[PHOTO AT LEFT -  President Arroyo with (from left) outgoing Finance Secretary Juanita Amatong, incoming Trade Secretary Juan Santos and incoming Customs Commissioner Albert Lina at the launch of the Plantersbank-Aureos SME Equity fund yesterday in Malacañang. Photo by REVOLI CORTEZ ]

MANILA, January 28, 2005 (STAR) An ecstatic President Arroyo could only exclaim, "Yahoo!" over the sustained appreciation of the peso against the dollar, with the local currency opening at 55.20 to $1 yesterday.

Mrs. Arroyo sought to highlight the fortuitous development when she hosted the ceremonial launching of the $25-million "Parallel Investment Agreement" between Planters Development Bank of the Philippines and Aureos Capital for the Aureos Southeast Asia Fund.

"The sense of a (fiscal) turnaround is settling in," the President said. "For the last four days, the peso has been appreciating at a faster pace than its regional counterparts."

"P55.20 (to $1), top high. Yahoo! I say to that!," Mrs. Arroyo exclaimed.

The President noted the optimism on the strengthening of the peso against the greenback at the opening of the currencies trading yesterday, a few hours after the House of Representatives approved the proposal to increase the value added tax (VAT) from 10 to 12 percent.

Mrs. Arroyo said analysts attributed the liquidity to foreign investment inflows as well as the general bullish movement at the Philippine stock market.

"The fundamentals are still around," she said.

In fact, trade surplus in the country was recorded at $333 million in November last year compared to a deficit of $193 million for the same month a year earlier, she said.

"Now, we must bring the benefits of these macro-economic performance to the average Filipino," Mrs. Arroyo said.

"One of the most important ways is to support the small and medium entrepreneurs (SME)," she said.

The President hailed the SME Equity Fund put up by Planters Bank which poured in $5 million while Aureos provided the bulk of $20 million in direct foreign investment in the Philippines in the next four years.

Finance Secretary Juanita Amatong and her incoming replacement Trade Secretary Cesar Purisima, along with Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas deputy governor Armando Tetangco witnessed the launching rites in Malacañang. – Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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