RP gov’t in damage control over sacking farce


MANILA, AFP

President Gloria Arroyo moved Friday to control the political fallout of her firing Vice President Teofisto Guingona from his Cabinet post, only to reinstate him hours later.

Arroyo’s senior aides insisted the farce had not undermined the publicly humiliated Guingona’s credibility as foreign secretary and the Philippines’ top diplomat in the eyes of the world.

They also rejected suggestions that the fiasco had exposed Arroyo as an indecisive leader.

The presidential flip-flop added an element of political uncertainty to a domestic market already reeling from negative sentiment. The key Philippine Stock Exchange index Friday shed 0.1 points to close at a six month low of 1,156.35.

Both Arroyo and Guingona tried their best to put the row behind them.

The president studiously avoided mention of Thursday’s events in her public speeches and a news conference, at which she did not take questions.

Guingona meanwhile met with European Union ambassadors but did not speak to the press.

“Let sleeping dogs lie,” presidential adviser on political affairs Jose Rufino said.

“The more we talk about it, the diplomatic community gets jittery and wonders what’s going on.”

Foreign diplomats flooded the foreign office switchboard with calls for clarification on Thursday after the palace announced that Guingona was “relinquishing” his cabinet post.

Guingona was reinstated five hours later after he protested that he had not resigned.

“Political stability involves not just peace and order, but also keeping the government well-run,” said Albert Chua of All Asia Management Inc.

“With what’s happening in the administration, people think there’s something not right going on (in the administration) and the political arena,” he added.

But Arroyo spokesman Silvestre Afable insisted that “there is trust between the president and the vice president. I’m sure this will help him (Guingona) in continuing to perform his responsibilities.”

Afable said Arroyo was “a bit upset about what happened,” and met with Guingona late Thursday to clear the air.

Arroyo aides conceded Friday that the two top officials had policy differences, particularly over the short-term presence of U.S. military forces in the southern Philippines to advise local troops on combating Islamic militants.

“Once the president makes a decision, the vice president and foreign secretary support that position,” Rufino said.

“These things are discussed and articulated behind closed doors and when we walk out of the cabinet room, we are one solid team. So there could have been some differences, but not to the effect that would make somebody throw a tantrum or want to resign.”

Guingona, 74 next month, had initially publicly opposed the deployment of hundreds of U.S. troops in the south in January this year.

Arroyo later convinced Guingona to tow her line.

The U.S. troops, who are barred from combat except in self-defense, are scheduled to leave the country on July 31.

In a speech to student sailors Friday, Arroyo highlighted the praise she has received from U.S. President George W. Bush for her help in the campaign against international terrorism.

“This is how the most powerful leaders in the world look at us,” she said.

“This is how the world looks at the U.S. and I pray that the Filipinos would have the same faith in my administration.”