Catholic bishops urge Arroyo: Declare '04 plan

MANILA -- Any decision of President Arroyo to run in the 2004 presidential elections will depend on the results of the Oct. 7 meeting of the Lakas party directorate, deputy presidential spokesman Ricardo Saludo said Tuesday.

He explained that Arroyo will take into consideration a possible endorsement from her partymates when making a decision.

Roman Catholic bishops also want to ascertain whether Arroyo would stand in next year's presidential polls and are seeking a meeting with her, said Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) spokesman Monsignor Hernando Coronel.

The bishops, Coronel added, had requested a meeting with Arroyo next week to ask if she is still maintaining her stand that she will not contest the presidency.

"...Depending on how Lakas decides, that will be an input in her decision...She did indicate, I believe, that one of the factors she may consider is the decision of the Lakas-CMD conference or party caucus on Oct. 7. So that may be another factor," explained Saludo, on whether Arroyo would contest the 2004 presidential polls.

Saludo is not aware, however, if Arroyo will attend the Lakas meeting, a political matter which, according to the deputy presidential spokesman, does not involve the presidency. Nevertheless, it involves Arroyo because she is co-chairman of the party, he pointed out.

Arroyo is scheduled to attend the 9th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit in Bali, Indonesia during the Lakas meeting.

Asked if Arroyo will announce her decision even before the Jose Pidal controversy is resolved, Saludo said: "I don't know. Do you know when the Jose Pidal controversy will be resolved? Does anybody know?"

He also declined to answer succeeding questions on circumstances that may change Arroyo's mind.

"Maybe another question. Any others? Sorry, I didn't blow my cool today, blow my top today, nothing for you to write about," Saludo said, referring to the his losing his cool Monday after being bombarded with questions on Arroyo's 2004 plans.

Catholic bishops also want Arroyo to make clear her intentions in 2004.

"She has said last December that she would not run but there are indications that she might run so religious leaders want some explanations and in our meeting with (Arroyo), we want some clarity," Coronel said.

Saludo, however, urged everyone to remain patient and just wait for Arroyo's announcement because "if she is not announcing anything yet, that is because she is focused on the needs of the country."

He said Arroyo's main focus at present is pursuing "development and national agenda," which includes the implementation of programs concerning peace, security stability, economic growth, more jobs and delivery of basic services to the people.

Coronel said National Security Adviser Roilo Golez was arranging a meeting next week between Arroyo and the bishops, as part of an ecumenical consultative group that will include Protestant and Muslim religious leaders.

He did not say why Golez was arranging the meeting.

Arroyo in a shock announcement in December said that she would not run in the May 2004 presidential elections so she could abstain from politics and concentrate on reforms.

But earlier this month, her spokesman said that "the President is not closing the door" to changing her mind and running after all.

Coronel said that if Arroyo declines to announce her decision, then the bishops will instead submit to her a list of guidelines telling voters who to choose in the next polls.

The guidelines, which are still being worked out, will likely endorse candidates with a record of marital fidelity and public service, the monsignor added.

Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye virtually admitted earlier that Arroyo was reconsidering her December 30 pronouncement of not running after saying several times the President was seeking divine guidance on the issue.

Aside from divine guidance, Arroyo is looking at other factors like survey results, the endorsement of some sectors for her to run as well as calls by some for her to stand by her December 30 pronouncement.

Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr. in an ambush interview at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) reiterated his call for Arroyo to immediately make a decision and make it public as soon as possible.

He said that he was hoping Arroyo would make an announcement concerning her political plans when she arrived from her five-day working trip to New York, Vatican and Paris Tuesday, but she made none.

Presidential liaison for political affairs Jose Maria Rufino, in a radio interview, said reports about Arroyo announcing her decision during her arrival were rumors floated as part of efforts to topple down the administration party.

He expressed confidence that anyone who would be endorsed by Lakas to run for the presidency in 2004 would be victorious, whether she be Arroyo or someone else.

Arroyo, upon her arrival at the NAIA from her working visit, called on elected officials, particularly politicians, to remain committed to serving the people, to keep their priorities straight and not to allow the coming elections to cloud their way of thinking or performance.

"The political season seems to be in full tilt unfortunately...I call on all quarters to transform the partisan flavor of current debates into something more constructive. We need everybody's contribution to the shaping of good policy whether as a proponent or fiscalizer," she said.

Arroyo said debates should be focused on policies and platforms "so that our people can derive the best benefits from politics and governance."

She vowed to "weave the right tapestry" of foreign and domestic policies that will best serve the interest of the nation and people.

But Guingona believes talks on partisan politics will not cease as the 2004 election nears, though he agrees with Arroyo's call for a shift of focus from personalities to platforms and program.

"Iyan ang trend (partisan politics) because you cannot prevent the season from coming in but the difference in her appeal is that instead of personalities, programs and platforms should prevail. I myself have advocated this, that there be more programs for the people," he added. She Caguimbal-Torres/(With AFP)


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