(PHOTO AT LEFT - President Arroyo and husband, First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, join their children and grandchildren for a family photo used in their Christmas card.)

MANILA, DECEMBER 25, 2009 (STAR) By Marvin Sy-In her last Christmas message as head of state, President Arroyo thanked the Filipino people yesterday for the opportunity to serve the country.

The President, in a recorded video which showed her emerging from the Palace to the grounds where a nativity scene is situated, also thanked those who supported her vision of having a better and more prosperous Philippines.

“I humbly thank the Almighty for the opportunity He has given me to serve our people the best that I can,” the President said.

“I thank the millions of Filipinos who love our country for their dedication to achieve our common dream of a better future.”

The President is hoping to secure a seat in Congress as representative of her home province Pampanga, a position that was held by her son Juan Miguel Arroyo for two straight terms.

She said she was merely responding to the clamor of her cabalens (provincemates) for her to continue serving in public office.

With just a few months before she leaves Malacañang, Mrs. Arroyo recalled the harsh challenges faced by the nation the last 12 months, which tested the resolve of the people.

“Every test we faced carried with it an opportunity to lighten the burdens of life,” she said.

“We experienced God’s love for us in the charity and hopefulness that Filipinos gave each other in their time of need. The tests this year were some of the heaviest faced by the nation in many years,” she added.

She noted that typhoons “Ondoy” and “Pepeng” battered most of Luzon, including Metro Manila, last September, leaving almost all affected residents unprepared for such a deluge and forcing them to start again from scratch.

“The crisis brought all sectors of society together to help in whatever way they could to help the people who lost a huge part of their lives in the floods,” she said.

“This Christmas let us remember the lessons that we learned this year. Let us remember that we can be assured that God will understand and comfort us,” she said.

“Let us come together for the Almighty this Christmas. Let us fill our hearts with gratitude and share with our fellowmen the gift of love and hope, so that we may become worthy of God’s greatest gift,” she added.

The President called on the people to once again draw “renewed strength from the certainty that within our hearts and around us dwells the likeness of the Son of God.”

“On the very first Christmas, we were gifted by the Almighty with the greatest present of all - His only Son Jesus Christ, who brought us new hope as the living proof of God’s unequalled love for mankind.”

“I wish all of our countrymen a Christmas filled with love and a New Year full of peace,” she said.

Nograles’ message

Meanwhile, Speaker Prospero Nograles called on Filipinos to renew their faith and devotion to God by caring for and serving others.

In his Christmas message, Nograles said, “It is never too late to look at the better things in life that, more often, sprout from things immaterial.”

“It is never too late to love the least of our fellowmen who are the apple of God’s love,” he said.

“The Filipino people are truly a people of God. These trying times are but challenges we must face together. We just have to have faith in each other. We should never question God’s infinite wisdom.

“We should not keep on asking why things are, we should rather thank Him for the gift of life.”

Nograles said those in public office must strive and remain true to their oath to be true public servants serving the people’s interest.

“Despite all the pains, conflicts, tragedies and challenges, there is no reason for humanity to despair.”

“God acts in countless mysterious ways. All that He asks of us is to believe and keep faith in Him, and live Christ’s life. The little things we do out of love for others, we do for Him,” he said.

Senators’ messages

Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. said no matter what difficulties Filipinos would have to face, Christmas would always be celebrated with hope and sharing.

“We celebrate once again this most festive of seasons when families, friends, and even foes come together in a spirit of joy and camaraderie. Amid the festivities and fun fare, let us focus on the real reason for the season-the birth of Jesus and His message of love, peace, and hope,” Villar said.

“Hope. That is perhaps the ultimate symbolism of Christmas for many of us and for our country. After all we have been through as a nation this year - the succession of typhoons, calamities, and other unfortunate events - we rally on and hope for better days ahead,” Villar said.

Sen. Loren Legarda said Christmas “is a time to spread joy and warmth, and to share hope, peace, and prosperity with everyone.”

“On this happy occasion, as we rejoice in the glorious birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ, let us show how much we cherish the presence of our loved ones in our lives, and let us thank the Lord Almighty for the blessings we now enjoy. More than this, let us strengthen our shared commitment to serve others that Christ stood for.”

Sen. Manuel “Mar” Roxas II called on the Filipinos not to forget to share their blessings with the less fortunate and victims of natural disasters.

Roxas said the government and the public must join hands and help Albay residents feel the spirit of the Yuletide season despite the dangers posed by the impending eruption of Mayon Volcano.

Roxas and Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III flew to Albay on Tuesday to distribute relief goods to evacuees in various areas.

Aquino said he and his family visited the tombs of their parents - former senator and national hero, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. and former President Corazon “Cory” Aquino - at the Manila Memorial Park in Parañaque City on Wednesday and heard Mass as part of their family tradition. - With Delon Porcalla, Christina Mendez and Aurea Calica

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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