[PHOTO AT LEFT - President Arroyo is welcomed by Spanish President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero at the Palacio de la Moncloa in Madrid.]

MANILA, APRIL 16, 2010 (  MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's ambitions to become leader of the lower house after elections in May could be upset by unrest in her coalition, with senior officials resigning and key allies switching support.

Arroyo, in office since 2001 and ineligible to stand again, is the first president to run for Congress. Analysts think she plans to become speaker to retain political power and head off any investigations of her administration.

Her coalition controls 70-75 percent of seats in the lower house of Congress and local government positions nationwide.

But the outgoing president's bid to use this base to secure the country's fourth-most senior political role were jolted this week by the resignation of three top party officials.

"At the rate she is losing her allies, there's really no guarantee the president can become speaker of the house," said Earl Parreno of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms.

"Congress approves the budget, but the president gets to decide how these funds are disbursed and who gets what and who gets them first. Under this set-up, you expect lawmakers to change loyalty and all of them gravitate to the president."

The ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD's presidential candidate Gilberto "Gibo" Teodoro is a distant fourth in opinion polls. On Tuesday, he stepped down as party chairman to concentrate on campaigning for the May 10 elections.

On Wednesday, Sarangani Governor Miguel Dominguez and Francis Manglapuz resigned as party president and secretary-general respectively, triggering talk of squabbling and disunity.

"What has happened to our party?" Prospero Nograles, parliament's current speaker, asked as he campaigned for the position of mayor in the southern city of Davao. "The local troops are confused over this event."

Nograles is stepping down as speaker after the election.

Three of Arroyo's powerful provincial allies -- Luis "Chavit" Singson of northern Ilocos Sur, Pablo Garcia of the central Cebu island and Jose Zubiri of Bukidnon on the southern island of Mindanao -- have already shifted their support to senator Manuel "Manny" Villar, lying second in opinion polls for the presidency.


(STAR) By Paolo Romero - Malacañang yesterday said the travel expenses incurred by President Arroyo from 2007 to 2009 reaped $1.2 billion in investments, grants and trade from the countries she visited.

Deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar was responding to criticism from Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay that Mrs. Arroyo’s travel bill has already reached P2.5 billion since 2007.

Contrary to Binay’s claim, Olivar clarified that the President has spent less than P2.1 billion in travel expenses and not P2.5 billion since 2007.

“In the first place, his (Binay) numbers are all wrong,” Olivar said in a news briefing.

In 2007, the President spent P588 million on local and foreign travel, not P693 million as claimed by Binay, who is running for vice president under the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino-United Opposition.

In 2008, the actual number was P587 million, not P762 million. And for 2009 and this year to date, Mrs. Arroyo’s travel expenses were P921 million, he said.

“All told, the President since 2007 has spent less than P2.1 billion on travel, which is only 80 percent of the mayor’s claim of P2.5 billion,” Olivar said.

“More important, as we already said last year, what we should look at are the benefits the President brought back from her travels. For 2007 and 2008 alone, from the countries visited by the President in those two years, we generated sales, investments, and grants of nearly $1.2 billion, or over half a trillion pesos,” he said.

“We certainly don’t claim all the credit for that, but it seems clear that this kind of return is not bad, on less than P2.1 billion worth of travel,” he said


PGMA returns from fruitful visits to US, Spain

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo this afternoon returned from her fruitful diplomatic engagements in the United States and Spain and immediately called a briefing of her Cabinet and senior military officers at the VIP Lounge of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Her arrival statement distributed to media said her participation in the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington D.C. put the spotlight on the Philippines’ vital role as president of the Review Conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty slated in New York this May.

The summit was the largest-ever gathering of countries to tackle nuclear security issues participated in by 38 heads of states, representatives from nine other countries, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, International Atomic Emergency Agency head Dr. Amano and European Council President Van Rompuy.

The President cited the grave threat of nuclear weapons and materials falling into the hands of terrorists and other non-state actors adding that the Philippines’ global workforce takes a strong position against nuclear terrorism.

According to the President, the Philippine Nuclear Security Plan drawn up in 2009 by the Philippine National Research Institute (PNRI), the country’s nuclear regulatory authority, and the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] include measures to secure vulnerable nuclear materials and to deter and combat nuclear smuggling and nuclear terrorism.

Her call for the implementation of the Additional Protocol of the Strengthened Safeguards System—to enable IAEA to verify whether a State is living up to its international commitments not to use nuclear programs for weapons purposes-- was very well received in the Summit.

At the sidelines of the Summit, the President held bilateral meetings with Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani and Morocco Prime Minister Abbas El Fasi, who both affirmed their strong support for the Philippines’ bid for Observer status in the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).

In the US Congress, the President was conferred the prestigious Teddy Roosevelt International Conservation Award from the International Conservation Caucus Foundation and the Global Environmental Facility for her innovative leadership to protect the oceans and preserve the biodiversity of the Coral Triangle.

She also conferred honors on US legislators Senator Richard Lugar and Representatives Jim McDermott, Chef Edwards, Xavier Becerra, Sheila Jackson Lee, Joseph Pitts, Jackie Speier and Madeleine Bordallo for having championed the Philippines’ national interest in Capitol Hill over the years.

President Arroyo also met with Senators Daniel Inouye and Christopher “Kit” Bond to express her appreciation for their sponsorship of the “Save Our Industries” Act and sought the support for the measure from Senator Jim Webb and Rep. Richard Drier.

The President said approval of the bill will be a “win win” situation for both the US and the Philippines as it will create a whole new market for the US fabrics with the Philippines’ sophisticated needle capacity.

In Spain, the President received from King Juan Carlos I the prestigious Premio Don Quixote de la Mancha award for her educational initiative in introducing the Spanish language in initially select public schools of the Philippines.

She met with King Juan Carlos I and requested the King’s intercession with the Emir of Kuwait for the commutation of the death sentence of Jakatia Pawa, a Filipina accused of murder. The King earlier intervened in commuting the death sentence in Kuwait of Marilou Ranario and May Vecina, both now back in the Philippines.

The President also met with Tomas Pascual, chair of the Grupo Leche Pascual, one of the biggest food conglomerate in Spain which will establish a plant in the Philippines worth 20 million euro and make the Philippines its regional hub. It will promote the yogurt market and undertake non-refrigerated yogurt school feeding as its corporate social responsibility.

Trade and Industry Secretary Jesli Lapus, who was with the Presidential delegation along with Press Secretary Crispulo Icban Jr. met with Spanish firms in various stages of doing business in the Philippines namely Isolux-Corsan, Globaltec and Centunion. These companies are engaged in investment priority projects in renewable energy, bioethanol plants in Negros and pre-fabricated steel bridges in the rural areas.

In a welcome reception at the Ambassador’s residence, the President thanked the members of Filipino organizations in Spain for their dedication and hard work and announced that the Driver’s License Exchange Agreement between the Philippines and Spain will soon be implemented to allow Filipinos to use their Philippine license while in Spain. On April , the first facility in Madrid to launch this program will benefit an estimated 50,000 Filipinos in Spain.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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