AMID OIL CRISIS, GMA CALLS FOR TRUCE WITH OPPOSITION

MANILA, August 27, 2005
(STAR) By Paolo Romero - Facing impeachment over alleged vote-rigging in last year’s elections, President Arroyo appealed for a truce with her political opponents to secure the country’s "economic survival" as world oil prices continued to soar. "The longer our political turmoil lasts, the deeper the hurt inflicted upon the public," Mrs. Arroyo said.

"I call on a determined consensus among our national leaders — regardless of party, sector and persuasion — to get on the same boat and steer it forward, not pull in different directions, or worse, bore holes in the hull," she said. Mrs. Arroyo stressed the oil crisis represents a threat to the country’s economic survival.

"This is the time for one nation to act decisively on an issue of economic survival and the time to act is now," she said. Congress has devoted much of its time and energy since resuming sessions late last month to debating three impeachment complaints against Mrs. Arroyo, who stands accused of rigging last year’s presidential election. A one-third vote of the 236-member House of Representatives would compel the body to send the case to trial in the 23-member Senate.

Mrs. Arroyo has been under fire for months since an audiotape was leaked in which a woman sounding like her apparently tells an election official to fix the outcome of last year’s presidential elections. Mrs. Arroy denies any wrongdoing and called on Congress to focus on passing key legislation to shore up the government’s revenue base and lessen the country’s dependence on expensive debt. The proposed 2006 national budget of P1.05 trillion would devote a third of its total to debt service.

Officials have warned that surging oil prices would cut economic growth, raise inflation and deplete the country of its international reserves. Economic Planning Secretary Augusto Santos said soaring oil prices may force the country to revise its economic growth target this year.

The government’s Development Budget Coordination Committee, which had set a 5.3-percent gross domestic product (GDP) growth target for this year, down from 6.1 percent in 2004, is set to meet next week, Santos said. After the release of the GDP growth figures Monday for the three months to June, the committee will meet "to review its assumptions and validate its economic projections for the rest of the year," Santos said.

Santos, however, remained confident that the government would achieve its original growth target despite the expected slower growth in the three months to June and "extraordinary increases in oil prices." ‘Imminent Disaster’ Mrs. Arroyo issued the appeal to the political opposition after prices of crude oil in the world market hit $68 per barrel on Thursday. Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita added the government is apprehensive that oil prices might soon exceed $70 per barrel.

The President stressed the ongoing impeachment process in Congress also prolongs the political crisis in the country. Alarmed over what she called "callousness and complacency" by the country’s political leaders in the face of the unabated rise in world crude oil prices, Mrs. Arroyo sought an end to politicking and called on lawmakers to confront the oil crisis to avoid "imminent disaster." She said the government cannot be distracted in confronting the many other problems along with the oil crisis.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo was not necessarily referring to the impeachment complaint against her in Congress but to the personal attacks against her family. "This crisis is much bigger than any one of us. In fact, this is being treated by other countries as a very serious problem," Bunye said. "The message is, if we act together, we can address this problem." Bunye pointed out that even the United States, the world’s biggest economy and superpower, is deeply concerned over the galloping oil prices. "So much more for our country to be affected by this crisis," he said.

The President has implemented various measures to deal with the oil crisis, including energy conservation, finding alternative energy resources and possibly even passing emergency measures if the situation becomes critical. Santos, on the other hand, stressed the need for the country’s economy to move forward.

With GDP expected to have grown between 4.7 and 5.1 percent in the three months to June, compared to 4.6 percent in the three months to March, Santos said the country’s economy should grow by between 5.8 and 6.0 percent in the second half.

This "is possible as we expect agriculture, industry and services to grow by 4.7 percent, 4.8 percent, and 6.6 percent, respectively, in the second half," Santos said. Agriculture would benefit from the end of the El Niño drought, while mining, food and beverage manufacturing, and construction are expected to support industrial growth, he said. Financial services should also perk up with the non-performing loans of banks returning to single digits, he added.

Nevertheless, government simulations suggest "that a rise in the price of oil to an average of 60 dollars per barrel starting August 2005 until the yearend will cause a slowdown in economic growth to around 5.2 percent, Santos said. He added higher inflation due to more expensive petroleum products would jack up production costs and dampen domestic demand. The trade figures released this week were not encouraging, with imports, many used as raw materials for the key electronics industry, down 1.5 percent in the first half to $21.52.

Analysts suggested manufacturers should cut back on production until oil prices have stabilized. - With AFP, Mike Frialde

GMA to allies in Congress: Help me protect presidency The Philippine Star 08/27/2005

With the opposition stepping up its campaign to gather more signatures to impeach her, President Arroyo asked several pro-administration lawmakers yesterday to help her protect the presidency. Over palabok and other snacks, the President met with several administration lawmakers in batches — including 12 congressmen from Bicol, Davao and Metro Manila — for about three hours from 1 p.m. during which she gently broached the issue of the ongoing impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives while discussing other matters with them.

Other administration lawmakers from Pampanga, Negros Oriental and Pangasinan also came to Malacañang. The meetings were apparently so important to Mrs. Arroyo that she canceled at the last minute a scheduled public engagement in Malabon City with local officials yesterday morning. Cabinet Officer for Public Engagements Secretary Conrado Limcaoco said the President canceled her Malabon activity to "attend to pressing matters."

"That’s something we should not speculate on," Limcaoco said.

Sorsogon Rep. Jose Solis, the latest to signify his intention to add his signature to the opposition’s impeachment complaint, was among those present in the meeting. "She (Mrs. Arroyo) casually asked how the impeachment proceedings were going, and she told us there were some slight problems after some of ‘our friends’ (in the House majority bloc) signed (the impeachment complaint)," Solis told reporters after the meeting.

While Mrs. Arroyo did not directly ask them to resist pressure from the opposition to sign the impeachment complaint, the implied message was not lost on them, he said.

Solis said the President had already called him up in the morning and asked him whether the news reports that he was planning to sign the complaint were true. "I was asked (over the telephone): ‘How true is this?’ And I said the voting is still far off and they (the opposition) are pestering me," said Solis, a member of Mrs. Arroyo’s Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (KAMPI) party. He said he thought the President might ask him to stay with the administration in exchange for something, but she did not. If Mrs. Arroyo was worried about the developments in the impeachment proceedings, she did not show it, Solis said.

Solis said Antipolo Rep. Ronaldo Puno, KAMPI president, invited him to the Palace for the meeting along with other lawmakers. Among those present, he said, were Reps. Luis Villafuerte of Camarines Sur and Rodolfo Bacani of Manila. Earlier in the day, Reps. Corazon Malanyaon of Davao Oriental, Consuelo Dy of Pasay City, Arrel Olaño of Davao del Norte and Manuel Zamora of Compostela Valley also reportedly met with the President.

A ranking administration lawmaker told The STAR that the meetings were meant to shore up the majority bloc’s support for Mrs. Arroyo. "The impeachment was, of course, discussed but this was really more for reinforcement," the House leader said. He admitted, though, that some of those present shared their gripes with the President over the slow release of infrastructure funds. "Some of their public works allocations for 2004 have not yet been released," he noted.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Arroyo’s spokesman for the impeachment process said her lawyers are not worried over reports the opposition is successfully persuading more congressmen to add their signatures to the impeachment complaint.

Lawyer Romulo Macalintal said the additional signatures have "no effect" because the complaint has not reached the required 79 signatures for an immediate impeachment and trial at the Senate. "Politics is really like that, sometimes you add, sometimes you subtract," Macalintal told The STAR. "You should admit reality in politics." He said there is nothing wrong with either side exerting efforts to secure more signatures or blocking moves to do so. "We will match their efforts," Macalintal said.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye belied reports that Mrs. Arroyo was rushing to kill the impeachment complaint in the House committee on justice before she leaves for a state visit to Saudi Arabia and an official visit to the United States. — Paolo Romero


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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