(STAR) By Marvin Sy  - President Arroyo is spending Christmas Eve in Pampanga, her home province, when she returns from a three-day vacation in Hong Kong with her family, Malacañang announced yesterday.

Deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar argued that the president does not have to be physically present in the country to monitor the developments in Albay province where the Mayon volcano is threatening to erupt.

He said national government agencies, together with the provincial disaster coordinating council of Albay, have contained the situation.

“Hong Kong is only less than two hours away if ever the President’s presence was needed here for the situation, which is highly unlikely in view of the state of preparation already launched,” Olivar said.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology expects Mayon volcano to erupt at any time. Residents of areas considered danger zones have been evacuated.

After arriving from Copenhagen, Denmark last Saturday, President Arroyo and her family left for Hong Kong on Sunday for what Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said was a long-scheduled vacation with her grandchildren.

The President is expected back in Manila today and is delivering her Christmas message in Pampanga.

Olivar said that the President couldn’t be faulted for taking time out with her family considering how hard she works every day of the year.

He said criticisms of her vacation are uncalled for.

“This kind of comment is unfair to the President’s legendary passion for her work and the kind of hours she puts into the task of governing the country,” Olivar said.

“If I may describe the sources of these particular reports, I would describe them as people of small minds, cold hearts and mean spirits. It’s totally out of place in today’s holiday season,” he added.

Olivar said that he expected the critics of the President to understand her decision to spend some private time with her family because they have families of their own.

President Arroyo’s planned Christmas break in Pampanga, on the other hand, is considered early campaigning by her detractors.

Olivar said the visit should not be seen as anything other than being “neighborly.”

“This is just the President being neighborly. Christmas, of all times of the year, is the best time to be neighborly,” Olivar said.

“I hope the critics of the President will give it a break. Something as innocent as that should be spared from the issue of politicking,” he added.

President Arroyo is running to represent the second district of Pampanga in next year’s elections. It is also speculated that she is working to secure the speakership once she is installed in the House of Representatives.

“That seems to be extremely not only unsubstantiated, but premature because she’s not even in Congress yet,” Olivar said.

No right to ceasefire

Opposition Senator Pia Cayetano said the President cannot ask her detractors to hold back on criticism during the holidays because all public officials are accountable for their actions.

“As for the President, all of us public servants are accountable for our actions. So if you have been acting in a way that is subject to a lot of criticisms, I don’t think you can ask for a ceasefire,” Cayetano said.

Cayetano’s brother, former Senate Blue Ribbon Committee chair Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, is one of the staunchest critics of the President and First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, particularly at the height of the controversy surrounding the alleged manipulation of the 2004 elections, the abomalous national broadband network deal, and the P728-million fertilizer fund scam.

“So you cannot ask people to look the other way, as this government has chosen to in the face of so many violations of the Constitution and flagrant violations of the law,” Cayetano said. – With Christina Mendez

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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