MANILA,  JUNE 26, 2004
By Marichu Villanueva - Armed with a six-year mandate, President Arroyo is now getting ready "to make the big decisions" to help the country face the economic challenges ahead, her spokesman said yesterday.

"The President has a new and strong mandate to make the big decisions and she is prepared to do whatever it takes to beat the odds," Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said.

Bunye sought to assuage the public’s concerns about the economy in the next six years.

Fears and concerns were raised following the admission by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) that the government’s budget deficit has further swelled due to election spending last May 10.

On the other hand, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) reported the country’s foreign debts grew by 2.1 percent to $56.7 billion for the first three months of the year from its year-ago level of $55.5 billion.

"We acknowledge the concerns of the business community but we shall not accept doomsayers," Bunye said. "The economy is buoyant but admittedly beset with constraints that we have inherited."

Bunye said the country has already overcome the stage of political uncertainty following the proclamation of Mrs. Arroyo as the winner in the May 10 presidential polls.

"We have hurdled the specter of political uncertainty that has haunted confidence," Bunye said. "We are looking forward to permanent stability."

Some business leaders also gave a fearless forecast of a peso rebound and good economic recovery under the six-year term of Mrs. Arroyo.

Business tycoon Lucio Tan predicted yesterday the peso would rebound to P50 to the US dollar. Tan’s statement was a complete reversal of his 2002 prediction of a peso skid to P120 to the greenback in the next four years.

Foreign markets likewise foresaw a brighter future for the Philippine economy with Mrs. Arroyo’s new mandate.

Among the foreign financial analysts who were bullish about the Philippine economy included the Standard Chartered Bank of England and the Standard and Poor’s (S&P) Ratings Services of Singapore.

S&P said Mrs. Arroyo’s new mandate would enable her to address "pressing fiscal and reform issues necessary to put public figures on an even keel and elevate the country’s long-term growth potential."

"The result (of the canvassing of votes) clears much of the uncertainty that has been hanging over the Philippines for the better part of the year, exacerbated by the prolonged and often acrimonious vote count," S&P said in a statement.

The firm added that with the forthcoming inauguration of Mrs. Arroyo, the threat of a constitutional crisis arising from the protracted canvass had been removed.

S&P said the expectations are high that Mrs. Arroyo "would deliver political stability and higher (economic) growth."

Given a new mandate, Mrs. Arroyo could prove that her shortcomings of the past three years were essentially due to distractions from her lack of an election mandate, mutinous military, unwieldy Congress and the problem of secessionist rebels in Mindanao and communist insurgency, S&P said.

Standard Chartered Bank Regional Economist for Global Research Mike Moran said the Philippine economy would grow by 4.7 percent this year, and the peso regaining to P54 to the dollar.

Lawmakers said the new mandate given to Mrs. Arroyo would give her an opportunity to further sustain her economic gains over the past three years.

Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said the more important issue is whether the economy, which gained the highest gross domestic product growth in 15 years at 6.4 percent for the first quarter of 2004, can be sustained through 2010.

For his part, Alberto Uy, chairman of Philsteel Holding Corp., said Mrs. Arroyo’s new tenure signals a positive outlook for the economy.

"We hope the country can now move forward in the more urgent task of national healing and nation-building," Uy said.

On the other hand, Bunye renewed Mrs. Arroyo’s appeals for unity and reconciliation as necessary for the country to move forward.

"We just had a very hot contest during the campaign and there have been bitter exchanges and it’s about time to lower the political temperature in our politics," Bunye said.

Now that the electoral contests in the country are over, Bunye said this was all the more reason for his appeal last Thursday urging for a "honeymoon" period for the President in the first few days of her new term.

"This is anyway the tradition and practice accorded to every new administration and since this is a new mandate for President Arroyo, we believe that it is not too much to make a request to the media as well as to the opposition for this (honeymoon period)," he said.

Bunye said the request for a honeymoon break is reasonable enough to enable Mrs. Arroyo get a good head start in the first few weeks of her term.

Even if the opposition rejects the plea for a honeymoon period, Bunye said a similar arrangement with the media would suffice.

Hours after her proclamation by Congress Thursday, some members of the opposition spurned Mrs. Arroyo’s gesture of reconciliation.

Outgoing Sen. Vicente Sotto III, an ally of defeated of opposition front-runner Fernando Poe Jr., said "one of the reasons there will be no honeymoon is because GMA’s mandate will always be doubtful."

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. also said he and his colleagues are not disposed to accept the President’s offer of reconciliation because "her word cannot be relied upon."

Sen. Edgardo Angara said reconciliation is a nice word but eventually hollow in the administration’s context.

Mrs. Arroyo made the magnanimous offer minutes after the joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives proclaimed her before dawn Thursday at the Batasan complex in Quezon City.

Pimentel and other opposition lawmakers left the House session hall before the President’s allies could proclaim her.

Before leaving, Pimentel and the opposition lawmakers presented the minority’s version of the joint canvassing committee proceedings and the results of the May 10 presidential election.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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