PALACE  SET UP COMMUNICATION HUB AS 'CRISIS MANAGEMENT CENTER'

MANILA
, July 12, 2005
(STAR) Malacañang has set up a "crisis management nerve center" to win the hearts and minds of the people through the direct and immediate delivery of social services to households, President Arroyo’s close allies disclosed yesterday.

A Palace official said the nerve center, which will also be a communications hub and "clearing house of ideas," is located at the Premier Guest House fronting the Palace. It will have external and internal presidential assistants.

"This is going to be a war of confidence and we will bring the war to the countryside with direct and immediately-felt social services," the official said, admitting that public trust is no longer one of the administration’s strongest selling points.

"Our aim is to bring down (public) dissatisfaction (with the President) to zero in the coming weeks with very little fanfare and no politics," the official said.

The official said that despite seeming public dissatisfaction with the administration, Mrs. Arroyo still has a loyal following of over 30 percent of the population.

Following the refusal of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to join calls for her to resign, the President on Sunday vowed to work harder to regain the people’s "enduring trust and support."

The CBCP issued a statement Sunday rejecting calls for the President to step down, giving Mrs. Arroyo a short respite after weeks of intense political turmoil.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said in a press briefing at Malacañang that the President remained committed to implementing reforms despite attacks by her detractors.

All suggestions and ideas to improve governance from agencies, concerned sectors and allies will be organized and collated for easy and quick study by the President, the official said.

He said that, in the past weeks, the Palace had been flooded with many well-meaning proposals aimed at enabling the administration to regain solid footing.

Among the basic concerns the newly-created crisis management center will address are price hikes on food and gasoline, income and employment levels, water shortages, small business concerns and even traffic and speedy mail delivery.

The nerve center has set itself clear monthly progress targets, and Bunye added the "direct-to-the-people" socio-economic programs were actually already in place but bureaucratic delays had made them less effective, the official said.

Presidential Management Staff (PMS) chief Rigoberto Tiglao said the administration would release a total of P1 billion for microfinance assistance by the end of the year. There is now P700 million available for the program, he added.

Another ranking Palace official said the nerve center was supposed to be manned by former social welfare secretary Corazon "Dinky" Soliman, former trade secretary Juan Santos, and former National Anti-Poverty Commission chairwoman Imelda Nicolas, because the project focuses on the immediate delivery of socio-economic services.

"But they have abandoned their posts," the official said. "We had to scramble and revive and coordinate all these programs."

Both Soliman and Santos resigned from the Arroyo Cabinet last Friday.

In Davao City, House Majority Leader Prospero Nograles said the President and her allies should remain vigilant and focused despite the apparent reprieve she got in the form of support from various sectors, including the CBCP.

"I think we have sort of stabilized the situation. But again, we must be vigilant because it might be the calm before the storm," Nograles said.

He said anything could happen, adding that some groups remain divided over whether to push for the President’s resignation or to pave the way for impeachment proceedings against her.

"Impeachment is the logical way to go. It is within the Constitution," he said.

Nograles said those calling for Mrs. Arroyo’s resignation remain fractious not only over the alternatives offered but also over how her ouster should be carried out. — Paolo Romero, Edith Regalado


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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