, FEBRUARY 21, 2008 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - Senators branded yesterday the unity walk staged by President Arroyo and her Cabinet members as a sign of “panic and desperation” even as Malacañang appealed to its detractors to spare the economy in their efforts to hit or even destabilize the administration.

The senators also warned Mrs. Arroyo of some of her men’s hypocrisy, particularly Commission on Higher Education chairman Romulo Neri, who called her “evil” and the center of the web of corruption in the country.

They said the national broadband network (NBN) deal was becoming more and more indefensible with the foul-ups of administration officials.

“It’s a survival gimmick,” Sen. Rodolfo Biazon said, while Sen. Pia Cayetano described it as merely a “photo opportunity.”

“It’s easy to walk close together but will they run together as well?” she asked.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada also said Mrs. Arroyo should be wary because “one or two” of her Cabinet men might spill the beans on the NBN scandal.

“There’s a big, big problem, bigger than the Garci tapes,” Estrada said, referring to the “Hello, Garci” poll cheating controversy.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said it was understandable for the Cabinet to show support for Mrs. Arroyo because they benefited from her.

“They know who butters their bread. But of course it is a sign of desperation,” Pimentel said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the hypocrisy among some Cabinet members was obvious. “The show of solidarity in times of crisis is a sign of panic. It’s ominous, the worst of times,” he said.

Lacson said there could be no other interpretation as it was clear that the administration was sinking, especially with the shallow explanations of its officials regarding the NBN scandal and the kidnapping of Senate witness Rodolfo Lozada Jr.

Senate President Manuel Villar Jr. also said Mrs. Arroyo could not be very sure of what her men would do next.

“Let’s face it, we’ve seen these things before, holding hands, things like that. But in the end, one or two will break apart. I don’t want to predict, however, that they will defect. But that unity walk has no effect for me,” Villar said.

Ermita: Everything is okay

However, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita brushed aside all of this and said that the country’s unprecedented economic growth is one of the reasons why the people have not responded to mobilization calls over allegations of massive corruption in government.

He also noted efforts to cause a rift in the Cabinet, particularly among economic managers, in an apparent attempt to destroy investor confidence in the economy.

Earlier reports said Finance Secretary Margarito Teves, one of the senior members of the economic team, was set to resign because of delays in his confirmation by the Commission on Appointments (CA).

“If we talk about how good the economic figures are, the people are justifying the rule of President Arroyo,” Ermita said. “If the economy is not good and many people are dissatisfied and hungry, without jobs, shelter, money for schooling, imagine what will happen.”

He said the administration takes pride in the 7.3 percent growth, the largest in 31 years.

“We take pride about the record-high remittances, low interest rates, low inflation, so it’s very important to maintain economic policies, fiscal policies and who will do this, it will be members of the economic team.”

Ermita said part of the ongoing effort to destabilize the administration was for officials to lose their resolve and resign.

“There are many things they (detractors) are doing. It is highly probable that they start with the economic team. If one succumbs to resignation calls, they might succeed,” the former general said.

He added he spoke with Teves on Tuesday night and assured the latter that there was no truth to reports that former senator Ralph Recto would replace him.

Ermita maintained that the Arroyo Cabinet remains intact and united.

He, however, expressed optimism that the people are discerning enough to see through the efforts to topple the administration by creating political instability and economic uncertainty as well.

Palace propaganda could be ominous

Government critics, however, warned President Arroyo against using propaganda to project solidarity among her official family, saying the photo showing the President and the Cabinet strolling was a bad omen.

Professors of the UP College of Law were one in saying that Mrs. Arroyo’s “unity walk” with her Cabinet has been done by past leaders of the land, which had only been followed by their eventual ouster from Malacañang.

Lawyer Theodore Te, director of the UP College of Law’s Office of Legal Aid, even described the President’s unity walk with her Cabinet members as “so Marcos.”

“It is only good for the headlines,” he said.

On the other hand, UP College of Law Dean Salvador Carlota wondered how long President Arroyo’s unity walk with her Cabinet members would last, noting that “things are in a state of flux” these days.

Assistant Dean of the UP College of Law Patricia Daway recalled that ousted President Joseph Estrada, Mrs Arroyo’s predecessor, did a similar solidarity walk days before he was expelled from Malacañang.

“Is it a unity that will last? Only time can tell. Things develop so fast these days,” Carlota said.

On Tuesday, Mrs. Arroyo and members of her Cabinet took a unity walk around the Palace grounds reminiscent of the stroll she and her Cabinet made in July 2005, in an apparent move to dispel rumors that the Cabinet was not behind her amidst the revived national broadband network (NBN) project controversy.

“What is happening now is not just on the legal (aspect) because it has transcended the moral realm,” Daway pointed out. – With Paolo Romero, Katherine Adraneda

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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