, JANUARY 31, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo has called on her allies at the House of Representatives to back off from moves to oust Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., Malacañang said yesterday.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said Mrs. Arroyo stopped the oust-De Venecia maneuver because it does not contribute to overall political stability.

Ermita said De Venecia knows the ZTE controversy is being used to “fan” whatever rift has developed between him and Mrs. Arroyo.

“I’m very sure the Speaker knows the issue is being used to destabilize his position,” Ermita said. “If I were him, I will stop talking about it and especially ask his son from talking about it to preserve unity in the party… in the spirit of reconciliation.”

On the other hand, former President Fidel Ramos warned that ousting De Venecia as Speaker would have negative implications on the country’s image in the international community.

Ed Malay, a spokesman for Ramos, said the country’s top five leaders, including Chief Justice Reynato Puno, by the nature of their office carry with them the image of the nation before the community of nations.

“This is the reason why those occupying these top five positions in the land who are either elected or, as in the case of the chief justice, appointed, must be men of integrity and whose character must generate the respect of world leaders,” he said.

“Suffice it to say that those aspiring for the position with a checkered past must reassess their priorities because their ambition may do more harm than good for the country.”

Malay said it is the contention of the Ramos camp that Congress must focus on the legislative agenda of the administration in the last two years to enable Mrs. Arroyo to leave a legacy instead of allowing instability to dominate the political landscape.

“We know where the instigators of the oust-JDV move are coming from, and this is tied to the possibility that another impeachment complaint might be filed this year,” he said.

Mrs. Arroyo would be better off keeping De Venecia as Speaker because replacing him would embolden the pro-impeachment legislators to file another impeachment complaint, Malay said.

Meanwhile, presidential son and Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo is professing neutrality in the raging rivalry between De Venecia and Rep. Prospero Nograles of Davao City.

“Hindi ako nakikialam (I am not interfering),” he told reporters Tuesday night. “Pabayaan mo silang mag-away-away (Let them fight each other),” Arroyo said.

When asked who between De Venecia and Nograles he was supporting since his mother had told her allies not to rock the boat, Mikey said: “I have my personal sentiments, but I am keeping those to myself.”

Asked about his presence in the meeting Nograles had with some 30 colleagues at Mikey’s Bar and Restaurant in Pasay City Saturday night, Mikey said, “I was there because I own the restaurant. It’s business for me.”

On the presence of his brother, Camarines Sur Rep. Diosdado at the same meeting, Mikey said, “He was there because the restaurant is owned by his brother.”

A House leader, who has not talked with Ermita, said he asked Mikey whom his mother is supporting for the Speaker’s job.

“I cannot tell you for sure,” he quoted Mikey as saying.

“ But you’ve seen with the Nograles group. You make your own conclusions.”

Deputy Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II told reporters yesterday he would go by what he had heard from Ermita over the phone in the absence of a public statement to the contrary from Mrs. Arroyo herself.

“I have no reason to doubt Secretary Ermita,” he said. “I do not think he just dropped the President’s name.”

Bacolod City Rep. Monico Puentevella, a Nograles supporter, said De Venecia “should discipline his son.”

“For as long as he cannot discipline his son, there will always be allies of the President and the First Gentleman who will be hurt by his accusations and take it against the Speaker,” he said.

The days of De Venecia as Speaker are now numbered, he added.

Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño said his colleagues belong to the minority bloc, whose members are not likely to participate in the resolution of the De Venecia-Nograles dispute.

“It’s lamentable,” he said.

Quezon City Rep. Danny Suarez lambasted yesterday De Venecia for allegedly using his son as “a tool” to pressure Mrs. Arroyo to back him in keeping his post as Speaker.

“The ploy of businessman Joey de Venecia III is making it appear that he would attend yesterday’s Senate hearing on the national broadband network controversy was meant to badger the First Family into throwing its support for the older De Venecia, who is now facing his toughest challenge yet in his bid to retain the (House) leadership,” he said in a statement.

Suarez said De Venecia appears headed for a showdown with former majority leader Nograles, who is being backed by the Mindanao bloc and other groups as the next speaker of the House.

“What kind of ally can you call someone like Jose de Venecia, who lets loose his own son to use against the President when it suits his needs and purpose,” he asked.

“Joey de Venecia can just spew more falsehoods, double hearsay and triple hearsay to malign the First Family anytime he wants to, so long as his father finds it necessary to use him as a tool to cling to the Speakership.” — with Jess Diaz

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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