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MANILA, June 23, 2005
(STAR) By Fred P. Languido and Mitchelle P. Calipayan The Freeman - President Arroyo yesterday continued to hedge comment on the so-called "Hello Garci" tapes that sparked the greatest threat yet to her presidency but allowed some good news to filter through to an anxious nation by announcing the release of Filipino hostage Roberto Tarongoy in Iraq.

Arroyo, in yet another visit to Cebu, where her winning margin of more than a million votes in 2004 is now at the center of the tapes controversy, also downplayed apprehensions that her grip on power is slipping, saying she intends to stay on until the end of her term in 2010.

She thanked Cebuanos for an offer to stay here if Metro Manila eventually becomes too hostile for her. "I thank the people of Cebu for having the right perspective," she said, without clarifying whether she was taking the offer seriously and was considering accepting it.

She said she is confident that with the continued support of the private sector, the Philippine economy will survive despite the controversy that has now dragged the peso down to its lowest levels in five months.

The " Hello Garci " tapes refer to supposed recordings of wiretapped conversations allegedly between Arroyo and a ranking official of the Commission on Elections in which rigging the results of the May 2004 elections was reportedly discussed. " Hello Garci " refers to the way the woman in the tape addressed the person she was conversing with.

To give the nation at least some fresh breathing air, Arroyo said Tarongoy was now safe with Filipino diplomats in Baghdad and would be flown home at a date she did not specify.

" At long last, Robert Tarongoy will be coming home soon. "

Tarongoy was an accountant working for a Saudi firm in Baghdad when abducted by Islamic militants in November along with an American. The fate of the US national has never been known.

Aside from the release of Tarongoy unharmed, Arroyo said there are other positive things that have been happening despite the continued attempts by the opposition to unseat her.

She cited the P250 million electrification project of the Korean Electric Company in Talayong, Badian which she inaugurated yesterday with the company's chief executive officer, Han Joon Ho.

Speaking in Cebuano, Arroyo said less than a year since winning in Cebu, she has already brought electricity to over 1,000 barangays through the help of private companies like KEPCO.

She said that as of last April, 93 percent of all 45,000 barangays nationwide have been energized and that she plans to complete the energization by 2008.

Arroyo also spoke before more than 500 top businessmen attending the 1st International Conference and Exhibition on Business and Information Technology at the Waterfront Cebu City Hotel in Lahug.

" I want a one Philippines that rises up from the bottom. I will continue to push for more for the country, by expanding more opportunities to bring prosperity and dignity to our people and I intend to keep doing this until the year 2010, " Arroyo said, to the lusty cheers of the gathering.

But because of the emergence of the tapes, which is now the subject of a congressional inquiry, as well as allegations that her husband, son and brother-in-law had accepted bribes from illegal gambling, there are now calls for Arroyo to resign.

The five House committees looking into the controversial tapes will most likely seek the help of foreign police agencies such as the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and Scotland Yard of Great Britain to help authenticate the recordings.

In an interview on ABS-CBN News Channel, Rep. Roilo Golez said since none of the people whose voices are supposedly heard on the recordings had come forward to identify themselves, the committees were left with no option but to seek foreign authentication assistance.

Asked if identifying the voices on the recordings would be part of the authentication, Golez said yes. " And if those tapes are determined to be authentic, the implications are frightening, " he said.

In the recordings, a female caller whose voice is similar to that of Arroyo discusses election fraud with a man she alternately calls " Garci " and " Gary, " widely believed to be former election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano.

During one part of the conversation, the caller asks "Garci" if she would win by more than a million votes over her opponent. "Pipilitin natin, ma'am ( We'll try, ma'am )," the man answers. - with AFP, Philippine Star News Service


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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