[PHOTO AT LEFT - GALA NIGHT: President Arroyo takes her seat between STAR publisher and Manila Overseas Press Club chairman Max V. Soliven (left) and MOPC president and BizNews Asia publisher Tony Lopez at the start of the MOPC’s Gala Night at Malacañang yesterday. - Photo By REVOLI CORTEZ ]

MANILA, January 13, 2005 (STAR) By Marichu Villanueva  -  As the anniversary of the peaceful revolt that installed her in power approached, President Arroyo vowed last night that she would finish her six-year term.

"I’m going to last out my term and deliver on my 10-point agenda," the President told the Manila Overseas Press Club (MOPC) during its Gala Night at Malacañang. It was her reply when asked about the possibility of an "EDSA IV" to topple her from power.

She also expressed "trust and faith" that Vice President Noli de Castro, her running mate in the elections last May, would continue to support her amid efforts by the opposition to replace her with him in case a poll protest filed by the late Fernando Poe Jr. prospered.

During an open forum, the President announced that she had appointed her chief legal counsel Merceditas Gutierrez as the government’s anti-graft czar.

The President also said the nation is poised for "strong economic takeoff" once its fiscal house is put in order.

She vowed not to go abroad this year until she has completed her legislative agenda for fiscal reforms "so that I will have something to report about if ever I go abroad."

The President is tentatively scheduled to visit Germany, Libya and Saudi Arabia this year.

She reiterated she would not push for constitutional amendments for at least a year, or until after Malacañang and Congress have the tax measures in place to raise P80 billion.

The President said the agreement she reached with Congress leaders to pass vital tax bills by April would generate an estimated P80 billion in additional revenues this year, reducing the burgeoning deficit.

The fiscal turnaround would prompt international credit rating agencies to give the Philippines the thumbs up for creditworthiness, she said.

"We face sharp scrutiny of our fiscal status and if we hurdle the rest we can have one of the best opportunities for a strong economic take-off," she said.

Speaking before top Filipino and foreign media practitioners led by MOPC chairman and STAR publisher Max V. Soliven as well as some members of the diplomatic corps, Mrs. Arroyo exhorted the press anew for support.

"Help me spread the good news to get the people on board the express coach of our economic reforms," she urged the MOPC.

She expressed optimism that the 10-point agenda she has laid down for the next six years has started to gain momentum.

The Chief Executive believes she can achieve the goals of her fiscal reform program with the agreement she forged with lawmakers and with her economic managers.

"Our revenue raising train is moving forward. I sit down with representatives and senators frequently to tighten the nuts and bolts that put our fiscal house in order," she cited.

Without going into details, Mrs. Arroyo thanked legislators for their "admirable commitment to national interest" to act on urgent yet unpopular tax bills for their immediate passage into law.

She admitted these tax measures were being closely watched by the country’s creditors as well as international credit rating agencies like Fitch’s, Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s Investors Service.

"But it’s not only our creditworthiness that’s under test today. It’s our worth as a people and as a nation to compete in a global game where only the best can win," the President pointed out.

Mrs. Arroyo reaffirmed her commitment to wield the "political will" necessary to put in motion these drastic fiscal reform measures no matter how unpopular they may be as they would be good for the Filipino nation as a whole.

"As President, I am mandated to bring our country to such level of creditworthiness and competitiveness that will allow us to ensure the most pressing day-to-day needs of the average Filipino," she said.

The political will reigns not only at Malacañang but also in the legislature, she added.

The President emphasized as well that her administration has also showed its "political will" on other highly controversial cases like the government takeover last month of the mothballed Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 project (NAIA-3).

"The taxiways of the new airport terminal are already being used. In time the stakeholders will be compensated as determined by the courts," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo also reaffirmed her campaign promise to create more jobs for the Filipino people and cut poverty incidence in the country by half by the end of her term in 2010.

She pledged to exert her executive authority to prosecute illegal loggers, cancel government contracts with corrupt companies, file unscrupulous government officials "who rob the nation," and restore the integrity of the military leaders and soldiers "who put their lives at risk and defend the honor of the nation."

Consistent with her call for a press honeymoon, the President reiterated her administration’s commitment to bring justice to a number of still unsolved murders and assassinations of Filipino journalists.

"And there is nothing more corrosive to our democracy than the murder of journalists in pursuit of truth," Mrs. Arroyo said. "And I will not rest until those assassins are brought to justice. You deserve no less. The nation deserves no less."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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