[PHOTO AT LEFT - President Arroyo and Vice President Noli de Castro look at a cat which managed to enter the St. Jude church near Malacañang yesterday. Also attending the Mass were Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and other Cabinet officials. – Photo By WILLY PEREZ]

MANILA, APRIL 14, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo said yesterday that she is leaving her husband’s fate to God even as she thanked Filipinos for their prayers and his doctors for their efforts.

In a statement, Mrs. Arroyo said: "My family is in solidarity with the Filipino people who know what it feels to have a loved one saved by the Lord from mortal danger. I am deeply grateful for the prayers of the people as we bow to the mighty compassion of God."

"I am in solidarity with those who have gone through the same anticipation of sudden loss, only to be given a reprieve through the Almighty’s grace," she said. "To all those who poured their sympathies, thank you for being with us in our moments of trial and difficulty."

"To the doctors and medical personnel who vigilantly gave their all to help us win life, I extol your professionalism, your excellence and faith," the President said, referring to the team of physicians and surgeons of St. Luke’s Medical Center (SLMC).

She also said the government will continue to work hand in hand with Filipinos like "families linked together, for the good of all, sharing and caring in times of need, gathering around a common spirit of ensuring the safety of our loved ones."

For the second time since Monday, Mrs. Arroyo briefly left her husband’s bedside yesterday to attend to some appointments, including a special Mass at the St. Jude Archdiocesian Shrine near the Palace for the speedy recovery of the First Gentleman.

The Mass, celebrated by Fr. Joseph Xin Lu, began at noon and was attended by Cabinet officials, Palace employees and other churchgoers. Mrs. Arroyo, wearing a striped blue polo shirt with rolled up sleeves, was praying intently.

In his homily, Lu recalled Mr. Arroyo’s charitable activities, which benefited many – including members of his parish. He recalled a time when he was standing outside the church and an old woman approached him and asked for directions to the First Gentleman’s office as she wanted to seek his assistance.

He also said the people are aware of Mr. Arroyo’s generosity.

"Easter is really about a new life, a fresh beginning… God has made a miracle for the First Gentleman," Lu said. "We pray for the First Gentleman’s speedy recovery. He is precious in the eyes of God."

After the Mass, the priest distributed "miraculous" white rose petals contained in small envelopes to Mrs. Arroyo and the others present. When held against the light, each petal showed an image of either the Blessed Virgin or the Sto. Niño (Christ child).

Presidential Management Staff chief Secretary Cerge Remonde said the President’s second son, Diosdado "Dato" Arroyo, brought the roses from which the petals were taken to Bro. Carmelo Cortez, a visionary and healer, for prayers and had them blessed by Lu. Cortez’s prayers apparently caused the religious images to be imprinted on the petals, Lu said.

He said Mrs. Arroyo also received images of the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe, the Lady of Lourdes and the Madonna and Child.

"The President is very happy. She feels very blessed aside, of course, from, as you have seen, the wide attendance – which she did not expect," Remonde said.

After the Mass, Mrs. Arroyo proceeded to the site of a massive pre-dawn fire that hit Mandaluyong City on Saturday and left some 6,000 people homeless.

The President’s activities outside SLMC were meant to show that she has not forgotten her responsibilities to ordinary Filipinos. On Thursday, she visited a free haircut program at Malacañang’s Mabini Hall.

Mrs. Arroyo has been holding meetings at the SLMC with her Cabinet officials to continue running the affairs of government.

Team Unity senatorial candidate Michael Defensor told reporters camping out at the SLMC late Thursday that the First Family was already bracing for the worst on Monday, when Mr. Arroyo underwent surgery.

Defensor said Dato had told him that Mrs. Arroyo, upon the advice of doctors, called family members to gather at the hospital, as her husband was about to undergo a "very risky surgery." Leave of absence Senate president and reelectionist Manuel Villar advised President Arroyo yesterday to go on leave for a few days to give her more time to care for her husband Jose Miguel Arroyo who is still recovering from major surgery.

"The First Gentleman is in serious condition and it is up to the President if she wishes to go on leave, but I think it might be better if she would temporarily allow Vice President Noli de Castro to run the affairs of the country so that she can focus on FG (First Gentleman) and her family," Villar told The STAR. Villar of the Nacionalista Party is an adopted candidate of the Genuine Opposition (GO).

"I thought the First Gentleman was only going through a routine operation. But now he is in a serious stage and it would take at least three days to determine if one would make it or not," Villar said.

Villar is a member of the so-called Wednesday Club in the Senate of which De Castro is also a member. The other members of the group are Team Unity candidates Joker Arroyo and Ralph Recto. Sen. Francis Pangilinan, running as an independent, is also part of the power block.

But De Castro, reacting to Villar’s advice, said there may be no need for Mrs. Arroyo to go slow on her job.

"I believe the good senator meant well in suggesting that President Arroyo take a leave of absence. But as of this time, I can see that the President has been performing her duties accordingly despite being faced with her husband’s illness," De Castro said. "We’re behind the President."

GO deputy campaign manager JV Ejercito said Mrs. Arroyo should stay away from her job "permanently, not only for FG to recover but for the whole country." The San Juan mayor said the move would give a "fresh start and new hope for the country."

But GO candidate Loren Legarda expressed belief that Mrs. Arroyo, being a strong-willed person, can manage the affairs of the country just as well as handling a family crisis.

Asked if the President should go on leave, Legarda said, "It is her call because she has to take care of the country and her family."

"It is really different for a woman because she has to balance her time as a wife and as the leader of the nation… (But) she is a hard-worker. I know, I have seen her in action," Legarda said.

In 1996, Legarda recalled that she also faced the same predicament as a broadcast journalist when she had to take care of her ailing mother who was then battling cancer.

In Davao City, GO senatorial candidate Panfilo Lacson said he wished the First Gentleman well "in all honesty and good faith" but he said he hoped the latter would change his ways after his recovery.

The senator said he was glad that attending physicians gave Arroyo an 80 percent chance to fully recover.

"We always wish all people who get sick to recover. We pray for the recovery of all who are sick and the same goes for the First Gentleman who, no doubt in my mind, does not like me. But still, I pray for him," Lacson added. The senator had accused Mr. Arroyo of keeping secret bank accounts in the name of Jose Pidal. - with Christina Mendez, Edith Regalado, Pia Lee-Brago

GMA shortens China visit By Marvin Sy The Philippine Star 04/14/2007

President Arroyo will cut short a five-day visit to China next week to four hours so she can return to her ailing husband’s bedside, officials said yesterday.

Mrs. Arroyo, originally due to visit China from April 20 to 25, will now only address a business forum in Hainan province on April 21, said her protocol chief Marciano Paynor Jr.

Mrs. Arroyo had considered calling off the trip after her husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, had heart surgery on Monday to repair a leak in the main artery and a triple-bypass of another artery.

The improvement in her husband’s condition led Mrs. Arroyo to push through with a shortened trip, said Paynor.

Paynor said Mrs. Arroyo’s trip would last for a total of 12 hours, eight of which would be for her flight to and from China.

Mrs. Arroyo has decided to push through with the trip since she would be the main speaker for the Boao Forum of the Asia Annual Conference, he added.

Paynor said Mrs. Arroyo would be in Boao, Hainan province on April 21 and would immediately leave after her speech.

"The President wants to be here for the First Gentleman, but since the prognosis is good and there is a commitment, so the President has decided she’ll attend the Boao Forum," he said.

Mrs. Arroyo was supposed to visit five cities/provinces in China for five days next week, but had to reconsider because of the open-heart surgery that her husband went through last Monday.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said Mrs. Arroyo consulted with Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo about the trip in light of the circumstances surrounding her husband.

Trade Secretary Peter Favila said Mrs. Arroyo’s trip to China was significant and that the government is expecting more than $2 billion in investments.

In the annual Boao Forum, Paynor said Mrs. Arroyo would be making a report on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the ASEAN general forum.

The Philippines is currently chair of the ASEAN.

Mrs. Arroyo has been staying at a suite of the St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City since Monday when the First Gentleman underwent a 10-hour operation.

Mrs. Arroyo has since left the hospital only two times, for three hours on Thursday when she went to Malacañang, and for close to three hours again yesterday to attend Mass and to visit the victims of a fire in Mandaluyong.

Mrs. Arroyo’s husband remained hooked up to a ventilator yesterday and is also undergoing dialysis because his breathing and kidney functions have not yet returned to normal.

Mrs. Arroyo has remained by her husband’s side throughout most of his hospital confinement, setting up a makeshift office in an adjoining hospital room so she can conduct official business while overseeing his condition. — with AFP

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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