[PHOTO AT LEFT - President Arroyo waves to the press as she leaves the St. Luke’s Medical Center yesterday. She proceeded to Malacañang but quickly returned to the hospital to be with her husband First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo. – Photo By WILLY PEREZ]

MANILA, APRIL 13, 2007 (STAR) As First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo passed the most critical post-surgery period, President Arroyo finally managed to take a three-hour break away from the hospital.

The President left through the side door of the St. Luke’s Medical Center (SLMC) past 9 a.m., reportedly to attend some engagements at the Palace and to refresh herself. Reporters who saw her said the President appeared tired.

This was the first time the 60-year-old leader had left the hospital since her husband underwent a 10-hour emergency heart operation to repair a leak in the main artery and a triple bypass.

Mrs. Arroyo had not left her husband’s side since he was admitted to the hospital Monday afternoon. She has been working from a makeshift office set up in the hospital.

The Chief Executive went to Malacañang and reportedly met with some Cabinet officials. She also checked on her staff and dropped in on a free haircut program at the Mabini Hall.

The President came back to the hospital two hours later, at past 11 a.m., clad in a marian blue pantsuit, fully made up and in her customary hairdo.

She attended a thanksgiving and healing Mass at 3 p.m. officiated by Jose Cardinal Sanchez, one of the Filipino cardinals in the Vatican, at the presidential suite of the hospital where the First Family has been staying since Monday.

Mrs. Arroyo smiled and waved at the media but gave limited replies to their questions.

When asked how she was feeling, Mrs. Arroyo simply replied that she was okay.

She gave out a similar reply when reporters asked how her husband was doing, adding that Mr. Arroyo’s doctors have already issued a medical bulletin yesterday morning to the media.

The doctors have said her husband is recovering faster than expected and gave him a 75-80 percent chance of pulling through.

To those who prayed for the recovery of the First Gentleman, the President only said, "Thank you, thank you."

The President said she may cancel her official visit to China following her husband’s heart surgery.

She told reporters she was reviewing whether to go ahead with the visit, but gave no further details.

"I’m still consulting with the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs)," she said when asked if she was planning to cancel her trip, scheduled for April 20-25.

Cabinet members have said the President’s trip to China would depend on her husband’s recovery.

The President is set to leave by the last week of this month to attend the Boao Forum with former President Fidel Ramos. After that, Mrs. Arroyo is set to visit four other key cities in China.

Meantime, a jobless middle-aged man caused a commotion at the foyer of St. Luke’s Medical Center, shouting that he is lending moral support to the First Family.

Robin Mongallo unfurled a cigarette carton that said "Moral support para kay 1st Gentleman at sa Pangulo (Moral support for the First Gentleman and the President)" at around 3:30 p.m.

Mongallo was accompanied by his wife and three young children, who were seated on benches near the emergency room entrance a few feet away.

He said he was jobless but was trying to get respectable employment.

It so happened that while Mongallo was creating a ruckus, Team Unity senatorial candidate Cesar Montano was coming out of the hospital. The man rushed to Montano and embraced him, after which he shouted and called for support for the administration candidates.

Hospital guards then moved him to the side to allow traffic to move smoothly. Mongallo later left without further commotion.

The incident happened while the Mass was being held at the SLMC chapel at the second floor. - Katherine Adraneda, Paolo Romero, AFP

GMA creates social body for rebel returnees By Paolo Romero The Philippine Star 04/13/2007

President Arroyo has issued an administrative order (AO) creating a body that would assist former rebels in returning to normal lives, the government’s top peace adviser said.

Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza said Mrs. Arroyo had issued AO 172 on March 23 creating the National Committee on Social Integration (NCSI), which "is essential to the search for a just, lasting, and sustainable peace in the country."

"The creation of a national committee that would assist the nation’s former armed rebels lead normal lives is vital to the overall peace process," Dureza said.

He said the move will enhance the government’s affirmative action to attend to armed elements who want to live peaceful and productive lives.

"This will boost development especially in the countryside," he said.

The NCSI will be under the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) to implement the Social Integration Program (SIP) for rebel groups.

The NCSI will be headed by OPAPP Undersecretary Zenonida Brosas with representatives from the Office of the National Security Adviser, and Departments of National Defense, Interior and Local Government, Justice, Social Welfare and Development, and Foreign Affairs.

One feature of the program is the collection of high-powered firearms from unauthorized civilians and their destruction or decommissioning.

Indirectly responding to the statements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Dureza clarified that the government’s efforts to forge a negotiated principled settlement with rebel groups like the MILF are a priority.

He added that the SIP is not directed at or meant to undermine the ongoing peace negotiations with the MILF.

"On the contrary, addressing the concerns of other armed rebels who can disrupt or negate the gains that we are trying to sustain in our negotiations with the MILF will strengthen the peace process and provide a more sustainable peace environment for all," Dureza said.

Brosas meanwhile disclosed that organizational matters are now being done and the pilot program will begin in Sulu.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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