MANILA, APRIL 19, 2011 (TRIBUNE) By Charlie V. Manalo and Aytch S. de la Cruz  - President Aquino called her and the political opposition as “paranoid” and now sourgrapes, but it certainly looks like the former president is not about to take Aquino’s tirades against her sitting down.

Having finally broken her silence, Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo yesterday followed up her charge of the existence of a “vacuum in leadership” in relation to the Aquino government and his “student council” government, calling on her successor to start acting like a real president and work hard in resolving the country’s worsening problems.

Short of calling Aquino a popularity-conscious president, Arroyo, through her spokesman, Elena Bautista-Horn, said Aquino should now focus his energy in drafting an economic roadmap to

address the rising poverty, hunger, inflation, unemployment and corruption indices, instead of embarking on a warpath against his perceived enemies.

“It has been almost a year since the new administration was elected and yet no definite economic roadmap or medium-term plan has been implemented in the midst of rising poverty, hunger, inflation, unemployment and corruption indices. Increasingly, the lack of direction under what a prominent opinion-maker terms a ‘nobody home’ leadership is becoming apparent,” said Bautista-Horn as she noted that Aquino had in “countless times, targeted Arroyo through malicious and vicious personal attacks.”

This, despite Arroyo having chosen “to be silent to make it convenient for the present leadership to map out his directions for the country,” according to Bautista-Horn.

This is the second time in less than a week Arroyo lashed at Aquino. Late last week, in an exclusive interview with another national daily, Arroyo, citing the rising indices of corruption, poverty, hunger and unemployment, said there was a vacuum of leadership under the Aquino administration.

Aquino through his spokesman, Edwin Lacierda, twitted Arroyo anew, again trading barbs with Arroyo on her criticisms on the management style of Aquino.

Lacierda, in a news conference yesterday, said Arroyo is merely “sourgraping” judging from the tenor of her recent statements that came after her son, Ang Galing Pinoy partylist Rep. Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, figured in a tax evasion controversy.

He told the former head of state that she, her family, and her allies have nothing to worry about being politically harassed under the Aquino administration because they will be given the all-important “due process”.

“I think the statement of President Arroyo is sourgraping. She believes she is politically being harassed because of the recent turn of events with respect to her son. But let me assure Congressman Arroyo that we are going to provide each and every member of the opposition the due process that all of us deserve,” Lacierda said.

Malacañang’s apparent rejuvenated vendetta against Arroyo and her allies came after they planned to launch an all-out offensive against the Aquino administration and the former President’s remarks that the Aquino government suffers from a vacuum of leadership.

Emotions from the ranks of the minority ran especially high when the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) filed a P73.85-million worth of tax evasion charges against the younger Arroyo and his wife, Angela, for their alleged failure to file income tax returns while the big groups of businessmen are supposedly being allowed to continue cheating the government.

Lacierda, in belying Arroyo’s claims, connected the claimed “sourgraping” of the Arroyos and the political opposition to her unpopularity during her nine years of presidency while Aquino’s popularity ratings remain relatively high despite the criticisms he is receiving from the opposition forces.

“There is no vacuum of leadership and the reason she said that is despite all the brickbats against the President, he remains popular and credible because he is the antithesis of the former President, that is a clean, honest and an incorruptible President. At the same time, the trust and confidence of the Filipino people continue to be reposed on the President,” so claimed Lacierda.

But despite the strong words being sent by Malacañang to the former President and the rest of the opposition leaders, Lacierda claimed that they “are not demonizing the former President but admittedly we inherited an administration that is full of controversies that we are unearthing. We’ll let the ax fall where it should. There is no personal vendetta against the former President.”

With regard to how Aquino is addressing the present economic woes of the country, Lacierda reiterated that they are exploring various measures that would help ease the burden of the public which will not be perceived as as populist moves.

“We are on top of the situation. We are confronting the problems that come our way. We are going, we are exploring options which are not “pa-pogi” only and that’s why we want to make sure that the solutions we are going to offer the public are something we can live with and will not in the long term affect further our nation,” explained Lacierda.

“I think her (Arroyo’s) term is done. Let us do our job and if there is one thing sure, there is no vacuum of moral leadership here. We believe that we have a responsibility to fulfill and we intend to fulfill our obligations to the Filipino people,” he added.

Arroyo’s spokesman for her part said that majority of Filipinos are feeling the pinch of the crisis as manifested by the rise in the self-rated poverty hitting 51 percent in March, up from 48.5 percent average in 2009-2010, according to a survey conducted by the Social Weathwr Station (SWS).

Bautista-Horn added that the SWS survey also revealed that the March 2011 hunger incidence of 20.5 percent now exceeds the 14 percent average during the Arroyo Administration.

“Many Filipinos have lost their optimism,” she said. “But whenever the surveys show a big dip in the leadership’s popularity and performance rating, the regime deflects it by attacking the previous president.”

“For the past weeks, the present leadership has yet again been on a warpath, wasting no time to badmouth his perceived political enemies, (former) President Arroyo included, before student bodies to show his supposed fervor,” Arroyo’s spokesman noted.

Bautista-Horn said that while graft and corruption must be addressed, “with the corruption index recently rising, fighting poverty and hunger must be addressed with great urgency.”

Bautista-Horn also lashed at Aquino for his ineptitude in addressing the continuing rise of the prices of petroleum products as she cited the country’s experience during the time of former President Arroyo when the world price of oil reached $145, but that Arroyo was able to keep local pump prices down to P65-P70.

“Now the world price of oil is less than that so it should be less difficult to deal with. The President must step up in order to shield the people from the effects of rising inflation,” said Bautista-Horn. “This is on top of the issue of rising unemployment and these issues must be addressed now,” the spokesman stressed. “Filipinos are getting poorer and hungrier by the day. Now is the time to address this problem.

“We are waiting for action,” Arroyo’s camp dared Aquino.

Meanwhile, Lakas-Kampi-CMD Deputy Secretary General and spokesman, lawyer Raul Lambino lauded Press Secretary Sonny Coloma for “recognizing the value of the opposition in a healthy democracy.”

This, even as Lambino assured the administration that Lakas will continue to play the role of fiscalizer under the Aquino government.

“In the words of our party president, Sen. Bong Revilla, we will continue to play our role as a check and balance. As reiterated by our party chairman, House minority leader Rep. Edcel Lagman, we will maintain “critical cooperation” with the administration and refrain from “virulent and baseless opposition,” said Lambino.

This is why we also welcome Secretary Coloma’s challenge to keep our criticism “issues-oriented”, even though—I must point out—it is the administration that has been engaging in demonization of our colleagues in the House, Rep, Arroyo, and those whom they perceive to be her allies,” Lambino said adding that “nobody else wishes more than us for the success of our elected leadership.”

“This is why, as Rep. Arroyo recently warned, we are truly alarmed by the emergence of a “vacuum in leadership” at the top. This is a problem that can be solved by paying more attention to the issues that matter to our people, and less on personalities and politicking,” said the party spokesman.

Lambino dared the administration that if it “would only truly open its heart and mind, it could benefit from the lessons available in the success of the previous administration.”

“As pointed out by our party Secretary General Congressman Jose Aquino II, the country enjoyed unprecedented economic growth, not through political confrontation, but through the power of alliances and national consensus,” said Lambino.

“For the sake, not just of our party, but of our country, we fervently hope that the administration will match its future actions to its latest words and seek to become healers as well as builders.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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