MANILA,  August 22
, 2004 (STAR) Having stared down a multitude of problems made President Arroyo the ninth most powerful woman in the world, according to Forbes magazine, but a common viral infection of the eyes sidelined her yesterday.

The 57-year-old Mrs. Arroyo contracted conjunctivitis — commonly called sore eyes — a day after an overnight stay at the freshly painted "Malacañang of the South" in the old Customs building in Cebu City.

This made her cancel previously scheduled public appearances in the morning at the special Mass for the 21st anniversary of the assassination of former Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. at the Manila Memorial Park in Sucat, Parañaque City.

Mrs. Arroyo, a devout Catholic, also missed the overnight celebration of the 20th anniversary of the El Shaddai charismatic group at the Quirino Grandstand at Manila’s Rizal Park last night.

But sore eyes or not, the workaholic President is raring to get back to work.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said the swelling of Mrs. Arroyo’s eyes has improved considerably over the past two days.

"This (sore eyes) is no reason or obstacle for her to perform her duties," Bunye pointed out.

The President’s sick leave came after the prestigious Forbes Magazine adjudged her as the ninth most powerful among woman leader in the world and the fourth in Asia.

The United States-based business magazine said the Forbes 100 women "have faced a multitude of problems" ranging from house arrst, stopping corporate or political scandals, fighting globe-threatening illnesses and human rights abuses, and working in the most dangerous places in the world."

In citing Mrs. Arroyo, Forbes noted that by the time she became president of the Philippines in January 2001, she "was already ensconed in her country’s power elite."

The magazine also cited the huge electoral mandate Mrs. Arroyo received when she was elected in the Senate in 1995 and as vice president in 1998.

"Arroyo was sworn in as the 14th president of the Philippines in 2001, only the second woman to be voted president of her country," Forbes said.

Malacañang expressed elation and "honor" by the citation.

"We consider this a big honor because we all know Forbes is a very prestigious magazine which is read by decision-makers in the entire world," Bunye said.

"The President knows her role in our country. We are in a very critical period in our history so she is using all her powers very humbly, with responsibility and with great regard for national interenst," he said.

Forbes chose 100 women "who are changing not only the societies in which they operate, but also the role of women in power."

The Forbes list of the world’s 100 most powerful women was topped by Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser of US President George W. Bush.

Before she left Cebu last Thursday, Mrs. Arroyo was already sporting smoked eyeglasses and told reporters she had sore eyes.

Nonetheless, the President went through with her ceremonial functions of inducting into office newly elected officials and entertained callers at the Palace last Friday.

She wore darker shades however to hide her swelled eyes.

Explaining this, presidential aides earlier told The STAR that Mrs. Arroyo had only a few hours of sleep that night and took an early bath the next morning.

The Department of Health (DOH) earlier warned of "sporadic cases" of sore eyes while the rainy season even as the disease is most common during the summer.

A health advisory said sore eyes symptoms include redness of the eyes and eyelids and pus-like or thick discharge from the eyes. Symptoms could last for 14 days from the onset of infection.

The DOH has asked the public to be vigilant against conjunctivitis — a "reportable" disease thus statistics on sore eyes are not available. — Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved