[PHOTO AT LEFT - Cultural dancers perform during the Independence Day celebrations at the Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park. - Photo By FERNAN NEBRES]

MANILA, June 13, 2005 (STAR) (AP) - President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo pleaded for unity Sunday and vowed to use her power to safeguard democracy and economic reforms amid allegations of election fraud and corruption that have rocked her administration and set off fresh coup rumors.

"Mark it on stone, I would harness my power and determination for a strong democracy and to keep the country focused on the right path," Arroyo said in a speech at heavily guarded Independence Day celebrations in Rizal Park.


Amid serious allegations of corruption involving her family and ranking members of her administration, President Arroyo vowed to wipe out corruption in government by the end of her term, and illegal gambling — including jueteng — in one year.

In her speech during the 107th Independence Day celebrations in Manila’s Rizal Park, the President said wiping out corruption is a necessary part of implementing phase two of her economic agenda of increased social and infrastructure spending.

"That’s why in this second phase, we are aiming to reduce corruption in government by half in three years, and we will work hard (towards) totally eradicating it by the end of my term," Mrs. Arroyo said.

As "part of this (campaign to wipe out corruption), we also intend to curb illegal gambling," she said.

It was not the first time in recent days that the President aired her stand against corruption and illegal gambling, but she has repeatedly been asked to make categorical statements following controversies into which members of her family have been dragged.

She said the first phase of her economic agenda, which is to increase revenues, was completed after Congress gave her the authority to raise taxes.

The nation’s coffers are now filling up and will enable the government to fund long-delayed projects, she said, adding that the country continues to rely on borrowings or tax collection to increase revenue and thus must curb corruption.

Her pro-poor projects include reducing poverty by 50 percent, ensuring that there is "food on every table" and that every family has a child taking up a course that will bring them livelihood, Mrs. Arroyo said.

The President said she has sought the help of various groups, including the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference, to work with government agencies and serve as an independent monitor for the campaign against corruption and the progress of the implementation of the administration’s 10-point economic agenda.

"We will not only intensify and expand the monitoring on the fight against corruption, but also improvements in our educational system and reducing poverty," Mrs. Arroyo said.

She said she wants to see the country free from poverty, hunger and inequality. The President said economic growth is the key to total freedom of Filipinos.

Mrs. Arroyo said in her private meetings with the people, she felt the hopelessness of the poor. She called for unity to help ease the suffering of the poor.

The President has also asked the people to help her be a good president during her speech.

"Please help me become a good president," she said. "Let this be carved in stone: I will exercise my powers and determination to make our democracy stronger and lead our nation to the right path."

"Honoring the flag is my civic duty, serving the poor is my vow to God," the President said. "In these noble goals, I am offering my honor, my future and my very own life."

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye followed up on the President’s appeal for help from the people by saying the destabilization threat against the administration has been effectively doused.

Alluding to Mrs. Arroyo’s political opponents, Bunye said opposition leaders should set their personal agendas aside and spend the rest of their terms doing what is necessary to bring about meaningful change.

"Those who are disgruntled would serve the country best by giving the President a hand and contributing what they can instead of taking pleasure in her setbacks," Bunye said.

"The President’s success is our success and her failure would affect us all," he said. "It is our patriotic duty to help her succeed."

He said the opposition seems to think that, with each exposé they make, they are hastening the downfall of the administration. What the opposition is really doing, Bunye said, is a great disservice because the longer the administration is mired in "scandals and interminable investigations," the less time it has to work on solutions to the nation’s most pressing problems.

He acknowledged that the President is unpopular because of her reform programs, which aim to undo decades of economic neglect. However, the President "is more interested in the country’s economic numbers rather than her personal numbers in the surveys."

Mrs. Arroyo called the nation to rally around the flag, which symbolizes the blood, sweat and toil of the heroes who gave their lives so that the Philippines could be free and independent.

She said she wants to see the country free from poverty, hunger and inequality and this can be done if the people are united and focused.

"Let us unite and deepen our love for our country beyond the interests of a few," she said. "Together, let us build the foundation for ‘one Philippines’ that is free from conflict and full of hope and opportunities for all."

Bunye said that while the destabilization threat has diminished considerably, there are still some small groups that insist on tarnishing the Arroyo administration’s image.

He said the support of local officials, business groups, the diplomatic community and the refusal of the Church to be lured by calls to topple the Arroyo administration have effectively eliminated the destabilization threat.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved