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GMA files COC in Pampanga

President Arroyo displays her certificate of candidacy for congresswoman in the second district of Pampanga, which she filed at the Comelec office in San Fernando yesterday. Joining her are First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and son Mikey, the incumbent representative of the district, who called his mother ‘the greatest President the country ever had.’ WILLY PEREZ

LUBAO, Pampanga , Philippines  – President Arroyo filed her certificate of candidacy (COC) for congresswoman yesterday, a move scorned and derided by critics but called “an act of humility” by supporters whom she exhorted to “campaign hard for me and ensure my victory as I continue performing my task as President.”

“We have gone far, and too much is at stake for me to waiver now in my commitment to the people of the nation,” Mrs. Arroyo told some 3,000 supporters gathered outside St. Augustine Church here where she attended a concelebrated Mass in the

 morning with her family and some officials before filing her COC inside a coaster outside the Commission on Elections (Comelec) provincial office in San Fernando.

“I was very much looking forward to stepping down as president,” she told the jubilant crowd.

“But after much thinking, I realized I am not ready to step down completely from public life,” she said. “I have decided to respond affirmatively to your call,” she added.

“I will continue to serve in a capacity that is closer to the people,” referring to the province’s second district.

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She said she had considered going back to teaching or getting involved in a non-government organization concerned with women’s issues or the environment.

With the President during the Mass were First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and son Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo as well as Cabinet officials including Trade Secretary Peter Favila, Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde, Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman, deputy presidential spokesperson Lorelei Fajardo, and Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Joaquin Lagonera.

In his homily, Fr. Bogs Moraleja from the Archdiocese of San Fernando said Mrs. Arroyo’s running for a lower elective post does not diminish the presidency.

“Don’t believe those people who think that you are diminishing the presidency by running for Congress,” Moraleja said.

“Even the Lord God, who had the highest and noblest position in the heavens, came down to become man and to suffer with us,” he said.

“If some people will put you down because of what they think of you, we Pampangeños will lift you up. If they put you down because of what you are going to do, we will raise you up. Do not be afraid of this unprecedented move. They are just the same in that they provide you the position to serve genuinely,” he said.

In her speech outside the church, the President vowed to “keep a steady hand on the tiller of the ship of the state” for the remaining months of her presidency.

“I will be firmly in control of our national government until the last day of my presidency,” she stressed.

The Mass was concelebrated by 12 priests, led by Fr. Jun Mercado, who quite openly campaigned for Mrs. Arroyo during and immediately after the Mass.

An Aeta leader, who was not immediately identified, was allowed to share the front pew with the President near the end of the Mass.

Chants of “GMA, GMA” greeted Mrs. Arroyo and her party as they went out of the church to proceed to a stage at the church patio where supporters had converged.

The area was festooned with white and aquamarine balloons.

“The mayor told us to come here. We didn’t realize only the lunch was free and not the breakfast so we’re now hungry,” an Aeta Ronald Popatec, 30 said in Filipino as he squatted outside the San Agustin church during the Mass.

But he and another Aeta, Arnel Valencia, said they fully support Mrs. Arroyo’s congressional bid as they noted that electric posts have sprung up in their village in Porac.

Proud son

“I am happy GMA heeded the clamor of our kabalen,” Mikey said, referring to his mother by her initials.

Mikey chose to leave politics to give way to his mother’s congressional bid.

Mikey served as Pampanga vice governor for three years and as congressman for six years.

“I have one term left, but I am giving it up to someone who is ten million times more intelligent than I am and who can do far more for the Capampangans than I can,” he said.

“Just to put things in the right perspective, I have one more term, I’ve done my best for my constituents in the past six years, but there’s a clamor for her so I thank God for giving me the privilege of giving way to a better person, a better leader than me, to a great mother, to the best leader our country has ever had and I thank God that I was born the son of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo,” Mikey said.

Remonde, meanwhile, told reporters that while past presidents may not have sought elective posts after their terms, they have not been silent on national affairs.

“They have always been behind all coup d’etats and destabilizations,” he said.

“So who is doing better? What did the others (former presidents) do?” he asked without naming names.

He also took potshots at UP professor Randy David, who earlier threatened to challenge Mrs. Arroyo in the congressional race but withdrew at the last minute.

“If he’s (David) really that good, why did he back out?” 

No legal impediment

Despite the massive outcry against President Arroyo’s decision to run for a congressional seat in Pampanga, there is no constitutional impediment to her seeking another elective post, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said.

Santiago noted that at least two American presidents successfully ran and served in the US Senate after holding office as president.

“So this is not the first time that it has happened although we will have to say that this is unconventional for a Philippine president,” Santiago added.

“You can look at this issue from several angles – legal, political, moral ethical. Let me limit myself only to the legal, all the rest is a question of opinion. Is she qualified to run for congressman? Answer: yes. Because the Constitutional says the president shall not be legible for any reelection,” Santiago said.

On allegations that Mrs. Arroyo’s move was intended to keep herself immune from legal suits, Santiago said “yes, that may be so. But she does not gain any immunity from criminal or civil suits from her presidency. She can still be sued even if she is a congresswoman.”

The senator added that the President can have parliamentary immunity only in the sense that she can deliver privilege speeches, attack anybody, and not be sued for what she has done within the confines of the House of Representatives.

Unopposed?

Former senator Franklin Drilon also conceded that there is no legal impediment to Mrs. Arroyo’s running for congresswoman.

“We have no plan of filing an opposition to her candidacy. I think, as a lawyer, there is no hindrance to the candidacy of President Arroyo,” Drilon said after filing his COC for senator under the Liberal Party (LP).

As of last night, LP campaign manager Florencio “Butch” Abad said they were still looking for somebody to pit against Mrs. Arroyo.

Drilon, a staunch Arroyo critic, advised Pampanga voters to choose a candidate who would truly represent them in Congress and not someone who is out for self-interest.

“We start a new journey towards reform and change and we are confident in this coming election the clamor for change and the fact that people want to see improvement in their lives and the rule of law in the land,” he said.

Nacionalista Party spokesman Gilbert Remulla also said the party is not fielding any candidate to challenge President Arroyo in the second district.

The United Opposition is also not fielding anyone in Pampanga’s 2nd district.

Leave it to the SC

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said it would be best to raise the issue on the legality of the President’s decision to the Supreme Court.

“I guess the opinion is divided as far as qualification of an incumbent president is concerned to run for public office. So I think some opinion is to the effect that she can. Others said she cannot. I suppose the final decision on that will be the SC if ever anybody will challenge her candidacy,” Enrile said.

Enrile declined to expound on the matter “in deference to the separation between my department and the executive department.”

Lone challenger

With Mrs. Arroyo’s victory in the second district almost certain, a 55-year-old electronics engineer from Porac said he remains determined to challenge the President in the congressional race.

“All I want to do is share my talent in electronics which has influenced many aspects of our lives,” said congressional aspirant Feliciano Serrano as he filed his COC with the Comelec Monday.

Serrano’s filing of his COC lacked the fanfare that attended Mrs. Arroyo’s filing of her COC.

“These days, our lives are affected by electronics. There’s electronic loading (of cell phones) and we do not even know whether some go to taxes because the telecom firms are in full control,” he said, adding that he wants legislation passed to make such transactions more transparent.

Serrano said he obtained his electronics engineering degree from the University of Santo Tomas in 1975. His wife attends to their car battery shop in Angeles City. Their three children are now professionals.

He assured his provincemates that he would be able to find time to campaign in the second district once the campaign season starts. “I will also campaign via text messages and the Internet,” he said.

Serrano said he ran for mayor of Porac as an independent in 2004, but got only “very few votes.” With Christina Mendez, Marvin Sy, Sheila Crisostomo, Ric Sapnu

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