Erap had a similar photo a few weeks before his downfall
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo walks with CHED Chairman Rony Nery,Vice President Noli de Castro, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Finance Secretary Gary Teves, Trade Secretary Peter Favila other members of her Cabinet, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, and Philippine National Police Chief Director General Avelino Razon on their way to the Aguinaldo State Dining Room in Malacanang where she presided over the joint Procurement Transparency Group-National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA)-Cabinet Group Meeting Tuesday (Feb. 19). (Rey Baniquet/OPS-NIB Photo)
by Jocelyn Montemayor
President Arroyo and Cabinet members yesterday walked from the Premier Guest House to the State Dining Room in Malacañang and had their pictures taken for what the Palace said was a “solidarity walk.”
The President and her key officials usually walk to Guest House, which is about 50 meters away from the State Dining Room, for the Cabinet meeting. Group pictures are taken before and after the Cabinet meeting which is regularly held at the State Dining Room.
“We went through the process of having all the Cabinet members gather together and have a photo opportunity with the President just to show the people that’s there’s no truth to the efforts of people against her,” said Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita.
He said it was a Cabinet initiative and “it was not even directed by the President.”
Deputy presidential spokesman Anthony Golez said aside acting Higher Education chairman Romulo Neri, who walked beside the President, all Cabinet members joined the walk except for three who are out of the country or out of town.
They are Secretaries Arthur Yap (agriculture) and Jesli Lapus (education) who are abroad and Bayani Fernando, chairman of the Metro Manila Development Authority chairman Bayani Fernando who just arrived in Manila.
The “solidarity walk” was held a day after Ermita released a joint statement of Cabinet officials expressing support for Arroyo, who is subject of renewed resignation calls.
The fresh resignation calls were triggered by allegations of payoffs in the national broadband network project which was allegedly brokered by resigned Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos who allegedly offered Neri a P200 million bribe for the project’s approval. Neri was chairman of the National Economic Development Authority when negotiations for the project, which was later awarded to the Chinese firm ZTE Corp., were being held.
The statement of support followed calls made Sunday by about 60 former Cabinet officials in the Aquino, Ramos, Estrada and Arroyo administrations for the sitting Cabinet men to quit and expose wrongdoings in the Arroyo government.
Ermita said the walk was not theatrics or “drama.”
Ermita said the solidarity walk followed a fellowship dinner he hosted for the Cabinet members Monday. It was at that dinner the Cabinet men signed the statement rejecting the call of former Cabinet men.
He said the dinner was not a loyalty check. It was meant to let the Cabinet men “that everything is okay and we have to show the world that we are together.”
Ermita said Arroyo dropped by the dinner and thanked them for their continued support.
First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo said he and his family are “okay” despite allegations of corruption over the NBN project.
Arroyo, in a blue shirt, jogging pants and running shoes, smiled at reporters and lensmen who were waiting for officials to interview him at the Palace lobby while the Cabinet meeting was going on.
“I’m okay. The family is okay,” he said as he went up the Rizal Hall staircase.
He said he had just had therapy, since he is still recovering from heart surgery last April.
Mr. Arroyo has been accused before the Ombudsman of lobbying for the $329 million NBN contract.
Ermita rejected the term “evil” which was allegedly used by Neri is describing President Arroyo. The description was made public Monday by Rodolfo Noel “Jun” Lozada, the Senate’s star witness in its investigation on the NBN-ZTE contract.
Neri has said he did not recall describing Arroyo as evil.
“Obviously she’s not. My golly naman!” he said.
He said it is difficult to believe Lozada who he said might have some plans or agenda of his own.
“He has his own scheme, grand designs. What else can you expect from that guy? If he’s capable of doing what he did in a bigger sense, I don’t see why he is not capable of saying the same things. Maybe he will say something else in the future. I think we should not dignify that,” he added.