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GMA cuts ties with COPA

- Marichu A. Villanueva -
After an ugly public spat with leaders of the Council for Philippine Affairs (COPA) less than three months ago, President Arroyo lashed back at her former allies yesterday and called them "termites" gnawing at the "strong Republic" she is struggling to build.

Singled out as the proverbial "queen termite" was COPA secretary general Pastor "Boy" Saycon, whom the President appointed to the board of directors of the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp. (PDIC) but who continues to criticize her 18-month-old administration.

"He has to make a choice," Mrs. Arroyo told local and foreign reporters during an informal luncheon she hosted at Malacañang. "A strong Republic cannot afford termites from within."

The President made the remark a day after Saycon said in an interview with the ABS-CBN News Channel that members of the President’s Cabinet have expressed disillusionment at her supposed decision to recruit opposition leaders to her administration.

In the television interview, Saycon said unidentified Cabinet members expressed disappointment over the President’s alleged offers of government positions to known allies of jailed former President Joseph Estrada.

Saycon said Cabinet members expressed this sentiment at the Filipinas Heritage Library in Makati City on Monday during a meeting of so-called "civil society" groups that pushed for Estrada’s ouster and catapulted Mrs. Arroyo to the presidency.

But the President said Saycon and another COPA leader, Triccie Sison, were making "false claims" when they mentioned that Estrada allies, Ronaldo and Ricardo Puno and Jose Jaime Policarpio Jr., would be named to government positions.

Saycon also publicly lamented the "shabby treatment" supposedly given to Vice President Teofisto Guingona.

But the President said Saycon was not even present at the Heritage Library meeting and that the Cabinet members who had supposedly threatened to resign had called her to deny they made such remarks.

"They called me (to say) they were flustered (at) the way the meeting was treated. They said they want to be interviewed to give their version. They were there," the President said, referring to the Cabinet members.

The meeting itself was organized by Cabinet members, particularly Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo, who wanted to clarify with the administration’s "civil society" allies the "real score" on the supposed recruitment of Estrada allies into the Arroyo administration.

"Boy Saycon was not (even) present," the President said. "He was not invited, COPA was not invited. Because the only ones invited were supposed to be the ones who really cared."

The Heritage Library event was the last of a series of incidents that widened the gap that had been developing between the President and COPA even as early as August 2001, or only six months after Mrs. Arroyo’s succession to the presidency.

At that time, COPA leaders were reported to be planning to "withdraw support" from the six-month-old Arroyo administration supposedly because only a few of their members were appointed to government positions.

But the Palace pointed out that COPA leaders had indeed been named to "juicy" posts as board directors of government-owned and controlled corporations.

The Palace cited Saycon who was appointed to the PDIC and COPA leader, former Tarlac Gov. Margarita "Tingting" Cojuangco who was named presidential adviser on special projects.

Despite their "juicy" positions, however, Palace officials said COPA members continued to gripe about their positions and have even become "too demanding" in asking for multi-million peso government contracts and projects.

Last April, COPA leaders were even implicated in a supposed plot to overthrow the Arroyo administration via a "Freedom Force" and install a civilian-military junta.

The supposed plot was made public by Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin whom COPA leaders supposedly consulted before the launching of the Freedom Force.

In the letter, Sin rejected STAR columnist Teodoro Benigno’s suggestion that there be a "collective leadership" instituted by a "Freedom Force" that would supposedly be launched next month.

The Freedom Force concept was supposed to be a conception of Benigno, a former Press Secretary, who wrote in his April 22 column that there would soon be a social upheaval that will require the "collective leadership" of a "Freedom Force" that would be launched in May this year.

But Benigno later denied that that meant he was involved in a plot to seize power and install a "junta."

Despite the supposed coup plot, Palace officials said the President refused to be vindictive and remove COPA leaders from the posts to which the President appointed them.

But the President herself said she was not surprised at the supposed coup attempt and said COPA has "always been against" her.

Mrs. Arroyo recalled that she had known COPA leaders since 1996 when she was still a senator but they worked against her when she ran for vice president in 1998.

She earlier said that even during the time of the people power 2 uprising that catapulted her to the presidency, COPA leaders had really wanted "collective leadership" instead of her succession to the presidency.

"They have never been allied with me. Those people have always been against me," she told a television station last April.

ARROYO

BUT THE PRESIDENT

COPA

FREEDOM FORCE

HERITAGE LIBRARY

LEADERS

MEMBERS

MRS. ARROYO

PRESIDENT

SAYCON

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