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Headlines

Guingona quits DFA post

- Marichu A. Villanueva -
Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr. resigned yesterday as foreign affairs secretary, ending a 17-month stint marked by public clashes with President Arroyo on foreign policy issues particularly the deployment of US troops in the country.

An unusual joint statement issued yesterday by the President and Vice President said Guingona’s resignation takes effect July 15.

The joint statement did not name a successor to Guingona, but it was reported that Sen. Blas Ople is being wooed by the administration to assume the post.

Ople, chairman of the Senate committee on foreign relations, said he was not interested in succeeding Guingona. "Where do I stand on this issue? I am entitled to serve in the Senate for two more years till 2004. I am therefore not desperate for a job," he said.

Other names being floated by Malacañang as possible replacements are Special Envoy to the Americas Raul Rabe and ASEAN secretary general Rodolfo Severino.

Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs Joey Rufino said it was possible that Mrs. Arroyo can assume the post temporarily if she does not want to decide before Guingona’s resignation takes effect.

Meanwhile, Senators Edgardo Angara and Aquilino Pimentel said they were confident that Ople will not resign his Senate seat to become the next foreign affairs secretary.

Pro-administration senators, on the other hand, deplored the President’s shabby treatment of Guingona, saying it was a bad precedent for her allies. Guingona’s resignation ended days of bitter public feud with Mrs. Arroyo which has started to shake the Lakas-NUCD party.

On June 27, Malacañang announced that it had accepted Guingona’s resignation as foreign affairs secretary by releasing to the media a supposed presidential letter allegedly written by Guingona himself the night before. Guingona denied the Malacañang announcement that he was leaving his post.

Government sources told Reuters that the President genuinely believed Guingona had resigned and was taken aback when he refused to do so. She did not want to insist on his immediate removal from the Cabinet, fearing a more widespread row, the sources said.

The Arroyo-Guingona statement released by Malacañang said, "The resignation stemmed from an honest difference of opinion concerning policy. Since the President is the chief architect of foreign policy, the Vice President yields. The Vice President continues to hold the President in high esteem, and is committed to good governance."

The statement appeared to signal an end, at least momentarily, to their differences on the deployment of US troops in the country, notably the terms of reference of the ongoing joint RP-US Balikatan 02-1 anti-terror military exercise in Mindanao.
Tired Guingona
Guingona admitted being "tired" of confronting the issue of his resignation which had hounded him since early this year, even before the arrival of the US troops in Zamboanga and Basilan for the joint RP-US Balikatan 02-1 joint military exercise.

The President and the Vice President again clashed on whether to approve the terms of reference that will govern the conduct of the joint military exercise.

Asked why he left it to Malacañang to issue the joint statement on his resignation instead of making a personal announcement, Guingona said because "I’m tired... I’m tired."

He told reporters in a chance interview that "we agreed. If I make a statement it will again add fuel to the fire. There’ll be misinterpretations, and all that."

The difference between the two have been an open secret and members of the Lakas-NUCD have said the rift may affect the party’s performance in the May 2004 presidential elections.

Mrs. Arroyo, who has personally sought US help in crushing the Muslim rebels, is anticipated to be the administration’s candidate in the 2004 elections.

"The Vice President expressed his appreciation to the President for the opportunity to serve as Secretary of Foreign Affairs. The President thanked the Vice President for his patriotism and devotion to duty in implementing the nation’s foreign policy," the joint statement said.

It also said that Mrs. Arroyo will continue to support programs initiated by Guingona during his 16-month stint as foreign affairs secretary. The programs are the Overseas Filipino Investment Bond, a housing program for overseas Filipino workers and the establishment of an integrated national steel company in Mindanao.

Guingona, who looked sad, said he will go on vacation after July 15. "I’m tired. I want to sleep."

He said the President did not offer him any position in the government noting that the statement did not mention any offer for him to serve as presidential adviser on foreign affairs after he steps down.

"The statement speaks for itself. I can’t further comment. I’m really sorry I can’t speak in detail and answer those questions," he said.

Upon her ascent to the presidency via EDSA 2 on Jan. 21, 2001, Mrs. Arroyo appointed Guingona as Vice President on Feb. 6 and as foreign affairs secretary on Feb. 12.

Guingona was confirmed by both chambers of Congress as an unelected Vice President on Feb. 8, 2001.

The Office of the Press Secretary released the joint statement at 12:30 p.m. yesterday while Mrs. Arroyo was still on the road from Cotabato City to Camp Abubakar. Bad weather prevented the presidential party from using helicopter.

At Camp Abubakar, Mrs. Arroyo did not mention Guingona’s resignation. Journalists traveling with the presidential party found it odd because US Ambassador to the Philippines Francis Ricciardone, his wife and several US Embassy officials were among the guests in the ceremonial turnover of the USAID financial assistance to the government’s rebel returnee program for Muslim rebels.
Ople not interested
Ople said the first time that the foreign affairs post was offered to him, he declined because it was not vacant and that Vice President Guingona "was doing a good job."

"Later, I was sounded off again, but this time the reorganization of the Senate had supervened. I informed the President’s emissaries that I could not accept a job offer with political strings attached, of if it was tied up with the reorganization of the Senate," Ople said in his column which appeared in another newspaper yesterday.

Ople sent a copy of his column and a short note to Angara via fax from Los Angeles and authorized him to release them. Angara has been acting as Ople’s spokesman since the alleged Malacañang offer came out in the open.

"Central to this argument is the principle of an independent Senate under the Constitution. Trading one’s voice for a valuable consideration by any name is immoral and might even smack of political corruption," he said.

However despite these strong statements, Ople hinted that he may be amenable to an arrangement in the future. He noted if the President were sincere in her offer, then he would consider examining it "once the matter is extricated from the political and ethical issues in Senate."

Ople lauded Guingona for upholding the institutional role of the Department of Foreign Affairs during bilateral negotiations on the Philippine-US military exercise.

He said the problem with the President and the Vice President may be the lack of personal chemistry and not their differences in policies.

Ople said Guingona had more rapport with Mrs. Arroyo’s father, the late President Diosdado Macapagal.

"It seems he feels more constrained under the daughter’s more forthright management style. But it goes without saying that a Cabinet minister must adjust to the President’s management style, and not the other way around," he said.

Meanwhile, Angara and Pimentel said Ople will not trade his mandate as a senator, which has security of tenure, for a highly unstable Cabinet position.

"I think that the man (Ople) has enough self-respect not to stand for that kind of treatment. I am quite confident at this point that none of us in the opposition will accept any of these positions, any of their bribes," Angara said.

Pimentel said it was far-fetched for Ople to succumb to the offer and allow himself to become a pawn in any political power play. He said that what has happened to Guingona may also befall Ople.

However, a Palace source said Malacañang has "the numbers already," alluding to the possible Ople acceptance.

An Ople acceptance will tilt 12-11 the slim majority in the Senate, in favor of the administration.

Senate President Pro Tempore Manuel Villar said a successor to Guingona must be chosen as soon as possible to ensure continuity at the DFA.

On the other hand, Senators Loren Legarda Leviste, Juan Flavier and Francis Pangilinan told reporters that while Guingona’s resignation was expected, he deserved better treatment.

Sen. Ralph Recto said he will push for a passage of a Senate resolution commending Guingona for "discharging his job with honor and distinction."

Pangilinan said Mrs. Arroyo must act aggressively and resolutely to mend political fences. "Tito is an ally. Thus, her other allies are concerned if they too may be treated similarly in the future," he said.

Guingona is the president of the Lakas-NUCD party, while Mrs. Arroyo is its chairwoman.

"Mrs. Arroyo needs to act and reassure her allies that she is serious about strengthening alliances. She should reach out to reassure her allies that she is interested in building rather than burning political bridges," he said.

Rep. Augusto Syjuco Jr. urged other Lakas members to help heal the rift between the President and the Vice President.

Syjuco called on House Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., who co-chairs Lakas with Mrs. Arroyo, to cut short his Moscow trip and return home to become a peace-broker within the party. He said De Venecia should come home to show moral support for the President.

He said Senate President Franklin Drilon should also assist in mending the feud between Mrs. Arroyo and Guingona.

Drilon lamented Guingona’s resignation, but said it was an internal matter that the Lakas-NUCD should resolve.

Roberto Romulo, presidential adviser on international competitiveness, said he was not interested in becoming secretary of foreign affairs.

"I have not been offered any job and even if offered I will not accept," he said in a statement.

Romulo is currently out of the country. — With reports from Efren Danao, Jess Diaz, Edith Regalado, AFP, AP, Reuters

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MRS. ARROYO

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VICE PRESIDENT

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