RP backtracks, says VP’s ouster a mistake


MANILA, AFP

Philippine Vice President Teofisto Guigona will stay on as foreign minister, the presidential palace said Thursday in an embarrassing about face after exposing the 74-year-old veteran politician to public humiliation.

The announcement came after a shocked Guingona met President Gloria Arroyo in a one-on-one meeting, just hours after presidential spokesman Silvestre Afable released an official document that purportedly accepted his resignation as foreign minister.

Afable after the meeting claimed he made a mistake by releasing the letter, which Arroyo had signed, to the press and said he should have “discarded” it.

“I made a conclusion on my own that I thought it was for release,” Afable told reporters. “The president admonished U.S. to be more circumspect the next time.”

“I am still the secretary of the DFA (foreign office). I reiterated my position that I have not resigned and I am not resigning,” Guingona told reporters as he left the presidential palace.

Afable’s earlier announcement that Guingona was on the way out had surprised the veteran politician, who had earlier locked horns with Arroyo over the deployment of hundreds of U.S. troops to help train the local army against the al-Qaida linked Abu Sayyaf rebels in the southern island of Basilan.

Radio and television reports said the foreign office staff were unaware of the move and that they were fielding calls from foreign diplomats over the sudden turn of events.

In the letter announcing Guingona’s resignation, Arroyo attempted to show the pair had worked well together despite “honest differences that tend to divide.”

“When you brought to me your reservations about Balikatan (joint U.S.-Philippines military exercises) in Basilan, I asked you to help craft the terms of reference (governing the conduct of U.S. troops on Philippine territory),” Arroyo said.

“You did. And looking back, the exercises there were a success. The U.S. forces did not engage in combat. Our soldiers did.”

Arroyo pointed out that the military had kept to the terms of reference that held back U.S. troops from combat patrols.

“Our unity prevailed despite honest differences of opinion,” she said.

The palace earlier said that Arroyo and Guingona had met before the letter was made and that conclusion was reached that he was to be removed from office.

But senior Arroyo aide, Avelino Cruz, said that Arroyo expressed her complete trust and confidence in Guingona during the meeting and that what transpired “was a mistake.”

“What is clear in my mind is that she has complete trust and confidence on Guingona,” Cruz told reporters, but added that Arroyo did not apologize.

“She has full confidence in the capability and talen in Guigona. She has not wavered in that confidence,” he said.

Guingona, a staunch nationalist, had initially publicly opposed the deployment of hundreds of U.S. troops in the southern Philippines from January this year to train and assist the local army in the fight against the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf guerrillas.

Arroyo later convinced Guingona, a veteran politician and former senator, to support her decision to host U.S. troops.

In the days before Guingona’s resignation, Arroyo publicly supported calls for fresh joint U.S.-Philippines military exercises in the Philippines.

The current batch of U.S. military advisers are set to leave the country on July 31.

Guingona in 1999 was among several senators who voted against a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that allowed for resumption of large scale joint exercises between the two countries, which are bound by a 1951 mutual defense treaty.