Gentleman’s generosity and kindness," the Palace press statement said.

In a related development, authorities are bracing for possible attacks from communist rebels out to take advantage of the First Family’s crisis, but Malacañang and security officials assured that there is nothing worry about.

Ermita and Presidential Security Group chief Brig. Gen. Romeo Prestoza in separate interviews said the President remains fully in charge of the government despite staying at her husband’s bedside.

Ermita said there are precautionary standard operating procedures (SOPs) implemented by security agencies during emergencies involving members of the First Family: "All special situations call for special considerations and plans... there’s nothing to be worried about, to be alarmed about because there are SOPs that we will follow... and you can be very sure that all the actors in this particular subject matter are prepared for contingencies."

Security in Malacañang remained tight, but there was no obvious increase in personnel or unusual activity by PSG personnel that may indicate additional precautions.

Except for a brief stopover at Malacañang on Monday, Mrs. Arroyo has been away from the Palace for a week since the First Family went to the Mansion House in Baguio City for the Holy Week.

It was in Baguio City where Mr. Arroyo complained of severe chest and abdominal pains and was rushed to the University of St. Louis Hospital of the Sacred Heart on Easter Sunday night.

Initially diagnosed as suffering from gastritis, the First Gentleman was flown aboard a helicopter to St. Luke’s Medical Center (SLMC) the following morning because his symptoms refused to abate.

PSG personnel are discreetly but closely guarding the hospital complex. Prominent public personalities visiting Mr. Arroyo are a common sight as the visitors pass through the lobby where journalists have been on a 24-hour stakeout since Monday.

Prestoza said that, so far, no suspicious movements have been monitored since Easter Sunday from various threat groups, particularly the NPA.

He said that so far, only a naughty text message about Mr. Arroyo’s health has been detected.

"It’s not in our nature, in the Filipinos’ nature, to take advantage or exploit such situation since there is obvious public sympathy and any move, even politically, would be met by outrage by the people," Prestoza said.

Visitors, including Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. and his wife Gina, said they saw the President just outside the recovery room studying a pile of documents.

Vice President Noli de Castro said the President is in control of the government even as she attends to her sick husband, adding that officials of the Arroyo administration are behind the President, especially during these trying times for her and her family.

De Castro visited the First Gentleman and wished for his speedy recovery.

In Cagayan de Oro City, former President Joseph Estrada’s lawyer and spokesman Rufus Rodriguez said Estrada is wishing for the speedy and full recovery of the First Gentleman.

Speaking before local and national media who were in the city to cover the Genuine Opposition’s proclamation rally last night, Rodriguez said Estrada "would wish (that) he (Mr. Arroyo) should fully recover and he should get back to his role as the First Gentleman."

Rodriguez is on leave as Estrada’s lawyer and spokesman because he is running for a congressional seat in Cagayan de Oro.

In seeking for Mr. Arroyo’s recovery, Rodriguez said Estrada also gave President Arroyo unsolicited advice: "Not to be so bothered by sickness of the First Gentleman. The problem is that if (Mr. Arroyo) is sick, the President will be bothered. We don’t want our president to be bothered by sickness in the family."

On the other hand, Genuine Opposition senatorial bet Loren Legarda said she sent a basket of fruits to the First Gentleman, wishing him "a happy and long life." –with Paolo Romero, Pia Lee-Brago, Christina Mendez

GMA revives committee of peers to probe corruption raps vs Cabinet The Philippine Star 04/12/2007

President Arroyo has formed a three-man panel composed of Cabinet officials that would investigate allegations and charges against their colleagues and make recommendations to her.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita issued on April 10 a memorandum to Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr., Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri and Presidential Management Staff (PMS) chief Secretary Cerge Remonde informing them they have been designated as members of the Committee of Peers (COP) upon instructions of Mrs. Arroyo.

"Upon instructions of the President, we hereby designate you as members of the Committee of Peers constituted for the purpose of handling charges filed against Cabinet members and evaluating the substance and merit of the charges and submitting recommendations to the President," Ermita’s memo stated.

Remonde was designated as chairman of the committee while Andaya and Neri would sit as members.

The committee would immediately start its work although there are no charges that have been publicly hurled against any member of the Cabinet.

It was not clear how the panel’s work would affect the task of the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission (PAGC), which has been investigating and dismissing erring public officials. No Cabinet official, however, has been known to have been investigated by the PAGC since the agency has been reluctant to give details of ongoing cases.

The President’s move to form the committee was seen as another effort to combat negative perceptions of corruption in government by some local and international groups. It will be recalled that a recent survey by the Hong Kong-based Political Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) showed that corruption was worst in the Philippines.

The PERC survey was strongly disputed by the Palace.

During his term, former President Fidel Ramos also formed the COP in 1996 to undertake the same task.

The COP found then Health Secretary Hilarion Ramiro culpable of four counts of graft and corruption involving the purchase of overpriced medicines and medical kits.

Mr. Ramos asked for Ramiro’s resignation after the COP report and refused appeals from the former health chief for reconsideration. – Paolo Romero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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