MANILA,  August
12, 2004 (STAR) Annoyed by a stream of unwanted kisses, President Arroyo warned overzealous male fans and supporters yesterday that to avoid embarrassment they should not pucker up in her direction.

"First, show some respect. Secondly, I am conservative. I do not want to be kissed by any man but my husband," she told a pulong bayan (town hall meeting) in Sta. Rosa, Laguna hosted by Ford Philippines.

The President often receives kisses on both cheeks by unknown admirers, a practice known locally as beso-beso (kiss on the cheeks).

Citing her conservative nature, Mrs. Arroyo said she would only accept kisses from her husband, First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo.

"Please, all the men in the country, so that I won’t be rude to you, do not attempt to kiss me," she said.

The 57-year-old President was responding to a remark by Giselle Sanchez, the meeting’s emcee who joked that a man in the crowd wanted to kiss her but he hesitated because he hadn’t brushed his teeth.

Her statement was carried live on nationwide ABS-CBN cable television, the state-run National Broadcast Network Channel 4 and Radyo ng Bayan.

During a visit to meet Filipino workers in Kuwait last year, one of Mrs. Arroyo’s female security aides shoved away a man who approached the President with his lips puckered and ready to plant a kiss on her cheek.

A picture of the man’s foiled advance was published by many local newspapers. The Palace then announced that no one should ever try to claim a smacker from Mrs. Arroyo, who is always protected by her troop of bodyguards.

In yesterday’s meeting, Mrs. Arroyo hastily added though that there are exceptions. "Si Noli, Vice President ko, we have to be friendly with each other. We have to work together. So we’re on beso-beso terms," she explained.

The first time that the President was seen in public doing a beso-beso with a male friend was during a function at the Palace in 2002 with former justice secretary Hernando Perez.

She also cited as an example Ford Philippines’ president Henry Co who was in the audience. "I’ve known him for quite some time. We don’t make beso-beso with each other," she snapped at the unapologetic Sanchez.

Sanchez had hosted programs of Mrs. Arroyo and De Castro during the campaign and has been doing the emcee work for the past three pulong bayan.

Mrs. Arroyo discussed with participants in the pulong bayan her administration’s job creation program and the economic growth package she unwrapped in her state of the nation address in Congress last month. De Castro and Laguna Gov. Ningning Lazaro were her co-hosts.

Apparently not in the mood for keeping her famous temper in check, the President also promptly scolded government officials who tried to defend themselves or their respective departments over complaints raised by the participants.

But the audience applauded her for being firm and decisive and for acting quickly on the people’s complaints.

Even Lazaro was not spared from public rebuke as the female governor made the mistake of trying to defend the toll being levied by the provincial government on motorists over a national road like the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX).

"Sorry Governor Ningning, Awayin mo na lang ako. Kasuhan mo na lang ako (Quarrel with me if you want or file charges) but we will take it (toll) out from you," Mrs. Arroyo told the governor.

At the very start of the pulong bayan, Mrs. Arroyo also berated newly appointed Cabinet officer for provincial events Conrado Limcaoco for the setup of the town hall meeting, which she said was not conducive for people to freely talk to her.

"Kung sa bangko tayo (If we were seated in benches), it’s easy for you to come here. Ay naku! I don’t like this setup," she fumed. "Kaya mas gusto ko sa bangko, mas di kinakabahan ang tao, mas approachable ang dating (That’s why I like it if we were seated on benches, people are less tense and the setup is more approachable)," the President pointed out.

In the very first pulong bayan held in Caloocan City, Mrs. Arroyo enjoyed the informal setup where the guests and the participants were seated on benches. — Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved