MANILA, Philippines -- The absence of former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was hardly felt in the House of Representatives, with attendance at a record high and the fight for speakership between her ally and his opponent hardly a cliffhanger.
Allies supported Arroyo's Hong Kong trip, which was the reason for her absence from the opening of the 15th Congress that culminated in President Benigno Aquino III?s State of the Nation Address (SONA).
Before she left for Hong Kong to join her husband for a checkup, Lakas Kampi members told her that she's better off skipping the event, according to Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez.
Suarez pointed out that Mr. Aquino himself had said that he would be exposing the alleged sins of the previous administration during his SONA.
?We asked her [about going to the SONA], and then she asked us, what do you think? [We told her], 'maybe ma'am it would be better if you don't go there, anyway you will play an active role in the congressional process anyway,'? Suarez said.
He said the Lakas Kampi members arrived at this consensus because they were concerned that Arroyo's feelings would be hurt, especially when people applaud Mr. Aquino's statements.
He noted that Mr. Aquino himself had given a preview of his SONA and uttered hurtful words to the effect that money had been stolen, even though Lakas Kampi disputed this contention.
?There's really no money missing. Those statements... it's very hard to contend with a popular president. And then when he makes statements, the people might applaud. That would be hurtful for the [former] President,? he said.
But he added that Arroyo had reason to fly to Hong Kong, and that was her husband Jose Miguel Arroyo?s appointment with doctors. The former first gentleman is consulting experts on his aortic aneurysm.
Arroyo was just one of three lawmakers who was absent from the 261-member House of Representatives.
Even if she still had the support of Lakas-Kampi members as a former chief executive, Arroyo decided not to run for House speaker.
She was expected to support Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman in his bid for the speakership against Liberal Party candidate Quezon City Rep. Feliciano Belmonte, but even with her vote, Lagman did not have the numbers to defeat his foe.
Lagman himself acknowledged that lawmakers tended to flock to the party of the sitting President.
Meanwhile, Arroyo's son, Ang Galing Pinoy party-list Rep. Juan Miguel ?Mikey? Arroyo said that while the President and his allies could say what they wanted to, they should ?be responsible for their statements.?
Mikey, who attended Aquino's SONA, said he was used to hearing criticism anyway.
?We have fought criticisms for the past nine years. All presidents have had their share of criticisms. It?s part of our democracy. Criticisms are there if we want to listen to it or not at the end of the day anyway. Some criticisms are valid so we pick up some points from some criticism and enhance our governance,? he told reporters.
Echoing the statement of his mother's allies, Mikey said the minority in the House would not be obstructionist and would be useful to the Aquino administration.
?We want to cooperate with the administration of President Aquino. We believe he has a strong mandate. God gave him an opportunity to serve this country so we will not stand in the way of progress, but of course we will play our role as fiscalizers, but responsible fiscalizers,? he said.