MARIA Theresa Laus (MTL) who led the Central Luzon (CL) “Kay PGMA” movement in the last presidential polls is again leading the initiative to bring the President in the loving embrace of her Cabalen.

MTL wants the Kapampangan not only to be grateful to Mrs. Arroyo for what she has done for the province but also to inspire and encourage her during the end days of her term.

“Let the warmth of our affection and gratitude extinguish the rancor and the bitterness of her enemies,” Ms. Laus appealed to all Pampangos.

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Her sentiments were not just in lip service to the Chief Executive as she arranged for and escorted a hastily organized media group to Malacañang. The President left distinguished visitors and members of the diplomatic corps at the wake of former Press Secretary Cerge Remonde to meet with the media promdis.

Led by Pampanga press club president Perry Pangan, we were bused to the heavily guarded Palace. It took us a while going through security check at the gate. I was confident all the guys and girls, mostly from the Laus-owned radio and TV stations, and the Sun.Star daily, would pose no problem to the Presidential guards, as none carried anything considered “deadly.” Except perhaps for Fred Roxas who might be carrying a Viagra.

On hand to welcome us was the handsome Bunny Lee of the Philippine Information Agency and his chief, acting Press Secretary Conrado “Dodie” Limcaoco. Bunny is the son of former board member Butch Lee of San Fernando, now an executive with the Philippine economic mission in Taipei.

Dodie feels at home with Pampango newsmen who considered him diligent, bright, and loyal. He will make a good partner with new Press Secretary Jun Icban.

The hearse carrying Cerge’s body had just been brought in the Hall. We followed the official mourners inside the sombre room as the military band who stood under mid-afternoon light and shadow hauntingly played “Hindi Kita Malimot.”

The familiar subtle fragrance of cattleya and similar orchids strayed in the room and along the wreath-embroidered corridor.

There was a video play of the late secretary’s rush biopic on two giant LCD TVs, climaxed by Cerge’s reciting what was his last sonnet. I saw his widow at the front pew wiping her eyes – the nun-looking Danish girl who fell in love with the Cebuano broadcast-labor leader in his youth.

I had met Cerge during the post New Year’s party hosted by Mrs. Lilia Pineda at Plates and Platters where the President made heart-to-heart talk with the Pampanga Press Club. He stood near our table where I sat with the “Nanay” who signaled the waiter to bring me a small plate of “balat litson”, the crispiest and crunchiest part I guess. I thought the future lady governor would finish me with her kindness if not with the killer food. I had a bite relishing the delicacy, with Cerge taking a piece or two before retreating to the next table.

Now the seated mourners turned quiet with a kind of nostalgic hush, if not a flash of intimation of mortality as one sad song was played after another. I heard strains of the soulful “I have been to sorrow”. But the guests seemed frozen in quiet sadness with “Remember the Time of Your Life.”

The last song was “What a Wonderful World” after which the emcee announced the President’s arrival. It was 2 p.m. sharp and precisely as scheduled, and in keeping with Mrs. Arroyo’s fabled punctuality, she came. Not in the regal style of a queen but with the strong confident gait of a conquering general.

She strode the aisle with Mrs. Remonde. Out of the big crowd she spotted Mrs. Laus. She stopped to make beso with MTL and some whispers, and the guests turned to look at MTL trying to find out who the President stopped for on her way to the podium.

After the rites, Lupita Aquino K., Bunny Lee and Dodie Limcaoco guided us upstairs to the famous Music Room where a merienda table filled with assorted snack food from tiny fried shanghai lumpia, chicken, tuna sandwiches, chicken leg nugget and dumplings was ready. The President led us to the refreshment, she taking the first plate.

What amazed me with Mrs. Arroyo is how she could look as fresh as a daisy every time. How she can keep herself calm and unfazed, always cool and self-assured after all the catcalls, brickbats and hatred thrown her way, is in fact an achievement.

Representative Mikey, with her two gorgeous daughters in tow, joined us. The two young girls, the pride of her Lola and her source of her joy struck an instinctive pose before the camera, half side-view, profiling their fine mestiza noses.

DHVTSU Director Jun Sula had quite time with Palace TV director and personal grooming adviser to PGMA, Lupita Aquino K.

They talked of times past, about people from Concepcion, Tarlac, and friends of the Aquino clan. Lupita, like Ninoy, was an engaging talker.

I asked Mrs. Arroyo if I could see the office of the late Pres. Ferdinand Marcos. She led us to a wide sala of the cavernous hall. A room led to office of the late dictator where we had a photo event for posterity. The President graciously posed with the group for individual photos.

“This is the room where my late father held office, too,” she said, as she sat before a huge mahogany table dwarfing her figure. Above is the seal of the Office of the President of the Philippines. I felt a kind of eerie vibration in that historic space. There was an energy wave as if by lurking shadows of the dead past.

After all, it was where decisions on State matters and those of life and death were made 1961- 65, Macapagal; thenceforth to 1986, Marcos.

Mrs. Arroyo asked for media’s “help”. I said, ”if you had survived nearly nine years of being attacked by the media and your opponents, you can survive the next five months with more hate and virulence.”

Finally I asked, “Mrs. President, I admire you most for one thing.” “What is that?” she asked.

“With only one click of a finger, you could cause the ouster of Governor Panlilio. But you did not do that, despite the trouble he has caused you. You are not vindictive, you are a very noble leader,” I said.

She smiled, Mona Lisa-like. It was one enigmatic smile a newsman promdi will long remember.