MANILA, January 9, 2006
 (STAR) By Jess Diaz - The recent positive economic developments such as the appreciation of the peso against the dollar should be felt by the people, two House leaders said yesterday.

"The challenge is for us, both in the executive and legislative branches, to make sure that these gains trickle down to the grassroots level of the masses of our people, particularly those in the countryside," Tarlac Rep. Jesli Lapus, ways and means committee chairman, and Deputy Speaker Gerry Salapuddin said in a statement.

The two congressmen expressed disagreement with Sen. Mar Roxas’ skepticism about the impact of the surging peso and stock market on the common man, though they agreed with him that the modest economic gains have not trickled down to the masses.

At Malacañang, President Arroyo’s spokesman rebuffed Roxas’s claims, saying the senator has demeaned the sacrifices of overseas Filipino workers, who have been sending their hard-earned foreign denominated incomes to their impoverished families in the country.

"To dismiss the strong peso as no big deal is to demean the sacrifices and heroism of our OFWs who are tirelessly working beyond our shores to provide economic security to their loved ones," Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said in a statement.

"This alone is a big deal for Filipinos who dream of a better life, a dream that the administration shares with every Filipino family amidst the stiffest odds," he said.

Lapus and Salapuddin said while most people have yet to feel the effect of such gains, the strong currency and the equally strong equities market "have no doubt strengthened the country’s fiscal position and trade and international credit standing."

Lapus said the peso’s strength meant lower landed costs of all imported goods, including oil, whose retail prices should have gone down.

In fact, he said local oil companies have rolled back pump prices due in part to the appreciation of the peso.

He said the government should see to it that other business sectors that benefited from the strength of the peso and the rollback in gasoline prices should bring down their prices.

He cited in particular the transportation sector, which he said should make a fare rollback.

Lapus said supermarkets and shopping malls selling imported products and even local goods should also effect a similar price reduction.

Salapuddin said the strengthening of the peso "is a clear indication that the economy is resilient and doing well despite our divisive politics."

"The challenge is for the government to see to it that the economic benefits trickle down to the masses of our people," he said.

Lapus and Salapuddin said instead of expressing his skepticism, Roxas, a former trade secretary under the Arroyo administration, should help his former boss, President Arroyo, bring such benefits to the countryside.

Though the administration has crowed about the strength of the peso, finance officials have attributed this to the increase in the remittances of overseas Filipino workers.

Administration spokesmen have also boasted about the economic growth, though in reality the economy has slowed down due to high fuel and electricity costs, and higher taxes

Bunye, meanwhile, said the Palace shares the concerns raised by Roxas and assured him that the "payback" of the painful economic reforms are already being reaped, including the P35-billion pump priming program and the "larger strategic programs to fight hunger and poverty."

"The Arroyo administration is combining immediate relief measures and long-gestating initiatives to jumpstart jobs, lower the cost of food, increase access to cheap quality medicine and health insurance, broaden education and housing opportunities and expanding infrastructure inroads to push productivity," Bunye said.

He cited priority programs such as the "rice and noodle" stores that will make available these two basic commodities at affordable prices.

In education, Bunye said the government’s priority would be to close the school building-classroom gap in the elementary level, and the issuance of "education vouchers" in the secondary level to enable excess public school students to enroll in private high schools. — With Paolo Romero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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