GMA and Banti’s cold shoulders

COLD TREATMENT

Bishop’s bash no chummy moment for GMA, N. Vizcaya gov

They may share a lot of things in common, but they don’t seem to enjoy each other’s company.

The cold shoulder that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Gov. Luisa “Banti” Cuaresma gave each other at a public gathering on Monday drew attention that rivaled the main parts of the program, leaving residents here wondering if the relationship between both lady officials had gone for the worse.

People who attended the celebration of Catholic Bishop Ramon Villena’s 25th anniversary as bishop noted that the President and Cuaresma were stoic, did not engage each other in a conversation and barely smiled at each other throughout the three-hour mass at the Saint Dominic Cathedral here.

Residents expressed concern that the President’s “distant” relationship with the governor may prove harmful for the province, where Ms Arroyo has pledged several multi-million projects funded by the national government.

Ms Arroyo was the main guest in Monday’s festivity, and was accompanied by members of her cabinet. Cuaresma came too, but without other provincial leaders.

Both known for their mood swings, Ms Arroyo, 60, and Cuaresma, 53, have also been previously hounded by questions on the legitimacy of their having been elected into office. Coming from a political clan, both officials also rose to power by succeeding their predecessors.

The President had to survive a major political turmoil after taped conversations between a woman, widely believed to be her, and an election official said to be former Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, sparked a scandal that accused Ms Arroyo of cheating her way to the country’s top post.

Cuaresma’s victory as governor in 2004, on the other hand, was nullified by the Commission on Elections, after it had found “marked ballots” that were counted in her favor.

After waiting for three years, lawyer Leonardo Byron Perez Jr., Cuaresma’s winning rival, however, never held the post as he died days before the Comelec en banc came out with its decision in January.

Then Vice President Arroyo became President following the ouster of ex-President Joseph Estrada in a popular uprising now known as Edsa II. Cuaresma won as mayor of Bambang town after she assumed the candidacy of her murdered husband, then acting mayor Benjamin Jr., in 1987.

No talk

A member of the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) who accompanied the President in most of her provincial sorties, said on Monday it was “rather unusual” that the two leaders did not speak.

“We often see the President engage officials seated next to her in a light conversation during lulls in an event. We can only surmise that she is just trying to respect the solemnity of this occasion,” said a member of the Presidential Management Staff, who asked not to be named.

At one point during the mass, Cuaresma broke protocol when she, coming back from the rostrum after reading a prayer, swapped seats with the President, who earlier occupied the innermost side of the front row.

This left PMS members uneasy, who, not wanting to cause a disruption in the proceedings, ended up just shaking their heads in disbelief. They were relieved, however, when, in another part of the mass, the two officials’ seating arrangement was restored.

Pinagbigyan na lang ni ma’am (The President just let it go),” the PMS member said.

The President and the governor, however, touched cheeks when the deacon asked the faithful to “give each other the sign of peace”.

In his speech, Bishop Villena said he was “deeply touched” by the gesture of the President to see to it to always come to the province for every important event that involved him.

He referred to Cuaresma, with whom he had clashing views on her policies of allowing mining concessions into the province, as well as on the continued proliferation of jueteng here, as “the beautiful governor”.

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