MANILA,  November 12, 2004
By Marichu Villanueva - Malacañang insisted yesterday that the Philippines remains a "candidate nation" and could still qualify for assistance under the United States government’s Millennium Challenge Account (MCA).

But Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said the Philippines was among 12 "threshold" countries that could still qualify for the US aid program, subject to meeting specific requirements.

"We have qualified as a threshold nation under the Millennium Challenge Account and this places us next in line for assistance," he said.

Bunye’s insistence was an apparent effort to put a positive spin on reports that Washington disqualified the country from receiving aid under the MCA due to poor fiscal discipline, limited spending for health, corruption and the questionable quality of the country’s court system.

The Millennium Challenge Corp. (MCC), the body that administers the US aid program, declared the Philippines eligible for a threshold program designed to help it eventually win MCA assistance.

In an official statement he issued at the Palace yesterday, Bunye said the Philippine government will strive to qualify and be granted access to this special fund provided by the US for countries trying to institute reforms in governance and improve the living conditions of its people.

"We shall continue to pursue inclusion in the MCA as part of our constructive dialogue with the US on a wide range of interests," he vowed.

President Arroyo herself disclosed Wednesday night about the Philippines’ status as a "candidate nation" for the MCA during the maiden airing of her 30-minute press conference at Malacañang dubbed as "The President’s Hour" on state-run NBN Channel 4.

She cited that the country’s possible inclusion in the MCA is a "positive indication that the Philippines and the US have a strong and continuing dialogue on development cooperation."

But Mrs. Arroyo refused to elaborate on her expectations for the new term of US President George W. Bush. She said she will disclose her policy on RP-US relations when she delivers a speech on Nov. 18 at investiture rites to be held in the University of San Francisco, California, en route to attending this year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Summit in Chile.

The President earlier said she expects to meet with Bush when they attend the APEC summit, which runs from Nov. 19 to 22, in Santiago, Chile.

The MCC judges candidate countries in the areas of just and democratic governance, economic freedom and investment in social welfare.

The board named the Philippines as one of 12 threshold countries that could apply for grants to help them qualify for the MCA. Sixteen indicators, including rule of law, civil liberties, control of corruption, inflation rate, and trade and fiscal policy, are used to determine how much the political and economic conditions in a country promote broad-based sustainable economic growth.

"The US government is prepared to work with ‘threshold’ nations in order to advance their eventual inclusion in the MCA program," Mrs. Arroyo said.

She stressed that she is "very happy with this report... we’ve been put on threshold, which means that we just have to do a few more things and specifically, what we have to do is fiscal reforms."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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