JULY 15, 2009
(STAR) HIDDEN AGENDA By Mary Ann Ll. Reyes - Finally, there are clear indications that President Arroyo would finally have a face-to-face meeting with US President Barack Obama before month’s end, after two previous opportunities to sit down and talk failed to materialize.

It was easy for Arroyo bashers to interpret the two failed attempts as a snob on the President. The interpretation is understandable. Had Arroyo been able to sit down with Obama on the two previous attempts, that would have sent very strong signals here on the value that the new US president puts on RP-US relations.

That would have given Arroyo significant goodwill and political points which her bashers appear to be very wary of.

Arroyo has been depicted by the same quarters as a “trying hard” person, an accusation aggravated by rumors that a Philippine diplomat may have been reprimanded for failing to have photos taken of the President’s earlier brief encounter with Obama. If the rumors are true, we say the diplomat definitely deserved the scolding.

It is highly probable that the Arroyo-Obama meeting will focus on security issues. The Philippines is an important element in the US’ overall view of the international security situation and of the war against terrorism.

Arroyo, on the other hand, should be able to hear it from Obama first hand as to what the latter’s prognosis is regarding the economic recession that the US is deep into. That should give her sufficient understanding of what the country can do to respond to whatever direction the US economy might take.

An Arroyo-Obama meeting is a must. RP-US relations has been an important element in our political and economic life. No matter how one feels about President Arroyo, one must accept that fact that the meeting is not for Arroyo’s sake alone. In that forthcoming tete-a-tete, she represents Philippine interest. And regardless of one’s personal or political sentiment, one must hope that the meeting would be beneficial for the country.

Militarized DOE

Officials and other employees of the Department of Energy are now questioning why DOE Secretary Angelo Reyes seems to have turned the department into an employment agency for retired generals.

As of last count, there are more than 100 former military officers working at DOE at his behest.

The latest additions are Gen. Roy Kyamco, who has been designated by Reyes as his chief of staff and Undersecretary Ramon Santos of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) who has been moved to the DOE.

Employees are railing at the special treatment for soldiers at the DOE since they have already transformed Reyes’ office into their own barracks. They have written Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, who has demanded that Reyes submit the list of his personnel, saying a genuine list would prove their charge that the DOE should be renamed Department of Retired Soldiers (DRS.)

They are saying that the soldiers that Reyes brought to DOE feast on free meals, enjoy frequent travel at the expense of the taxpayers, and even control all the security guards.

The employees are also claiming that Reyes doles out oil service contracts to his cronies, friends or friends of his friends.

As energy czar, they say Reyes should also practice what he preaches on energy conservation instead of using a gas guzzling Ford Expedition escorted by heavily armed security escorts on board three vans and even motorcycle cops who ensure that traffic would not bother him. These vehicles by the way have no license plates.

A lot of explaining to do

The Department of Finance has offered what they claimed to be a compromise with various stakeholders on the proposed cigarette excise tax increase pending before Congress.

Finance Undersecretary Gil Beltran said they are amenable to postponing the effectivity of their proposal to increase the rates and reduce the four tiers to two to the year 2012. He said the tiers will further be reduced to a single rate by 2014.

It will be recalled that Finance Secretary Margarito Teves fought tooth and nail to see this proposal through despite warnings from leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives that the measure faces rough sailing in Congress. After all, the proposal could displace more than two million Filipinos who are dependent on the tobacco industry.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile even described the proposal of Teves as anti-poor as it increases taxes for low-priced cigarettes by as much as 400 percent while those in the premium tier such Lucky Strikes and Pall Mall cigarettes of the British American Tobacco will even have a roll back in the taxes they pay.

It also defies logic to think why this current DOF administration wants Congress, on its last year, to pass a law that will take effect three years from now.

Clearly only one foreign international cigarette manufacturer stands to gain here—not the government, not the farmers, not the local manufacturers.

And this foreign company has been seen in the past in bed with the DOF, observers note. This brings to mind the tax re-classification of the international brand Pall Mall. The Bureau of Internal Revenue classified the new brand in the top tax tier being a premium brand. The DOF rolled back its tax and reclassified it in the mid tier. Under the glare of intense media attention, the DOF reversed itself.

Then there is the brewing controversy on the proposed revenue stamps on cigarette packs. This foreign cigarette company is the only one who did not object to the DOF initiated proposal despite objections from all the local players. In this day of high technology and bar coding, it’s a surprise why the DOF is currently negotiating this multi-billion peso stamps project with the Swiss-based Sicpa group.


PGMA to bring up poverty alleviation program, economic resiliency plan in meeting with Obama - Remonde

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will have an opportunity to discuss with US President Barack Obama the country’s poverty alleviation program and economic resiliency plan during her planned visit to Washington on July 30.

In a radio interview this morning, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said the President has accepted the invitation to be the first Southeast Asian leader to meet with President Obama at the White House.

Remonde said the Chief Executive and President Obama will likely discuss global issues on terrorism and climate change, as well as her poverty alleviation and economic resiliency programs.

The President has been a strong partner of the international community in the war against terrorism particularly since the 9/11 attacks on US soil.

The Philippines is also at the forefront in urging the world, particularly industrialized economies, to drastically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change UNFCCC and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol which was ratified by 184 countries and took effect in 2005.

Remonde said the President will also likely discuss the Arroyo administration’s anti-poverty programs that are being implemented through the additional funds generated from earlier fiscal and financial reforms.

Another likely topic is the P330-billion Economic Resiliency Plan including accelerated spending for human and physical infrastructure that was put in place to ensure sustainable growth, create and save jobs, mitigate hunger, and protect the most vulnerable sectors against the harsh effects of the present global crisis.

While in Washington, the President will also meet with other key US officials and businessmen.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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