MANILA, August 22, 2004 (STAR) By Delon Porcalla - The optimism expressed by the country’s top businessmen over the capability of the government to keep the economy afloat in the face of rising fuel prices vindicated President Arroyo’s sound economic policies, several lawmakers said yesterday.

"We must now build this momentum by continuing our policies of effective governance, reaching our to all sectors and win peace and unanimity, and laying down reforms and consistent economic policies," Leyte Rep. Eduardo Veloso said.

For their part, Zamboanga del Norte Rep. Roseller Barinaga and Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers said there are bright prospects ahead for the country’s economy.

They pointed out the survey by Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) from July 1 to Aug. 9 revealing the business community is more confident that the economy will improve under President Arroyo’s administration.

"The business community seems to be happier now with how the Arroyo administration is moving. Sustaining this positive mood on the country’s improved prospects is a continuing challenge that we must always be focused on," Barinaga said.

Barbers, for his part, suggested it would be better if the government puts "emphasis on measures to cushion the impact of world crude oil prices via energy conservation and the tapping of more energy-petroleum based energy resources."

"There must be level-playing field for our businessmen to operate without fear of sudden policy flip-flops or changes in their operating environment," Barbers said.

The Surigao lawmaker added it would be best if policies are couple with a "sound fiscal program to rein in the budget deficit."

Barbers said the government should show that it is implementing a more effective program to address the problem to lessen the impact of the rising crude oil prices.

The three lawmakers said they share the opinions of businessmen that Mrs. Arroyo and her administration "will achieve its 4.9 percent to 5.8 percent gross domestic product (target) by yearend." They said this is in consonance with the expectations of the international community on Mrs. Arroyo and her government.

The BSP said the forecast made by businessmen was consistent with the international expectations of strong economic performance by Asian nations and major world economies this year.

The BSP surveys, the three congressmen said, "augurs well for the country’s improved prospects and more sustainable growth."

The lawmakers noted many businessmen feels more secure in seeing the government moving in the right direction to improve the economy.

Many businessmen and investors have opted to be wary and stay out of the recent political developments, particularly during the May 10 presidential elections and the recent foreign policy crisis generated by efforts to save the life of Filipino truck driver Angelo de la Cruz taken hostage by Iraqi militants last month.

Veloso said the good start and the renewed hope for the country to weather the crisis should remind the government to put all the right policies in place and give businessmen "a sense of continuity and common direction."

Barinaga said business and investor confidence is "a fragile commodity."

He said the government should continue its dialogue with major business groups and coordinate efforts in further improving the economy.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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