MANILA, January 10, 2004
(STAR) President Arroyo warned yesterday that market opening reforms in the Philippines risked being derailed if the electorate voted for the wrong candidate in May’s presidential election.

The President, speaking at an annual reception for foreign diplomats at Malacañang, portrayed herself as the impoverished Southeast Asian nation’s best bet for the future.

"Here in the Philippines, 2004 is shaping up to be a year fraught with both challenge and opportunity. Our resolve to stay the course of reform and reconciliation will be put to the test," Mrs. Arroyo said.

"The Philippines is caught between the claims of its feudal past and the imperatives of the global future. We must complete the revolution that our forbears began more than a century ago and take the mission to uplift the life of every Filipino to the global stage," she said.

Four months before the May 10 elections, Mrs. Arroyo is lagging behind in surveys which are being topped by movie icon Fernando Poe Jr., a hugely popular political novice and high school dropout who is backed by deposed President Joseph Estrada and allies of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

"During the short time that I have been president, I have been fighting on behalf of our people and nation to make us strong, secure and respected," Mrs. Arroyo said.

"I have been fighting to improve the image, respect and clout of the Philippines abroad in order to aid our quality of life here at home," she added. "No longer is the Philippines an isolated nation from the modern world."

The President also took the opportunity at yesterday’s gathering to formally thank the diplomatic community and heads of different international organizations for supporting the Philippines’ campaign for a non-permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

Papal Nuncio Antonio Franco, representing the Vatican and dean of the diplomatic corps, spoke in behalf of the diplomatic community and reaffirmed support to the President and the Filipino nation. — AFP, Marichu Villanueva

GMA defends Miriam’s inclusion in K-4 lineup The Philippine Star 01/10/2004

[PHOTO AT LEFT: POLITICS IS ADDITION: President Arroyo welcomes former Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago into the administration’s K-4 Senate slate during a press conference yesterday in Quezon City. - Revoli Cortez]

President Arroyo defended yesterday before her "civil society" supporters her choice of former senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago and other Estrada allies as part of the 12-member senatorial ticket of the pro-administration Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan sa Kinabukasan (K-4).

"Si Miriam po ay magaling na abogada at pinakikinggan ng bayan," she said.

"As you know, Miriam’s issue against me is not my governance, but her issue against me is that I am a de facto (president) and not de jure. But that is 2001 to 2004, and not 2004 onwards."

Speaking at the Kilosbayan-organized forum at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City, Mrs. Arroyo said past administrations will show that senators have not always agreed with the president who belonged to the same political party.

"That is one weakness of the presidential form because, as they say, 24 senators, 24 independent republics," she said. "So that’s one reason why it’s better to have a parliamentary system because we vote on platforms, and not on individuals."

Mrs. Arroyo answered in an open forum the question: "Why did you accept Miriam Defensor-Santiago in your Senate slate?"

Members of "civil society" also questioned Mrs. Arroyo’s action of taking into the K-4 ticket anti-impeachment senators like John Osmeña and Rodolfo Biazon, and Estrada’s defense secretary, Orlando Mercado.

Not convinced with her reply, lawyer Emil Capulong, executive director of Bantay Katarungan and trustee of Kilosbayan, told Mrs. Arroyo that he is "disturbed" that Estrada allies are being "very warmly welcomed" in the fold of K-4.

"We need some more assurance and explanation because it touches on our credibility of politics," he said. "What kind of politics are we having in this country?"

Mrs. Arroyo was invited to the "civil society" forum by former Senate president Jovito Salonga, head of Kilosbayan, and former justice secretary Sedfrey Ordoñez. — Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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