MANILA, September 6, 2005
(STAR) (AFP) - President Gloria Arroyo said Monday she will seek to assure US businessmen about investing in the Philippines despite a political scandal shrouding her presidency and concerns over a rising budget deficit.

Arroyo, who is to leave for the United States next week, said the Philippine economy was resilient and on track for growth.

"Despite rising international oil prices and extended political turmoil, exports and investments are up, domestic demand is robust and fiscal deficit reduction is on a progressive track," Arroyo said during a briefing by her economic advisers.

She said the Supreme Court's decision last week upholding the legality of the expanded Value Added Tax (VAT) was an affirmation of her government's efforts "to redeem our economic future."

The law, which gave Arroyo unprecedented power to increase VAT to 12 percent from 10 percent next year, is the centerpiece of her economic reform agenda to balance the budget deficit by the time she steps down in 2010.

Proceeds from the sales tax would reduce the country's reliance on debt amid warnings it could go the way of Argentina, which last year defaulted on its obligations.

"My visit to New York next week will include meetings with international investors and others who closely follow developments in our country," Arroyo said.

"I shall inform them of our reform milestones, highlight the strength of Philippine enterprise and invite them to avail of specific opportunities in key sectors such as mining and information and communications technology."

The presidential palace said Arroyo's trip was set for September 12 to 14.

The US is the country's leading trade and security partner, and Arroyo was among the first world leaders to have backed Washington's invasion of Iraq.

The 58-year-old US-trained economist appears to have escaped an impeachment bid by the political opposition after Congress threw out all three complaints against her last week.

The decision is set to be ratified this week, but the opposition, now joined by former president Corazon Aquino, has vowed a huge street protest on Tuesday to force Arroyo to step down.

Arroyo is accused of cheating in the May 2004 election, which she has denied. However, she has apologized to the nation for a "lapse in judgment" for calling an unnamed poll official to ensure her lead.

Meanwhile, the foreign office said Arroyo may also visit Saudi Arabia en route to the United States to "discuss cooperation on energy security" amid skyrocketing prices of oil. It said the two countries are trying to arrange the dates for the visit.

GMA puts off trip to Saudi The Philippine Star 09/06/2005

President Arroyo’s planned visit to Saudi Arabia on Sept. 10 and 11 has been postponed to a later date, Malacañang said yesterday.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said there was a problem with the schedules of Mrs. Arroyo and King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz and that the Department of Foreign Affairs would set a new date for the visit.

He added the country’s political crisis had nothing to do with the postponement of Mrs. Arroyo’s trip, as she would still attend the United Nations General Assembly and preside over the UN Security Council in New York on Sept. 12-14.

Bunye said Malacañang hopes the impeachment issue will be settled by the time Mrs. Arroyo leaves for the United States.

Mrs. Arroyo is expecting a favorable decision from the plenary, much like that of the House of Representatives committee on justice which ruled the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Oliver Lozano against her should be dismissed for insufficiency in form and substance, he added.

On the other hand, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo said yesterday in a statement the DFA and Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs will continue discussions on the dates, program and content of the Mrs. Arroyo’s visit.

"This is an important visit," he said. "We are honored by the kind invitation for our President to visit the Kingdom."

Romulo said that for the visit to be truly successful, both countries have to work diligently and agree on dates that would ensure that Filipino and Saudi leaders and officials will have the "best opportunities" to meet and discuss issues of concern to them.

"We had tentatively set the visit for Sept. 10 to 11 or immediately before the President proceeds to New York for the United Nations summit," he said.

"However, discussions continue on the schedule of the visit as we hope to settle upon the best time for our leaders to meet."

Romulo said an official announcement on the dates of the visit will be made once discussions through diplomatic channels are completed.

"The additional time will give us more opportunity to finalize the agreements that hope to conclude with the Saudi government, including one that is aimed at further strengthening our cooperation on energy security," he said.

Romulo said Filipino and Saudi officials will also continue to work on the substance and content of the visit to ensure the best possible outcome.

"Also during this time, we will be able to do additional work on areas of cooperation, particularly in counter-terrorism and the protection of the safety and welfare of our nationals in the (Saudi) Kingdom," he said.

The Philippines is expecting the visit of several high government officials from Saudi Arabia for further discussions on enhancing bilateral cooperation, Romulo said.

Diplomatic sources said Saudi Arabia had informed the Philippines that King Abdullah "would be in the province" during Mrs. Arroyo’s visit to the world’s largest oil exporter scheduled on Sept. 10.

Lozano’s impeachment complaint alleged that Mrs. Arroyo betrayed the public trust by cheating in last year’s presidential election.

The opposition and other critics vowed to hold massive street protests if the impeachment complaint is killed, but Malacañang appealed to the public to respect the rule of law and the democratic process.

Lawmakers are set to vote on Mrs. Arroyo’s impeachment either today or tomorrow. — Aurea Calica, Pia Lee-Brago

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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