BAGUIO CITY—Next time you see President Aquino and he looks more relaxed than usual, maybe you should credit the horses for it.
At 5:30 p.m. Thursday, a day after arriving here and without any announcement, Aquino stepped out of the gates of the Mansion, the presidential summer residence, mingled with tourists and then walked toward nearby Wright Park, a popular spot for horseback riding.
One of his top aides, Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras, and some female television news reporters rode the horses for some picture taking while the President looked on.
Aquino himself paid horse owner Melchor Baraquio P500 for one of the horses—double the amount Baraquio normally gets. Baraquio said the horses were usually rented out for P200 each for a 30-minute ride.
Reducing the stress
“I think we managed to reduce the stress level of the Cabinet during my stay here,” the President told reporters. He said he would be back in Malacañang on Saturday.
Aquino said his vacation had reenergized him, although it had not kept him away from the country’s problems. Specifically, he directed the Cabinet to monitor the New Year revelry and the impact of Tropical Storm “Quinta,” ensuring that the number of casualties was kept low.
“You cannot really leave the nation’s troubles behind, even here in Baguio,” Aquino said.
Referring to his sister Kris Aquino’s latest movie, “Sisterakas,” he said: “When we watched the movie … I was glad to see the warnings against injuries attributed to firecracker use. I hope citizens heed these warnings.”
The President, also accompanied by Almendras and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, spent 30 minutes at the park, looking at souvenir items on display at curio shops and allowing tourists to have their pictures taken with him.
On Wednesday, after resting at the Mansion House, Aquino was seen in public having dinner in a Japanese restaurant at the Baguio Country Club. Almendras and Voltaire Gazmin were also with him.
Chief Supt. Benjamin Magalong, Cordillera police director, said top police officials had been deployed to keep the President secure. So far, the job had been fairly easy because Aquino had kept a very low profile—until Thursday.
Magalong said Aquino had no fixed schedule so policemen should always be on their toes.
Even Mayor Mauricio Domogan has yet to meet with the President, according to the mayor’s aides. Baguio Bishop Carlito Cenzon also has not had a meeting with Aquino.
Meanwhile, local policemen are busy ensuring the safety of holiday visitors.
Tourism officials have yet to provide figures, but tourists flocked to the summer capital during the Christmas break, crowding sites like Burnham Park, Camp John Hay, Mines View Park and Wright Park.
Many of the visitors stayed longer, drawn to the nippy weather with Baguio’s temperature plunging to 11 degrees Celsius on Christmas Eve. On Thursday, the temperature warmed a bit, going up to 13.6 degrees Celsius.
Letty Dispo, a weather specialist at the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, said Baguio temperatures started climbing steadily since Christmas Day, when the mercury registered 12.5 degrees Celsius.
Among the visitors was American Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr. On Thursday, Thomas had lunch with his family at Casa Vallejo’s Hill Station.
Thomas also hosted last week a Christmas thanksgiving at the US ambassador’s residence in Camp John Hay.
While visiting the Philippine Military Academy, Thomas described 2012 as a year of cooperation between the Philippines and the United States, which helped each other cope with calamities.
Typhoon “Pablo” struck parts of Mindanao and the Visayas on Dec. 4, killing more than 1,000 people. On Oct. 29, Hurricane “Sandy” struck the US East Coast, causing 149 deaths and leaving neighborhoods without power, food or fuel for days.
“We have been able to show our oneness,” Thomas said. “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 the NGOs (nongovernment organizations).”—Reports from Vincent Cabreza, Gobleth Moulic, Desiree Caluza and Frank Cimatu, Inquirer Northern Luzon