[PHOTO AT LEFT - President Arroyo poses for posterity with media moguls, among them STAR publisher and board chairman Max V. Soliven (to her left), for whom she hosted lunch at Malacañang yesterday. With them are (from left) ABS-CBN’s Korina Sanchez and Ted Failon, Radio Mindanao Network’s Ely Saludar, Philippine Daily Inquirer board chairwoman Marixi Prieto, ABS-CBN president Cito Alejandro, ABS-CBN chairman Gabby Lopez, Manila Bulletin chairman Dr. Emilio Yap, GMA-7 president Felipe Gozon and GMA-7 executive vice president Gilberto Duavit. - Photo By REVOLI CORTEZ]

MANILA, January 20, 2005 (STAR) By Marichu Villanueva - President Arroyo urged media executives yesterday to help the country move forward in presenting more "balanced" news on crucial national issues, especially the economy.

Mrs. Arroyo urged the local media to help solve the country’s problems by working in concert with the government in reporting crucial issues and concerns affecting the people and the economy.

"Let’s get our acts together," Mrs. Arroyo told the top executives of broadcast and print media companies in a luncheon briefing on the country’s sovereign credit ratings at Malacañang yesterday.

During the meeting with the top media moguls, Mrs. Arroyo could not hide her disappointment about the reports reflecting the latest Standard & Poor’s long-term foreign currency credit rating downgrade on the Philippines.

She said some of the reports stated her administration’s perceived failure to shore up its shaky public finances.

Mrs. Arroyo impressed upon the media executives that much of the negative perceptions, as gathered by S&P and other international credit ratings agencies, were culled from reports of the local media.

Mrs. Arroyo complained that reportage by Philippine media on fiscal reforms in Congress and the executive department were not given prominence.

She cited as an example the reports describing the "sin taxes" as "watered down versions."

In fact, Mrs. Arroyo stressed, the sin tax law was predicted to raise as much as P16 billion in additional much needed revenues for the government, as compared to the original proposal submitted by Malacañang which only projected P7 billion.

Mrs. Arroyo said she is determined to put the country’s fiscal house in order with the help of Congress under the agreement of the executive and lawmakers on the passage of vital tax reform bills.

"We must continue to move with a constant sense of urgency and unity in the path of change and reform," Mrs. Arroyo said. "Every step forward we take in bolstering the economy brings us closer to these goals."

The President invited the media executives to the luncheon briefing to update them on the recent credit rating downgrade from BB to BB- and the long-term local currency rating to BB+ from BBB- that the S&P gave the Philippines.

The international credit rating agency also downgraded the country’s short-term local currency rating to B from A3.

Mrs. Arroyo also told the media executives of her plans to sustain the war against poverty while implementing necessary fiscal reform measures in the government.

She cited the "sacrifices" being borne by Filipinos in terms of paying higher electricity rates, more taxes and higher fees and charges in government transactions.

"The goal of putting food on every table continues to be among the highest in my list, together with clean water, education and health care," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo said she was "inspired by the sacrifices of our people" that prompted her to renew her commitment in the war against poverty.

"And these (sacrifices) must also be seen as a sign of their fervent hopes for a better future," she said.

"Things will continue to look up as we match our people’s faith and courage with the steady will to fight corruption, cut wasteful spending, put our fiscal house in order and grow the economy to create jobs and feed the hungry," the President told the media executives during the luncheon meeting.

Among those present were ABS-CBN chairman Gabby Lopez, ABS-CBN president Cito Alejandro, GMA-7 president Felipe Gozon, GMA-7 executive vice president Gilberto Duavit, and Raul de Mesa of ABC-5 representing Antonio Cojuangco.

Radio and television host Mike Enriquez of GMA-7/dzBB, Korina Sanchez and Ted Failon of ABS-CBN /dzMM, and Ely Saludar of Radio Mindanao Network (RMN News) were also present.

From print were STAR publisher Maximo Soliven, Manila Bulletin chairman Dr. Emilio Yap and vice president Emil Yap III, Philippine Daily Inquirer board chairman Marixi Prieto, publisher Isagani Yambot and business editor Raul Marcelo.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and Press Secretary and Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye led government officials in attending the luncheon meeting.

Other government officials included Finance Secretary Juanita Amatong, Budget Secretary Emilia Boncodin, Trade Secretary Cesar Purisima, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Merceditas Gutierrez and government media head Cerge Remonde.

Administration lawmakers, for their part, pointed out the recent survey by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) showing fewer Filipinos are getting hungry.

They said the reported people’s optimism about the improvement in their condition reflected positively on Mrs. Arroyo’s anti-poverty campaign.

Nueva Ecija Rep. Aurelio Umali and Zamboanga del Norte Rep. Roseller Barinaga said the SWS survey showed the government’s anti-poverty campaign is now paying off.

Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas said the employment grew by some 3.2 percent, or almost a million more last year, nearly doubling the 1.9 percent increment registered nationwide.

Sto. Tomas cited the report made by the Bureau of Local Employment Statistics showing the number of employed rose from 30.635 million in 2003 to 31.611 million in 2004.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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