MANILA, February 21, 2004
(STAR) By Marichu Villanueva - President Arroyo was conferred yesterday the Ceres Award of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which the agency hands out to women leaders for their achievement in the fight against hunger.

In Greek mythology, Ceres is the goddess of grain.

Mrs. Arroyo received the award from FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf in simple rites at Malacañang.

Also in attendance were Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo Jr., UN representatives and other members of the diplomatic community.

In her acceptance remarks, Mrs. Arroyo described the award as the food and agriculture equivalent of "the Nobel Prize or the Oscar Awards" — a possible backhanded reference to acting awards received by Fernando Poe Jr.

Mrs. Arroyo and Poe are the leading candidates in the May 10 presidential elections. As an actor, Poe has won a number of Famas Awards, acknowledged to be the local equivalent of the Oscars.

"I accept it with great pride as well as with deep humility," the President said.

Previous recipients of the Ceres Award include the late Mother Teresa, Queen Sirikit of Thailand, Prime Minister Helen Clark of New Zealand, Prime Minister Sheik Hashina of Bangladesh and Prime Minister Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka.

Mrs. Arroyo said the award was a recognition not only of her administration’s anti-poverty programs, particularly its efforts to put "food on the table" of every Filipino, but also of ordinary farmers and government workers.

"There was no other administration which spent as much as P20 billion each year for agricultural modernization, which I did during my short presidency," she said.

Among the steps her administration had taken toward achieving food sufficiency, Mrs. Arroyo cited the propagation of the so-called "Gloria rice," a high-yield rice variety, and the construction of irrigation systems throughout the country.

With the local audience clearly in mind, Mrs. Arroyo delivered most of her speech in Filipino, vowing not only to modernize agriculture but also to create six million jobs if elected to a full six-year term.

"Napatunayan nating kaya nating lumikha ng isang milyong bagong trabaho pag may karanasan at karunungan ang namumuno (My administration is proof that under an experienced and intelligent leader a million new jobs is indeed possible)," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo is running under the umbrella group Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan sa Kinabukasan, or K-4.

She has made her experience, intelligence, and international standing the leading items of her political résumé.

"With a strong international reputation, economic expertise and deep governing experience, I can deliver the change we need," she said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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