AUGUST 28, 2009 (STAR) Malacañang justified yesterday the forthcoming trips of President Arroyo to London, Saudi Arabia and New York amid lingering criticisms on the cost and necessity of such foreign travels.

Mrs. Arroyo is scheduled to visit London, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and New York, all upon invitation, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said in a news briefing at the Palace yesterday.

Ermita said the President’s London visit was upon the invitation of the prestigious international magazine The Economist to deliver a speech before business leaders, members of the academe and other experts.

The trip to Saudi Arabia is a state visit after she was invited by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, he said. He pointed out that there are about 1.5 million Filipino workers in the oil-rich kingdom in the Middle East, giving Mrs. Arroyo another chance to pitch for their welfare before the Saudi monarch.

Meanwhile, the US embassy in Manila said yesterday no formal meeting has been arranged between Obama and President Arroyo in New York but the two leaders may have a chance meeting if both will attend the UN General Assembly. – Paolo Romero, Pia Lee-Brago

Palace stands by its choice of national artists By Marvin Sy (The Philippine Star) Updated August 27, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang will stand by its choice of national artists for this year unless the Supreme Court rules against the validity of the awardees.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita reiterated the position of the Palace that the President has the authority and prerogative to choose who she wants to receive the National Artist award and that she followed the established process in making her decision.

Ermita pointed out that there are several laws and presidential issuances in place that describe the process by which the selection of the National Artists is made.

“Now we feel that the Office of the President is backed up by the issuances, especially Republic Act 7356, the law creating the NCCA (National Commission for Culture and the Arts). Also this was followed by presidential issuances, executive orders 435 in 2005 and 236 in 2003,” Ermita said.

“Now we believe that on the primacy of the President’s authority as the one mandated by law to be the one to make the final choice, that could very well be considered by the Supreme Court. But of course we are not dictating upon the Supreme Court,” he added.

Palace legal experts believe that the role of the NCCA and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) as far as the process of choosing National Artists is concerned is merely to advise the President.

EOs 236 and 435 provide the guidelines for selecting National Artists and other awards conferred by the state, including the establishment of an honors committee that would also advise the President on her choice.

Ermita: GMA has final say

In the current controversy regarding the 2009 National Artists, the honors committee played a significant role as it recommended four individuals who were not among those recommended by the NCCA and CCP.

“What the law said was that they are acting on their advisory capacity to the President and therefore the President has the final say on those that should be awarded,” Ermita said.

The Supreme Court has issued a temporary restraining order on the conferment of the National Artist awards for 2009 in response to the petition filed by a group of National Artists and other sectors opposing four of the seven awardees.

The petitioners questioned the inclusion of filmmaker Carlo J. Caparas, fashion designer Jose “Pitoy” Moreno, NCCA executive director Cecile Guidote-Alvarez and architect Francisco Mañosa in this year’s National Artist awardees because they were not among the names recommended by the NCCA and CCP.

Caparas and Alvarez received the brunt of the criticisms for two very different reasons.

Alvarez was criticized for being included while currently belonging to the NCCA, which poses a conflict of interest and goes against a provision disqualifying those who are officers of either the NCCA or CCP.

Caparas, on the other hand, was criticized for his body of work, which the critics said was not deserving of the National Artist award.

In a radio interview yesterday, Alvarez welcomed the entry of the Supreme Court into the controversy, which she said would pave the way for an objective discussion of the facts of the case.

Alvarez lamented that the issue has been muddled by emotional outbursts coming from her critics.

“What I am saying is that it has become dramatized and the discussions have strayed away from the issues,” Alvarez said in Filipino.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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