FROM STAR & INQUIRER NEWS REPORTS: P-NOY PRIVATE NEW YEAR IN BAGUIO

BAGUIO CITY, JANUARY 2, 2010 (STAR) By Artemio Dumlao – President Aquino arrived at the Mansion House in Baguio City Thursday night on a surprise visit. The President’s staff had not announced an official engagement in the city but he was seen having dinner in a Chinese restaurant along Harrison Road late Thursday.

The Mansion House has been a favorite out of town destination for presidents. Former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo usually spent New Year celebrations in the residence.

Presidential Security Group commander Col. Ramon Mateo Dizon said Aquino purposely did not disclose his schedule to the media because he wanted privacy with his family. He said Aquino brought with him reports from different government agencies so he can catch up on his reading.

Aquino also received a mountain bike during the holidays and is looking forward to using it as part of his regular exercise. “He intends to use it so we bought jogging shorts and are now ready to follow him,” said Dizon said in a phone interview. Aquino will be back in Manila after the New Year celebrations.

Senators, meanwhile, expressed their best wishes for the Aquino administration in the coming year. Senators Juan Miguel Zubiri and Francis Pangilinan expressed confidence in Aquino’s leadership in the new year. Zubiri also expressed optimism that the P21-billion conditional cash transfer program, the administration’s centerpiece program, will be successful.

Pangilinan expressed hope that Aquino would be able to inspire people to bring change to the country. “We are an extremely talented, hardworking and creative people. We have proven resiliency and tenacity to endure hardships for the sake of our families and loved ones,” he said.

Senator Francis Escudero, meanwhile, renewed his call for the factions in the Cabinet to work out their differences. – With Aurea Calica, Christina Mendez

FROM THE DAILY INQUIRER

Aquino seeks to return the scent of pines in Baguio By Desiree Caluza Inquirer Northern Luzon First Posted 03:39:00 01/02/2011

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines—Over a glass of soda and biscuits, President Aquino spent almost an hour discussing with Baguio Bishop Carlito Cenzon ways of improving the summer capital.

Cenzon did not agree with Aquino’s suggestion of tapping funds from the state-owned Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) to help improve the city, one of the top tourist destinations in the country.

The bishop had led protest rallies in Baguio against plans to operate both government-run and illegal gambling here.

Cenzon met the President on Friday afternoon at the Bishop’s House in the Baguio Cathedral compound here.

“[The President] likes Baguio and there were certain things that he wanted to address because they were very personal to him. He wanted to smell the pine scent [again]. He also wanted to revive the Crystal Caves. He has a dream of reviving the old glory of Baguio, so we talked about projects on ecology and clean air,” Cenzon said.

No orderly plan

Aquino spent his New Year holiday here unannounced, but Cenzon said his meeting with the President was arranged.

Cenzon said the President promised to help him build a fence around Burnham Park, which the bishop initiated as a member of the Baguio Centennial Commission.

Kennon Road improvement

The bishop said Aquino also offered to address the delayed modernization plans for Kennon Road, a 34-kilometer scenic route to the city.

He said the President had keen insights about the zigzag road, citing his concerns about its weak foundations and landslides hitting the road.

Aquino said government engineers could cut new tunnels through the landslide-prone areas and make the road an all-weather highway, according to the bishop.

Cenzon said the President was aware of the city’s plan to amend its charter.

“[The President] observed that construction activities in Baguio followed no orderly plan anymore and he was glad about the recently approved House bill amending the Baguio Charter of 1909 because it solves this problem,” he said.

Aquino was a senator in 2009 when the bill amending the city charter was passed by the House of Representatives.

Mayor Mauricio Domogan, who sponsored the bill as then Baguio representative, said it did not pass through the Senate, which was why the measure was refiled.

Tourism

Cenzon said the President had a particular interest in Baguio tourism. But the bishop said he drew the line when Aquino discussed his ideas about tapping Pagcor funds.

Cenzon said the President cited the success of Malaysia’s tourism industry, which is partly financed by that country’s gaming industry.

“Of course I said I was not into [this idea]. I said if [Baguio tourism will rely on] income [that] is generated from gambling, what kind of progress is that?” Cenzon said.

Wedding rites

He said the afternoon chat was not all about business. Cenzon said they also touched on Aquino’s status as a bachelor and his dating life.

“Yes, we talked about his being single. In fact, when we were talking, one of his aides teased him and said he could have his wedding rites [at the Baguio Cathedral],” Cenzon said.

“I even told him that I could pay for roasted calf if he decided to wed [in Baguio]. And then I asked him: ‘Mayroon na ba (Do you have someone you could wed soon)?’” Cenzon said.

“Aquino replied, ‘Wala pa … wala pa (There’s no one … no one),’ before he burst into laughter,” the bishop said.

Candid

Cenzon said Aquino was candid about his lifestyle.

He said the President pondered on the fact that people gave his romantic life too much importance. “‘Wala naman talaga ’yan (There’s really nothing to talk about),’” Cenzon quoted Mr.Aquino as saying.

The President also admitted to being bothered by news photographers who follow him each day, he said.

Cenzon said he consoled the President by saying: “Of course, you cannot help that, you are the most eligible bachelor in town.”

Supreme Court

The bishop said Aquino also shared his thoughts about the Supreme Court. “He was sad about the performance of the [judiciary] which, he said, was not helping him fight corruption. [Aquino] said he was studying his moves [as to] how the [judiciary] could be improved because he was serious about his fight against corruption,” Cenzon said.

The conversation ended at 4:30 p.m. and the President said he planned to take his nephews and nieces on a tour of the city, the bishop said.

On Friday night, the President dined with Pagcor Chairman Cristino Naguiat and Energy Secretary Rene Almendras in a pizza parlor at the Mile-Hi Center in Camp John Hay.

He also browsed through displays at a nearby clothes and accessories shop and posed for photographs with tourists and residents.

President on ‘private time’ in Baguio for New Year By Vincent Cabreza, Norman Bordadora Philippine Daily Inquirer, Inquirer Northern Luzon First Posted 21:06:00 12/31/2010

MANILA, Philippines—President Aquino is spending his New Year in Baguio City on “private time,” a source close to the Chief Executive said Friday.

Reports received by the Inquirer said Mr. Aquino slept at the Mansion, the President’s vacation residence in the country’s summer capital, on Thursday night, after having dinner at Rosebowl, a popular Chinese restaurant near Burnham Park.

A diner who saw the President said Mr. Aquino was accompanied by at least four security aides.

The source, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak about the President’s activities, said Mr. Aquino would spend time with his sisters while in Baguio.

“Some of them will come up (on Saturday),” the source said when asked if the President’s sisters would be with him in Baguio.

He said the President went up to the mountain city on Thursday. He added that Mr. Aquino brought some state papers with on his trip.

Courtesy call

Throughout Friday, no one confirmed seeing Mr. Aquino in Baguio, until policemen and members of the Presidential Security Group cordoned off the Baguio Cathedral (PHOTO AT LEFT)  at 1:30 p.m. for a 3 p.m. meeting with Baguio Bishop Carlito Cenzon.

Cenzon, in a telephone interview at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, said he was waiting for the President for the scheduled courtesy call.

Mr. Aquino, a bachelor, had requested for “private time” during the holidays. This is the cue for reporters to withdraw coverage of the President’s vacation.

Morning radio programs in Baguio talked about Mr. Aquino’s holiday here, with some hosts joking about his potential New Year’s date.

Employees go home

Asked how the Cordillera police had prepared for the President’s visit, a top official said: “We have no itinerary because it would be a private affair.”

Most Cordillera government officials said they were not informed about any presidential visit and had gone home for the holidays.

“We were not provided advisories [so we went home],” said Amador Batay-an, director of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.

The Philippine Information Agency (PIA) also sent its employees home. The PIA’s Cordillera staff used to spend the holidays at work during former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s holiday visits in Baguio City. Local officials said they respected Mr. Aquino’s request for privacy.

Vice Mayor Daniel Fariñas said he was informed about a visit, for example, but Mr. Aquino did not require the city government to prepare.

As of Friday afternoon, Malacañang wouldn’t give details of Mr. Aquino’s whereabouts on New Year’s Eve.

“Don’t know,” went presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda’s text message followed by two winking smileys.

Calls to Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang went unreturned. Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma called but said he didn’t have verifiable information on the President whereabouts.

Mr. Aquino on Thursday didn’t categorically answer questions on where he’d spend the New Year.

Peace, quiet

Asked if he would spend New Year in Manila, Mr. Aquino answered by saying he wanted to catch up on his paper work.

He then added, “Where I could have some peace and quiet so I can catch up on my backlog.”

Another Malacañang official, who usually receives advisories on the President’s activities, said he didn’t receive any on Friday.

“He really must want to have that few hours of the holidays for himself,” said the source.

Country club

On Friday morning, reporters received tips that Mr. Aquino was at the Baguio Country Club (BCC), but they were prevented from entering the exclusive compound.

A BCC source said the President had indeed made a stopover in the club on Dec. 31 but another official denied that he was there.

During his first trip to Baguio as President on Nov. 26, Mr. Aquino went to BCC as a guest of his Cojuangco relatives, who are BCC members.

Some officials who confirmed Mr. Aquino’s New Year visit said he was scheduled to stay in Baguio until Jan. 3.

A policeman walking the streets of downtown Baguio on New Year’s Eve said his colleagues were given extra assignments for the weekend, to augment the number of policemen deployed on Jan. 1 and 2.

Doctors at the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center and the Sacred Heart Hospital of the Saint Louis University were also instructed to be “extra vigilant” this weekend, a government doctor said on condition of anonymity.

“We were not informed why, so we assumed its because of the annual firecracker accidents,” the doctor said.

Mansion

But if employees of City Hall are to be believed, Mr. Aquino has finally decided to take a holiday at the Mansion for the first time since his mother, the late President Corazon Aquino, took office in 1986.

Aides of Mayor Mauricio Domogan were required to stand by for the weekend because he may be asked to welcome Mr. Aquino late afternoon Thursday. But Domogan’s aides declined to comment anymore about the mayor’s schedule on Friday.

On Christmas Day, the Mansion had no occupant for the first time after nine years. Arroyo and her family celebrated the holidays there, which she often turned into working vacations, complete with Cabinet meetings.

The Arroyos also mingled with the public during these visits, attended Masses and occasionally motored through Session Road to the delight of tourists.

Tourists, weather

Domogan on Wednesday said the city would get its tourists, regardless of whether a president stays at the Mansion. “We have our weather which is an [advantage over the rest of the country],” he said.

The days after Christmas Day have been relatively cooler.

Danny Galate, a Baguio weather specialist, said the city’s temperature dropped from 12.4 degrees Celsius on Dec. 27 to 12.2 degrees Celsius on Dec. 28.

The temperature went up to 13 degrees Celsius on Dec. 29 and to 13.8 degrees Celsius on Dec. 30 and 31, Galate said, but visitors find this appealing.

With reports from Desiree Caluza, Gobleth Moulic, and EV Espiritu, Inquirer Northern Luzon


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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