Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is set to form a government of national unity, to which the communist and Muslim rebels and the political opposition will be invited. Mrs Arroyo's remaining cabinet officials met her yesterday to discuss how to heal and unite a deeply divided nation, said presidential spokesman Rigoberto Tiglao. This is the second of three aims for her last 18 months in office. Her first aim is 'to work on the economy so that we can have more jobs', Mrs Arroyo said earlier, 'and the third is to work for clean and honest elections in 2004'. The multi-faceted coalition was first proposed by House Speaker Jose de Venecia to include Communist Party of the Philippines founding chairman Jose Maria Sison, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chairman Hashim Salamat, San Miguel Corporation chairman Eduardo Cojuangco, who also heads the Nationalist People's Coalition Party, and opposition Lakas ng Demokratikong Pilipino Party president Edgardo Angara. However, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said yesterday that while Mrs Arroyo was in favour of the idea, she was opposed to Mr De Venecia's deadline of establishing the coalition within 45 days. Instead, she ordered the cabinet oversight committee on internal security to study the implications of Mr de Venecia's proposal. MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu welcomed the suggestion if it would achieve peace in the southern Philippines. National police chief Hermogenes Ebdane said it was not a bad idea for communists to be included in government, as long as they promised to forsake armed rebellion. Mrs Arroyo warned the public not to expect anything dramatic from her following her shock announcement this week that she was withdrawing from the 2004 presidential race. 'I intend to be a no-nonsense working president rather than a dramatic leading lady of a stage,' she said. She admitted withdrawing from the race was not that big a personal sacrifice 'because I don't think politics really ever got into me. I really don't like politics and I just could not see myself politicking for 18 months'. However, 'I intend to exercise every ounce of my authority every minute until the end of my term, unburdened by politicking'. Already, her popularity has risen. Some 1,000 people attending a Catholic religious service at the Edsa Shrine burst into a spontaneous and thunderous applause when she walked in. Among them was former president Corazon Aquino who said Mrs Arroyo was sincere because she stood to gain nothing by withdrawing. Mrs Arroyo sought to assuage fears of foreign investors yesterday that economic policies would again change with her announcement. On the contrary, she said, there had been a continuity of economic policies since 1987, such as the liberalisation of the telecommunications sector. Following her example, a tearful Justice Secretary Hernando Perez cleared out his desk yesterday, saying he, too, was ready to make a sacrifice. Mr Perez, however, denied extorting US$2 million (HK$15 million) from a congressman and receiving a US$2 million payoff for a power plant rehabilitation contract. Meanwhile, a former provincial governor petitioned the Supreme Court yesterday to clarify the constitutional ban against past elected presidents running again. Former president Fidel Ramos is emerging as a favourite and ousted president Joseph Estrada threatened to run if Mr Ramos did.