WITH HER PUBLIC APPROVAL ratings plumbing new lows, President Macapagal-Arroyo got a much-needed confidence booster on the eve of her annual report to the nation, even if it was only from her loyal allies.
Some 170 administration representatives threw a ?solidarity fellowship? in support of the President on Friday night, promising their ?grateful? leader that they would ?remain committed and will continue supporting her policies.?
The Friday gathering, held at the Forbes Park residence of Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, was ?a solidarity meeting of political parties in the majority coalition,? said Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman.
Ms Arroyo needs all the support she can get going into her eighth State of the Nation Address, the yearly ritual that has been visibly getting fewer believers over the years.
A Pulse Asia survey conducted from July 1 to 14 showed that ?much skepticism is expressed as regards the truthfulness of President Macapagal-Arroyo?s previous Sonas.?
A June survey by the Social Weather Stations placed the President?s net satisfaction rating at negative 38 points, making her the ?most unpopular leader? since the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos was ousted in 1986.
?We all committed to continuously support the policies and leadership of the President,? said Lagman.
?The present conditions in the country?political, social and economic?demand that we all stay united,? said Majority Leader Arthur Defensor.
?We should not dig deep into the reasons that divide us but instead focus on those that unite us,? he said.
After the meeting with House members on Friday night, Ms Arroyo met with another House contingent in Malacañang Saturday.
No loyalty check
Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said ?almost all? of the Cabinet secretaries were present at the second meeting to listen to a report presented by Rep. Danilo Suarez, the chair of the House oversight committee.
?It was a briefing on the oversight committee?s assessment of the 10-point agenda of the President,? said Dureza.
Dureza denied that both meetings were a form of ?loyalty check? on the President?s allies.
?No need for that,? said Dureza, while describing the first meeting as a ?unity meeting.?
According to Lagman and Defensor, the Forbes Park meeting did not tackle the President?s dismal survey ratings or the contents of her Sona.
Ms Arroyo arrived at around 9 p.m., about three hours after the gathering had started.
?She spoke very briefly. She said she didn?t want to speak lengthily because she might end up talking about her Sona already. She didn?t give us a preview,? said Lagman.
Also coalition partners
House Speaker Prospero Nograles then summarized for the President the short messages that were earlier delivered by representatives from the administration?s coalition partners.
?I?m very grateful for your show of solid support for my leadership,? Defensor quoted Ms Arroyo as responding.
Nograles said in a text message that all the major party spokespersons spoke for solidarity and unity in the midst of the economic crisis.
He said ?the band played and some congressmen sang. It was a good bonding for unity.?
Lagman said Suarez represented the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi), Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP), and Leyte Rep. Andres Salvacion the Partido Demokratiko Sosyalista ng Pilipinas.
Also present were Rep. Edgar Valdez of the Association of Philippine Electric Cooperatives, and Quezon City Rep. Vincent Crisologo of the Nationalista Party.
Palace officials said Ms Arroyo has been holding last-minute meetings with congressional and executive officials to fine-tune her traditional report to a skeptical nation.
As of yesterday, the President?s speech, which will last for about 30 minutes, had been revised at least 20 times, officials said.
?I cannot keep track anymore. It?s the sixth draft, I think,? said Press Secretary Jesus Dureza, pointing out that the Sona was a ?work in progress.?
?Every time there?s a new draft, there are some enhancements,? said Dureza.
?Knowing her,? he said the final draft would be the one made ?prior to delivery.?
The President is not expected to announce any new reform initiatives or reorienting of priorities in the remaining two years of her administration.
?She will stay the course. She?s not going to reverse the reform agenda that she has started. And she will keep on and upscale her work under the same framework for the poor,? said Dureza.
The presence of the Suarez committee in the Palace was not connected to the Sona preparations, said Dureza.
The committee was just presenting to the President the so-called report card, or the official report that the House oversight committee prepares in time for the annual Sona.
The report is usually distributed to legislators during the President?s speech, and is the product of hearings conducted by the committee which reviews government?s compliance with the President?s 10-point agenda until 2010.
Dureza said the people should not expect surprises in this year?s Sona.
?There?s consistency in the policies of the President and there will be upscaling, especially in assistance to the poor and to the vulnerable sectors with the launching of the national social welfare program,? he said.
?It is the direction that the President would like to pursue until the end of her term in 2010. Most of her data are verifiable, her accomplishments are verifiable, and the main theme there is caring for the poor.?
Ms Arroyo ?measures herself on accomplishing these [reforms] that she has set. Her roadmap is not short term. That has been set before and consistently she?s looking at the delivery of those targets up to 2010,? said Dureza.
Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the President?s speech will focus on giving relief to the people from high oil and food prices, but she will also reiterate her long-term policy of inviting foreign investors and tourists.
Ermita said the foreign policy of attracting more investors and tourists for economic growth remains one of the most important and successful policies of the government.
?I?m very sure that the President definitely will have something about encouraging more investors to the Philippines because that is needed,? Ermita said.
To deflect criticism
Presidential Management Staff Chief Cerge Remonde said he expected the President to deflect criticisms by citing the billions of pesos in subsidies given to the poorest that were made possible by revenues from the value-added tax. He also cited tangible achievements in policy like investing in infrastructure and attracting foreign investors and tourists.
Remonde, the Cabinet secretary in charge of the team monitoring big-ticket infrastructure projects, told reporters that aside from the big investments in infrastructure, the President was credited by the international community for her ?economic diplomacy? of attracting foreign investors and tourists.
Palace data showed that the Department of Tourism had reported about 2.5 million tourist arrivals in 2007, while the Bureau of Immigration had reported 5.5 million foreign arrivals and millions more of visa extensions which generated P1.7 billion in revenues last year.
Tourism Secretary Robert Durano and Immigration Commissioner Marcelino Libanan credited their agency?s achievements to Ms Arroyo?s policy of economic diplomacy.