By Aytch S. de la Cruz
She has critics among Catholic Church leaders, whom she ignores today, but she also has Pampango priests who compare her to Jesus Christ which they did not find blasphemous.
President Arroyo no longer needs the bishops as a body; only the archbishop of Pampanga and some Pampanga priests for her congressional run, which is why Arroyo ignored a rebuke by the Catholic Church leaders and the fury of her opponents yesterday as she launched her bid to become a member of Congress.
But she had her archbishop and priests in Pampanga cheering her on, with a priest even stating that she is not unlike Jesus Christ in going from high position to a lowly one.
Arroyo, prior to filing her CoC before the Comelec first attended an early morning Mass in San Agustin Church to seek the blessing and guidance of the local priests there before embarking on another political battle in her long and turbulent years as public servant.
In the homily officiated by resident priest, Fr. Bogs Moraleja, with some 23 priests joining the mass, virtually compared Arroyo to Jesus Christ in her decision to step down and seek for a lower position in the government.
“Don’t believe those people who think that you are diminishing the presidency by running for Congress,” Moraleja told the president who was with her spouse and her Cabinet during the mass that was celebrated by around 24 priests.
“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 preached. “Jesus came down on earth to save mankind,” Moraleja’s homily went, implying that Arroyo’s run would save the Filipinos.
“To be great is not to be looked up to but to look down on. Don’t be afraid to be looked down... you only need to stoop down to see the little ones.”
Moraleja stressed that the entire Pampangos are solidly behind Arroyo amid the barrage of criticisms she is getting from various groups of people.
“If some people put you down because of what they think of you, we Kapampangans will lift you up. If some people will put you down because of what they think you’ll do from president to congresswoman, we the Kapampangan people will raise you up,” Moraleja said.
Arroyo registered her candidacy for a seat in the House of Representatives, an unprecedented move her critics charged is aimed at trying to hold on to power by changing the Constitution and becoming the country’s first prime minister.
Appearing before some 5,000 supporters during a political rally in her home province of Pampanga, she reiterated that she was not ready to move out of politics next year when the Constitution mandates her stepping fown from the presidency.
“So I have decided to respond affirmatively to your call,” she said to cheers and chants of her initials “GMA” at the rally in a church courtyard in the farming town of Lubao.
“We have gone too far and too much is at stake now for us to waver in my commitment to the nation.”
Arroyo, who became president in 2001 after Joseph Estrada was ousted in a bloodless coup, drove with her husband, Jose Miguel,together with her son, Rep. Mikey Arroyo, to a nearby election office to formally register her candidacy.
Her husband said he and his family support the move of his wife 100 percent. The presidential spouse said he would just support the president in her future endeavors when she finally leaves Malaca?ang for Congress.
The First Gentleman said he couldn’t overrule his wife’s decisions as she preferred listening to her constituents rather than to him, which he said was really fine by him.
Their son, meanwhile, expressed that no criticisms by her detractors can stop his mother from seeking the all-important Congress seat as it was their constituents who will decide in the end.
Arroyo’s move drew immediate condemnation from her many critics, including the church leadership, who believe she plans to introduce changes in the Constitution and move the country from a presidential to parliamentary system.
The church and her political opponents allege that she would use her position in parliament as a platform to become the Philippines’ first prime minister, with the president relegated to a ceremonial role.
Some critics have said Arroyo may also be trying to shield herself from potential corruption charges, however Arroyo said Monday being a member of Congress does not give her immunity.
Estrada, who is seeking a second term as president in the May elections, reacted immediately on Monday after Arroyo announced her intentions by describing the move as a “brazen attempt to stay in power forever”.
Catholic bishops on Tuesday added their voices to the condemnation, calling on Arroyo to retire from politics.
“I wholeheartedly suggest she gives others a chance to serve and not give in to temptation of power,” Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, outgoing president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, said in a statement.
Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz, also a member of the conference, said Arroyo’s congressional bid was “motivated by political survival”.
“She manifests addiction to power, exhibits lack of propriety and remains fixated to have (Charter change) once elected as soon as possible, to target the office of prime minister,” Cruz charged.
Not surprisingly, administration lawmakers Tuesday welcomed the decision of Arroyo to run for the 2nd district of Pampanga in next yearfs elections.
Cebu Rep. Antonio Cuenco said her decision decision stands to benefit not only the people of Pampanga but the entire country as well, whom President Arroyo serves with dedication and excellence.
“The President should not retire after her term expires. She can do a lot for our people given her intelligence, experience and desire to serve,”said Cuenco, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Cuenco was recently appointed by Arroyo as ambassador to Italy. He will be ambassador for less than six months.
Isabela Rep. Rodolfo III Albano dismissed statements of the President’s critics. “If they want Ms. Arroyo to be their representative in Congress even after she has served as President of the Republic, that’s their prerogative,” Albano said.
For his part, Tarlac Rep. Jeci Lapus appealed to the critics of the President to let her be in her decision to run for Congress.
The Bayan Muna contingent, led by Rep. Teddy Casiño, Rep. Neri Colmenares and lawyer Joven Laura, marched to Comelec this morning with renewed vows of continuing the struggle for the politics of change.
They condemned Arroyo’s bid as “an utterly despicable and shameless act of a megalomaniac.”
But Arroyo would not be immune from any criminal or civil suits stemming from her incumbency, if she succeeds in becoming a member of Congress.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile agree that there is no barring the Chief Executive from seeking a lower position in the coming elections, but said “she can still be sued even if she is a congresswoman. She has only parliamentary immunity 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. That’s all. She has no criminal or other civil liability,” she explained.
“I guess the opinion is divided as far qualification as an incumbent president is concerned The final decision on that will be the SC if ever anybody will challenge her candidacy, in deference to the separation between my department (Legislative) and the Executive department,” said Enrile.
“That’s very categorical in the records of the constitutional commission. So the wording is very clear. The president is ineligible in any reelection. The records of the constitutional convention is beyond any doubt, in interpreting this present constitutional provision as meaning to the president can run for, any other provision except that of pres and besides, this is also the provision now of our statutes. Let me just recall that in American political history which we are likely to imitate or to cite, at least two American presidents eventually, after holding office as president, successfully ran for senator and served as such in the US senate. 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,” said Santiago.
She pointed out that the issue of Arroyo availing herself of government resources in campaigning for the congressional post, said “all presidents, without exception have used the resources of their administration to try at least, to make sure that their ally or anointed person will win the elections after them. So it’s just a question of she might use the resources of the admin, the answer is historically it has been used by everybody, all her predecessors as presidents,” she said. With Angie M. Rosales, Charlie V. Manalo and Gerry Baldo