GMA SONA: WE ARE AT WAR

GMA SONA[PHOTO: President Arroyo delivers her State-of-the-Nation Adress before a joint session of Congress at the House of Representatives yesterday. With her are (inset) Senate President Franklin Drilon (left) and Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. Below, militant groups burn an effigy of the President during a rally in Quezon City while she was delivering her speech. REVOLI CORTEZ, FERNAN NEBRES ]

Manila, July 29, 2003 By Marichu Villanueva (STAR) It may have been a bit anti-climactic a day after quelling one of the more serious crises in her administration, but President Arroyo in her State-of-the Nation Address (SONA) yesterday said the war was far from over.

The President declared war yesterday on all fronts and vowed to exert her remaining eleven months to fight all attempts to destabilize her administration.

Fresh from her day-old victory against a group of mutinous military officers, Mrs. Arroyo issued a declaration of war against socio-economic ills, peace and order problems, terrorism and insurgency besetting the country during her 45-minute SONA at the joint opening session of Congress at the Batasan Complex in Quezon City yesterday.

"By now, we should be at peace. At peace at the South (Mindanao), at peace at the countryside, safe in our homes and secure in our communities. But we remain at war," Mrs. Arroyo said.

"At war against terrorism. At war against corruption. At war against disease. At war against drugs, the greatest menace facing our country today," the President said.

"We are together in this fight and we must all help one another. We shall prevail and win," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo also took the occasion to appeal before leaders of Congress to enact measures to effectively address these concerns.

She pointed out to Congress the efforts exerted to prevail upon the mutinous military officers who laid siege on a luxury apartment building in Makati City last Sunday to express their grievances against the government.

"It is a pity that a few days later, after the penultimate success against the drug menace, we should find ourselves at war against destabilizers," Mrs. Arroyo said.

"We cannot stay divided with so much we need to do together. I address myself not only to the joint Houses here assembled but to the nation at large. I need you and we need each other," the President said.

On top of her legislative priorities, Mrs. Arroyo urged Congress leaders to immediately approve the anti-terrorism bill and measures that would impose harsher penalties on errant jail guards, in reference to the escape of convicted Indonesian bomb maker Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi from his detention cell in Camp Crame last July 14.

Mrs. Arroyo also urged the immediate passage of the proposal to allocate P8 billion out of the P38-billion Marcos escrow account for human rights victims, amending the law on Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program following the Supreme Court ruling forfeiting in favor of the government the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses, and the bill on the proposed use of CARP titled lands as collateral for agricultural credit.

The President also renewed her appeal to pass the pending bill on creating the Transmission Co. (Transco) to further lower power rates.

Inspired by the presence of her baby granddaughter Gloria Mikaela during her SONA, Mrs. Arroyo said she wanted to bring about a better and brighter future for the next generation.

"Just as I will do everything to make sure that the future will be kind to Mikaela and her generation, so must we all strive to turn our fears into a resolve to do right, not just by ourselves, but by our children and grandchildren," Mrs. Arroyo said.

While looking at her only granddaughter brought inside the plenary hall by her children and First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, the President said her life being the nation’s leader "is a difficult one, with few pauses for comfort and relief."

Mrs. Arroyo admitted her previous SONA, in which she vowed to build a "Strong Republic," cannot be done "overnight" for a developing country like the Philippines.

This was precisely why, Mrs. Arroyo explained, she cannot run the country in the same way as managing a big corporation.

"In a nation whose institutions are fragile, a leader cannot run a developing country like a corporation," she said.

In her SONA yesterday, Mrs. Arroyo expressed her satisfaction that some of the reforms she initiated after taking over the reins of the government in January 2001 were already realized.

"(But) many of our reforms have yet to bear fruit, but there are should be no doubt that our country in the fullness of time will reap what was carefully picked, planted and nurtured and it will be a harvest of plenty. The harvest has in fact started," she said.

Among the "harvests" included the re-starting of the peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and efforts to broker peace with the communist rebels.

Mrs. Arroyo announced that peace negotiations with the MILF will start next week in Malaysia.

"If, however, our few remaining enemies of our Republic would insist on war, I have no recourse but to confront them in order to protect our countrymen," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo, dressed in a Philippine flag-inspired blue terno, was warmly received by Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. and other Congress leaders before she delivered her SONA.

An opportunity

Drilon, for his part, described the Mrs. Arroyo’s SONA as "quite comprehensive."

He said the SONA virtually converted Congress into a committee to look into the root causes of last Sunday’s mutiny.

"We will also include in our query the utilization of intelligence funds and find out why this incident took place. If there was failure of intelligence, then we will see what kind of legislation would be necessary in order to correct such shortcomings," Drilon said.

Drilon said Mrs. Arroyo managed to turn the crisis brought by Sunday’s mutiny into an opportunity to unite the nation.

"The President turned the crisis into an opportunity to unite our people, and indeed the applause was genuine. We saw the entire country unite behind the institution of the presidency and that is what we need today," Drilon said.

Senate Majority Leader Loren Legarda said Mrs. Arroyo’s SONA has "given us hope and inspiration in the midst of these difficult times."

Legarda described the SONA as "realistic and hopeful," since it laid out the problems the country is facing today and possible solutions.

"(The President) made an admission that we are at war not only against terrorism, but also against drugs and poverty. We have taken note of the accomplishments in many areas of her commitments that we realized within one year after last year’s SONA," Legarda said.

Legarda pointed out SONAs are not for making commitments but reporting to the nation the government’s accomplishments.

Administration congressmen Prospero Pichay (Surigao del Sur) and Florencio Abad (Batanes) described the SONA as "a message of hope."

Abad said Mrs. Arroyo not just gave detailed figures but faces and names of people in her SONA.

For his part, a former student of Mrs. Arroyo, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said what Mrs. Arroyo gave yesterday in her SONA was a "confessional" as against the "triumphant resonance" of her previous SONA.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) also expressed satisfaction with the President’s SONA "without the usual listing of imagined achievements."

CBCP president Orlando Quevedo said Mrs. Arroyo’s SONA focused on issues "with honest realism and hopeful vision."

"Despite often rhetorical language, SONAs usually fall short of people’s expectations. Often the problem lies with listeners. As a people, we expect too much in the light of our social situation," Quevedo said.

"We want poverty to be solved quickly, terrorist gangs wiped out rapidly, or graft and corruption eradicated completely. And we place the entire responsibility to accomplish all these in the hands of the government or of the President," he said.

A big letdown

From the ranks of the opposition, Sen. Edgardo Angara said Mrs. Arroyo failed to admit "the true and real state of the nation" which had been adversely affected by last Sunday’s mutiny.

"The legitimate grievances raised by the (mutineers) goes at the very heart of the military organization. There were administrative actions that the Chief Executive should have done. If I were the President, I would ask (Defense Secretary Angelo) Reyes to respond to the charges made against him as the center of corruption in the military organization being her subordinate," Angara said.

Angara also said he is not necessarily in favor of the figures spelled out by Mrs. Arroyo in her SONA.

House Minority Leader Carlos Padilla (Nueva Vizcaya) also said the SONA was "far from the real state of the nation." He said Mrs. Arroyo "completely missed the point."

San Juan Rep. Ronaldo Zamora and Cavite Rep. Gilbert Remulla said the minority bloc "had just wondered what (Mrs. Arroyo) had talked about."

"The things she were mentioning were not of the Philippines, or maybe even not of this planet," Zamora said.

For his part, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said he agreed Mrs. Arroyo delivered a message of hope and resolve.

"But I am disappointed that we hardly hear substantial details about her plans in Mindanao," Pimentel said.

Maguindanao Rep. Didagen Dilangalen said the accomplishments spelled out by Mrs. Arroyo "occurred even when she was not the President."

Noting that the President made no mention of her political plans next year during her SONA, Angara said he believes Mrs. Arroyo will still seek a full six-year mandate despite her earlier decision to withdraw from next year’s presidential derby.

"When she (Mrs. Arroyo) started greeting us in the regional dialects, (this meant) she is up for elections," Angara said.

Administration Sen. Ralph Recto also noted Mrs. Arroyo focused on the state of the nation but not on her political plans.

"It’s a classic feel-good speech that is calculated to buoy up the people’s spirits after the trying events of the past week," Recto said.

Recto said "there was no body language to interpret nor (any) hidden message in her speech to decipher which would give up a peep into (Mrs. Arroyo’s) future (political) plans."

Sen. Francis Pangilinan shared Recto’s view and said Mrs. Arroyo just went to tell inspiring stories before an audience recently emerged from a spate of gloomy events.

For her part, Ilocos Norte Rep. Imee Marcos called on her colleagues to stop nagging Mrs. Arroyo on her political plans. "Stop badgering her. It’s very clear she’s going to run," she said.

Administration Rep. Apolinario Lozada (Negros Occidental) said that since Mrs. Arroyo mentioned the word "unity" and "victory" in her SONA, it would mean she will indeed run in the next year’s elections.

Remulla, for his part, said Mrs. Arroyo virtually took swipes against perceived presidential contenders during her speech. "So what else could that mean?" he said. -With Jose Rodel Clapano, Paolo Romero, Jess Diaz, Jose Aravilla, Charlie Lagasca


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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