GMA  TO  AFP:  STAND  BY  ME

MANILA, December 22, 2004
(STAR) President Arroyo exhorted the Armed Forces yesterday to stand by her while she deals with a faltering economy and security threats, promising clean leadership to discourage any insurrection.

"I bid you to stand by me in the quest for peace with honor, dignity and justice for all Filipinos," Mrs. Arroyo said in a speech at Malacañang marking the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)’s 69th founding anniversary.

"I expect you, the soldiers, to be by my side to man the flanks by keeping all threats to national security at bay," the commander-in-chief said.

The military played key roles in the ouster of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in February 1986 and President Joseph Estrada in January 2001.

Marcos’ successor, Corazon Aquino, survived seven coup attempts. Mrs. Arroyo has been riding on the back of the military since Estrada’s ouster.

In recent years, scandals among the military’s higher ranks have fueled discontent among underpaid soldiers.

In July last year, hundreds of soldiers led by disgruntled junior officers took over a ritzy condominium in the heart of Makati City’s financial district, saying they were frustrated by corruption.

The military is currently on high alert following a recent bomb blast in a General Santos City public market, killing at least 15 people.

Mrs. Arroyo urged the 114,000-strong military to cleanse its image tarnished by recent corruption scandals involving Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia and other ranking officers, which have sparked fears of turmoil in the military.

"They must be tried and punished. Those who have stained the uniform are not the real AFP," she said. Garcia is accused of amassing millions of pesos illegally. He maintains his innocence.

Mrs. Arroyo promised a clean government, saying "the best defense against military adventurism is sound governance founded on moral leadership."

The President’s appeal for loyalty came as large numbers of impoverished followers of Fernando Poe Jr., a film star and her rival in May’s presidential election, prepared for his funeral scheduled today.

Poe, 65, died of a stroke last week without conceding defeat to Mrs. Arroyo in the May 10 presidential elections. He had filed an election complaint with the Supreme Court, which sits as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal.

Security officials said they did not expect violence during Poe’s high-profile burial but expressed concern over possible attempts by anti-government groups to use the event to stir up trouble.

Armed Forces chief Lt. Gen. Efren Abu said troops would remain on alert for possible attacks from communist rebels, with whom the government has been trying to forge a ceasefire in the spirit of the holiday season.

He said restiveness within the military continues to be a concern, but added that there was no specific threat.

Mrs. Arroyo said next year would be crucial in her effort to fix the economy, which is saddled by a gaping budget deficit and a huge foreign debt.

The military is expected to help the government achieve its objective of easing the wrenching poverty in the country by keeping the peace.

"The work, the struggle, the fight will be hard on the soldiery. But I am consistently committed to the goal of a quality of life for the Filipino soldier that measures up to the job and the burdens of the soldier’s family," she said.

Despite a plunge in her popularity ratings in the latest public opinion survey of respected pollster Social Weather Stations (SWS), Mrs. Arroyo has said she would improve tax collection and seek congressional approval of new taxes.

SWS said the President’s persistent negative popularity rating was partly caused by renewed public concern over military restiveness, among others.

Another survey released last week showed a majority of the country’s top business executives believe Mrs. Arroyo was not doing enough to address the country’s fiscal crisis, combat corruption, attract investments and improve infrastructure.

In his speech at the anniversary rites, Abu vowed to rid the military of scalawags.

"As we strive to defeat the enemies of the state, we shall also endeavor to defeat the enemies within — the undesirables among our ranks who dishonor the uniform and the malpractices that erode our capability and credibility as a professional and trustworthy organization." — Marichu Villanueva


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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