President praying over whether to run in 2004

National interest weighed

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was seeking divine guidance on whether to run for reelection in the 2004 elections, Presidential Spokesperson Ignacio Bunye said Monday.

"The President, I am sure, is mulling this very, very seriously and she is praying very hard for guidance," Bunye told reporters.

Bunye confirmed that Ms Macapagal, 56, has been swamped with calls from members of her Lakas party, business leaders and other "well-meaning" people in the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nation to seek a fresh mandate.

"She has been hearing a lot of suggestions but, in the final analysis, I am sure she will consider what is the greater interest of the country and the people," he said.

Ms Macapagal's devotion was no secret, Bunye said, describing her as a "really religious person" who attends Mass every morning.

Nine months ago, Ms Macapagal--who has described the presidency as a position "made in Heaven"--credited a message from God for her decision not to run in the election.

"It is God who puts ideas in my heart," she said.

Commentators believe that Ms Macapagal, whose government faced down a mutiny by renegade troops in July, must make a decision soon.

"The flurry of corruption exposÚs and of coup plot reports-which are interrelated themes-in the media is driven by the poisonous political climate in the run-up to the May elections," Amando Doronila wrote in the Inquirer Monday.

"To clear up the destabilizing uncertainties over coup plots, it is terribly important that Ms Macapagal declare in categorical terms whether she will run in 2004."

Speculation is rising that Ms Macapagal, who leaves Wednesday night on a five-day trip to the United States and Europe, will announce her candidacy after she shall have been praised by US President George W. Bush during his eight-hour visit to Manila on Oct. 18 before the two leaders attend an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Thailand.

An audience with Pope John Paul II during a trip to Europe later this month and a Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrat (Lakas-CMD) leadership summit on Oct. 7 are other factors bolstering speculation that Ms Macapagal will change her mind about the election next year.

"All indications show that the President is running," Vice President Teofisto Guingona said in radio interviews on Monday.

Guingona, a member of the ruling Lakas-CMD coalition, said he has been urging the President to make a decision as soon as possible.

In May, Bush called Ms Macapagal a strong partner in the US-led fight against terror.

Ms Macapagal supported Washington's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

American soldiers regularly train and advise Filipino troops fighting several groups of Muslim militants, including Abu Sayyaf, which has been linked to the Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

She moved up from vice president in January 2001 when then president Joseph Estrada was ousted in a military-backed popular revolt.


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