MANILA,  October 5, 2004
By Paolo Romero - The opposition bloc in the House of Representatives gave President Arroyo passing marks — just barely — for her governance in the first 100 days of her new term.

House Minority Leader Francis Escudero of Sorsogon said the President "passed" on the issue of economy and peace and order, but "failed" on her commitment to stamp out graft and corruption.

"I would give her a passing mark with regards to handling the economy since whoever would be put in her place would be facing the same problems she is wrestling with now," he said. "And she has taken the right step in admitting, though much delayed, that we have a fiscal crisis."

Escudero noted that during the election campaign early this year up to her State of the Nation Address last July 26, there was no hint whatsoever from the Arroyo administration of a looming fiscal crisis. The President, however, said in August that the country was "already in the midst of a fiscal crisis and we have to face it squarely" and vowed the country will never default on its debt repayments.

Escudero said Mrs. Arroyo’s economic managers are doing the right thing in pushing for a line-item budgeting and a cap on the amount of the budget allocated to debt servicing.

He also gave passing marks to Mrs. Arroyo’s efforts to improve the peace and order situation in the country but said she should do more to address criminality.

Escudero said the incidence of kidnappings has gone down and that the administration appears to have gained significant headway in the war against illegal drugs.

He said the final outcome of the on-and-off peace talks between the government and communist rebels and Muslim separatists also remains to be seen.

Escudero, however, gave the President failing marks on her administration’s failure to land a big fish in their efforts to stamp out graft and corruption.

He said there is a "persisting impression," though unsubstantiated, that her family has "dipped its fingers" in practically every major business venture in the country.

"She must remember she was brought to power due to the issue of graft and corruption so the public expectation on her for this matter is very high," Escudero said. "The administration must remove the impression that it is coddling big-time smugglers and grafters."

Tarlac Rep. Gilberto Teodoro, however, said whoever is elected president will most likely fail to solve the country’s decades-old problems due to the present legal and political system.

"It is unfair to rate any president on achievements since the current legal and political system does not allow her to solve them completely," he said. "The problem is structural and systemic."

Teodoro said the Constitution should first be amended and the present government shifted to a unicameral parliamentary system. He explained that the present system not only engenders political divisiveness and slow governance, it also does not provide the President with the necessary "tools" to address economic problems.

"With the present system, it is like having major diseases but we are (limited to) addressing the symptoms," Teodoro said.

Ilocos Norte Rep. Imee Marcos said Mrs. Arroyo should exert more effort to reconcile with her critics and other political groups.

Meanwhile, defeated presidential candidate Bro. Eddie Villanueva dared Mrs. Arroyo and her economic team to own up to their "gross fiscal mismanagement" of the government since she has already acknowledged that the country is the midst of a fiscal crisis.

In a television interview, Villanueva said Mrs. Arroyo was responsible for the current state of the country’s economy, since she has been at the helm of the government for the past three years.

Anthony Ian Cruz, acting communications director of Bangon Pilipinas, said in a separate interview that Mrs. Arroyo should be "honest and courageous" enough to admit her responsibility.

The Jesus Is Lord (JIL) Church Worldwide, which Villanueva founded and now serves as its spiritual director, celebrated its 26th anniversary at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila last Sunday with the theme, "A Nation in Prayer for a Nation in Crisis." — With Nikko Dizon

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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