BAGUIO CITY- Baguio residents’ indifference to celebrities has been good for the summer capital’s Yuletide visitors, like President Benigno Aquino III.
The President had kept his distance from reporters and the public after arriving here on Wednesday afternoon, police said.
After resting at the Mansion House, Aquino was seen in public having dinner at a Japanese restaurant in the Baguio Country Club on Wednesday night, accompanied by Secretary to the Cabinet Jose Rene Almendras and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.
But at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, without any announcement, Aquino stepped out of the gates of the Mansion, mingled with tourists and then walked towards nearby Wright Park, a popular spot for horseback riding among tourists and locals.
He was again accompanied by Almendras and Gazmin.
Almendras and female television news reporters rode on horses while the President looked on. Aquino himself paid horse owner Melchor Baraquio P500 for one of the horses.
Baraquio said the horses are usually rented out for P200 each for a 30-minute ride, but Almendras and the reporters just had their pictures taken with the horses.
The President spent 30 minutes at the park, looking at souvenir items on display at Wright Park’s curio shops and allowed tourists to have their pictures taken with him.
“I think nabawasan natin ang stress level ng buong Gabinete ng naandito ako (I think we managed to reduce the stress-level of the whole Cabinet during my stay here)…. I think I will be back in the office on the 29th,” Aquino told reporters.
“So iyong mga hindi nag-file ng leave, magkikita kami (Those who didn’t file their leave, we will meet) on the 29th. Sana naman (I hope) there’s no [reason] for me to call on the Cabinet to handle anything,” he said.
Chief Superintendent Benjamin Magalong, Cordillera police director, said top police officials have been deployed to keep the President secure, but the job has been easy so far because Aquino had kept a very low profile until Thursday.
The President, he said, has no fixed schedule so policemen should be always on their toes.
Mayor Mauricio Domogan has yet to meet with the President, according to his aides. Baguio Bishop Carlito Cenzon said he has not scheduled a meeting with Aquino.
To the Baguio public, what draws attention are the security personnel, policemen and television news teams tailing Aquino.
Many of these media personnel from Metro Manila and presidential aides spent the holidays away from their families to follow the President.
Apart from securing the President, local policemen are also busy ensuring the safety of Baguio’s holiday visitors.
City tourism officials have yet to provide figures, but tourists flocked to the summer capital during the Christmas break, crowding local destinations like Burnham Park, Camp John Hay, Mines View Park and Wright Park.
Many of these visitors stayed longer, drawn to the nippy weather as temperature plunged to 11 degrees Celsius on Christmas Eve.
On Thursday, however, the temperature was recorded at a warmer 13.6 degrees Celsius.
Letty Dispo, weather specialist at the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa), said Baguio temperatures started to climb steadily since Christmas Day, when the mercury registered 12.5 degrees Celsius.
American Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr. has also been seen around town. On Thursday, he had lunch with his family at Casa Vallejo’s Hill Station.
Thomas hosted a Christmas thanksgiving at the US Ambassador’s residence in Camp John Hay here last week.
While visiting the Philippine Military Academy last week, Thomas described 2012 as a year of cooperation between the Philippines and United States, which helped each other cope with their respective calamities and tragedies. Typhoon “Pablo” struck parts of Mindanao and the Visayas on Dec. 4, leaving more than 1,000 people dead.
On Oct. 29, Hurricane Sandy struck the east coast of the US, including New York City, killing 149 people and leaving neighborhoods stranded for days with no power, food or fuel.
“We have been able to show our oneness. The Philippines gave assistance to victims of Hurricane Sandy and for that we are deeply grateful. Right now, our USAID (United States Agency for International Development) and the US military are providing assistance to victims of Typhoon Pablo, working shoulder to shoulder and hand in hand with the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and NGOs (nongovernment organizations),” Thomas said. Vincent Cabreza, Gobleth Moulic, Desiree Caluza and Frank Cimatu, Inquirer Northern Luzon