Manila, July 26, 2003 By Jess Diaz (Star) President Arroyo’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday will clue the public in on whether she is running in the May 2004 elections or would stand by her word that she won’t, Sen. Robert Barbers said yesterday.

Barbers, who belongs to the ruling Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats, said the public and political parties in particular would listen intently to the President’s speech and try to "interpret (it) and read between the lines" for hints of a change in her promise not to run.

He said although Mrs. Arroyo made such a commitment on national television on Dec. 30, 2002, her Lakas party mates and many sectors have been urging her since then to reconsider.

"We have to know at the soonest possible time the concrete direction of our party in order to prepare for the coming elections," Barbers said.

He asked the President to now "announce her plans for next year."

Unless she does so, the ruling party would continue to be in limbo like a "headless chicken," he stressed.

Other allies of Mrs. Arroyo have urged her supporters to respect her promise not to run and not to make a liar of her by insisting that she run in the May 2004 pools.

Meanwhile, Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Luis Lorenzo Jr. said yesterday that with the achievements made by his department last year, there is now more reason for the President to reconsider her decision not to run in the 2004 presidential polls.

"I hope the President will reconsider her decision because the challenges ahead require continued implementation of the development programs," he said.

Lorenzo said that if a new president is elected next year, it will take another two years for Mrs. Arroyo’s successor to normalize the programs in government.

"We are already behind in the global race. We must catch up with other countries and this can only be done with the continued implementation of the program we started," he said.

Lorenzo said that the President’s SONA will highlight the 1.5 million jobs generated by his department last year.

The generation of jobs, he said, was attained through irrigation projects, construction of post-harvest facilities, and loans granted to farmers and fisherfolk all over the country.

Lorenzo, who was the former presidential adviser on job generation, said that a total of 50,746 hectares of land have been irrigated and 441,116 hectares of existing irrigation systems rehabilitated.

"Each hectare of land irrigated generates additional jobs," he said.

The 1.5 million additional jobs is way above the target cited by Lorenzo, during his stint as presidential adviser on job generation, of one million jobs to be generated every year.

Over the past year, a total of 2,000 post-harvest facilities were constructed or rehabilitated, and more than 1,000 farm-to-market roads were built.

Some P39 billion in credit were lent to farmers and fisherfolk, and P858 million worth of loans were granted to the agricultural sector.

Lorenzo said his department has also deployed 1,500 rolling stores and 513 stationary stores are in operation all over the country.

He added that the DA’s anti-smuggling campaign, which resulted in the confiscation of almost 400,000 bags of smuggled rice and several container vans of smuggled vegetables, will also be reported by the President in her speech on Monday.

He said the President is expected to announce the DA’s agenda for the next year, which includes the reduction of the cost of transporting goods from one part of the country to the other. This involves the establishment of a roll-on, roll-off highway at sea ports and the improved transport and storage of grain and grain products.

Another objective of the DA is to stimulate investment in agriculture through the passage of a law allowing farmers to use the land they acquired through the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program as collateral for loans. — With Perseus Echeminada

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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