[PHOTO AT LEFT - President Arroyo waves to the crowd upon her arrival with her granddaughters at the San Agustin Church in Lubao, Pampanga. LUBAO, Pampanga, Philippines]

[PHOTO AT LOWER RIGHT - A boy looks at a photo mosaic of President Arroyo, which was rolled out by Press Secretary Cerge Remonde and Palace press photographers in Rizal Park as a birthday gift to the 62-year-old Chief Executive. The mosaic, measuring 175 feet by 125 feet, is made up of over 1,000 photos of Mrs. Arroyo. Manny Marcelo]

MANILA, APRIL 6, 2009 (STAR) By Ding Cervantes And Ric Sapnu - For the first time since the marriage of her eldest son at the San Agustin Church here eight years ago, all members of President Arroyo’s family were present for her 62nd birthday Mass held yesterday in the same church.

Conspicuously absent was Pampanga Gov. Ed Panlilio, who reportedly opted to be with Sen. Loren Legarda who was inspecting environmental conditions in the wetlands of Candaba town.

But in a text message to The STAR, Panlilio said he would pray for the President’s “greater health of mind and body.”

“May her heart be filled with love and compassion and translate these to her governance,” he added.

First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, who looked frail beside the President during the Mass, told reporters that “unity of the country” was his birthday wish for his wife.

This was the same appeal the President made during her short talk after the Mass.

“Those in the government, Church and civil societies must unite in serving the public,” she said in Kapampangan.

“These are times that we need to be united for us to be able to confront the challenges faced by our families and communities,” Mrs. Arroyo said, as she underscored the need “to begin a new age of volunteerism and in the spirit of cooperation and unity” to weather the global financial crisis.

She cited the importance of the government, Church and the civic groups coming together, and encouraged all Filipinos to participate in civic-related works.

She said initiatives should be focused on civic activities like cleaning the environment, putting up parks, planting trees and most especially in helping the government to uplift the lives of the most vulnerable sectors of society.

She said that in times like this where the world is facing grave challenges, the Filipino traits of caring and loving are of paramount importance.

Birthday wishes

Presidential daughter Luli declined to make public her birthday wish for her mom, saying it was “personal.”

Camarines Sur Rep. Diosdado “Dato” Arroyo gave his mother pictures of her grandchildren as birthday gift.

The First Gentleman, on the other hand, said he has no material gift for the President, except for his traditional bouquet of 12 roses—11 red ones for love and one white rose for purity.

Meantime, former President Joseph Estrada’s birthday wish for President Arroyo is for her to spend her last days in office for the good of poor Filipinos.

In an interview with The STAR, Estrada said doing this is Arroyo’s only way to vindicate her administration that has been marked with various anomalies of alleged corruption.

Most industrious President

The President arrived promptly at the 16th century San Agustin Church at 10 a.m. together with Mr. Arroyo, their three children and their spouses, and three granddaughters.

The last time the entire first family was seen together was during the wedding of Rep. Mikey Arroyo in July 2002.

The Mass, officiated by eighteen priests led by San Fernando Archbishop Paciano Aniceto, was attended by provincial and municipal officials, headed by Vice Gov. Joseller Guiao and several Cabinet members, including Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, Labor Secretary Marianito Roque and Environment Secretary Lito Atienza.

Apart from birthday wishes, the President also got at least 50

watermelons from Candaba Mayor Jerry Pelayo as she inspected a trade fair under Pampanga’s “One Town, One Product” program.

Aniceto, who is known to be a close friend of Mrs. Arroyo, described her as “the most industrious” president the country has ever had.

“She is now crossing the threshold of her life,” he noted, as he urged churchgoers to pray for the President to enable her to lead the country further through the global crisis.

After the Mass, the President went to the Church grounds and swore in some 200 new members of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit.

She then distributed food items to some 1,000 local indigents and

had lunch at the Church before inspecting the P100 million Diosdado Macapagal Memorial Hospital in Guagua.

From Guagua, the President went to Clark Freeport for a drive through at the new P416.93-million South interchange of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway at Clark Freeport.

Robert Gervacio, spokesperson of the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) for the SCTEX project, said the interchange was opened to motorists after the President’s drive through.

Gervacio said the southern interchange at Clark was finished by the Japanese contractor HTN Joint Venture last March 25.

He said the project’s P416.93 million cost was part of the P6-billion supplemental budget obtained by the BCDA from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) which also financed the construction of the 93.77-kilometer SCTEX which cost some P27.1 billion.

“The southern interchange will provide a direct link to the SCTEX from Clark, Angeles and Mabalacat,” he said.

Last December, interchanges at the northern and the so-called Panday Pira areas of Clark towards the SCTEX also became operational.

Prayers for the President

Some 300,000 El Shaddai members late Saturday evening were one in offering prayers of wisdom and good health for one of its members— President Arroyo.

El Shaddai servant leader Bro. Mike Velarde led the pray over for Mrs. Arroyo who graced the Palm Sunday gathering of the religious organization.

Velarde and his members later sang a birthday song to the President.

During the late dinner, Velarde also reportedly also gave Mrs. Arroyo a birthday cake.

He added that the President’s presence in their Palm Sunday and Walk of Faith celebration was not unusual because she has often attended these occasions as she has been a member of the El Shaddai even when she was still a senator.

Wearing a lavender-colored suit, Mrs. Arroyo arrived at the Amvel Compound in Parañaque City at 10:20 p.m. She thanked the El Shaddai community for their prayers and said that it was an honor for her to spend the eve of her birthday with them.

“But more important than my birthday, I would like to congratulate you for your very successful Walk of Faith, which is bigger than last year’s event,” she said.

Senior Superintendent Ronald Estilles, Southern Police District (SPD) chief directorial staff, estimated that there were 300,000 people who joined the Walk of Faith, the symbolic walk from the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) to the Amvel Compound.

This was their 8th Walk of Faith. In 2008, there were about 150,000 participants in the event. - With Paolo Romero, Jose Rodel Clapano, Evelyn Macairan

GMA announces more holidays By Paolo Romero Updated April 06, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - President Arroyo will declare Nov. 27 and 28, 2009 as non-working holidays in celebration of the Eid’l Adha or the “Feast of Sacrifice,” the culmination of the Islamic world’s Hariraya Hajj or the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

The dates fall on a Friday and a Saturday.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said Saudi Arabia’s highest religious body determines the exact dates of the annual celebration, considered as the fifth pillar of Islam.

“The Philippine government officially issues this declaration in consultation with the Saudi Arabian Embassy in the Philippines, represented by Ambassador Mohammad Ameen Wali,” Ermita said in a statement.

“Both the business and labor sectors, through the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Labor and Employment, have been consulted today and have posed no objection to this declaration,” he said.

Eid’l Adha is the second major Islamic festival celebrated by an estimated 1.6 billion Muslims all over the world, including the 10 million Muslim Filipinos in the country. The first one, the Eid’l Fitr or the “Festival of Breaking Fast,” is celebrated two months earlier.

These two Islamic festivals are observed annually beginning with early morning prayers at the mosque then followed by colorful festivities.

This year’s declaration by the President of Eid’l Adha as a national holiday is seen as a major improvement in the implementation of Republic Act 9177, which celebrates the event as a holiday only in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), he said.

RA 9177, issued in July 2002, declares the first day of Shawwal, the tenth month of the Islamic calendar, a national holiday for the observance Eid’l Fitr.

However, the same law declares the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar only as a regional holiday in the ARMM for the observance of Eid’l Adha, he said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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