GMA:  I AM POLITICALLY STRONGER /  BUSH ALL PRAISES  FOR PINOY CHEF

[PHOTO AT LEFT -
President Arroyo is joined by members of her delegation, led by Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. and Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, during the start of the ASEAN-UN Summit at the United Nations headquarters in New York.]

NEW YORK CITY, September 15, 2005 (STAR) By Pia Lee-Brago - With an impeachment challenge behind her, President Arroyo said she is "politically stronger" now than she was a month ago and expressed confidence that Congress would pass the necessary legislation to fulfill her economic recovery agenda.

Mrs. Arroyo joined leaders of other Southeast Asian nations in New York ahead of the United Nations general assembly to mark the organization’s 60th anniversary and to tackle the major global issues of the 21st century, including terrorism, human rights abuse and poverty.

Mrs. Arroyo also met with a panel of foreign business leaders that assists the government in economic policy-making.

In her statement, Mrs. Arroyo said she arrived in New York "with the wind at her back after weeks and weeks of terrible political turmoil and terrible problems with oil."

"I have the strong support in Congress and local government support is rock-solid. I believe I am politically stronger today than a month ago," she said.

"I believe this will translate into working with allies in Congress to pass the legislation needed to implement Phase II of my reforms and work with my local government colleagues to ensure that these investments in services and infrastructure are implemented at the grassroots level."

Mrs. Arroyo said the recent Supreme Court ruling upholding the legality of the Expanded Value-Added Tax (EVAT) law is the "cornerstone" of her economic recovery plan.

She added the economy posted respectable growth in the last quarter and remained resilient despite the political crisis, which culminated last week with the dismissal of the impeachment complaint against her.

Opposition leaders had earlier warned of mass protests if the impeachment complaints were junked, but anti-Arroyo rallies have so far drawn disappointing numbers.

Mrs. Arroyo said "most of the people do not want to disrupt the country by any mass action" that could derail the country’s economic recovery efforts.

"They want a government that works and a democracy that functions. As such, I believe demonstrations will remain manageable, so the impeachment failure should put an end to the biggest political hurdle," she said.

Despite the continuing political crisis and soaring oil prices, Mrs. Arroyo is determined to push through with the unpopular EVAT law and other "painful" economic measures.

"Let me also be blunt about the price I have paid politically. My popularity is as low as it has ever been. There are a number of reasons for that: licentious media, high oil prices and thus high commodity prices, and a relentless opposition. And I must also say that raising taxes is not popular. I have had to raise taxes to solve our historic debt problem and also have the money to invest in the people. I made the tough choices on taxes because it is the right thing to do economically and morally," she said.

Even before the House vote on the impeachment complaint, Mrs. Arroyo had pressed Congress to start work on her administration’s proposed 2006 budget.

Trade Secretary Peter Favila gave assurances that the economy will weather the political crisis during Mrs. Arroyo’s meeting with foreign business representatives and officials of various outfits with business interests in the Philippines.

"The Philippine economy remains resilient, with improving business interests, particularly, in the mining sector and outsourcing," Favila said.

Favila accompanied Mrs. Arroyo in her separate meetings with the members of the International Board of Advisors (IBA) and the Ford Motor Company.

IBA, which is composed of big names in global industries and neo-liberal economics and foreign policy, was created in 2001 to assist the government in formulating policies towards achieving global competitiveness.

In spite of internal and external factors, such as the spiraling prices of crude oil in the international market, it was stressed that the gross domestic product for this year was still expected to show a 5.3-percent growth.

Favila said the mining sector showed signs of growth after it was liberalized. There are 23 mining projects currently in the pipeline, of which seven major projects are worth $5.3 billion, he said.

Favila told reporters that the foreign businessmen expressed support for the reforms being implemented by the government, more particularly the recent Supreme Court ruling on the EVAT law.

Both domestic and foreign investors are closely watching the implementation of the controversial tax because it will help address the government’s fiscal problem and stabilize the economy.

The government has plans to use revenue generated by the tax measure to fund vital infrastructure projects, education, health care and create jobs.

Taxes may not be popular, "but it’s the right thing to do," Favila said.

Ford Motor Co. officials, led by corporate executive vice president Mark Schultz, informed Mrs. Arroyo of its plan to launch its latest model, the Ford Focus, in the region.

Mrs. Arroyo congratulated Ford Motor for its continuing support to the development of the Philippine automotive industry.

Favila said Ford has also completed the hiring of an additional 460 local employees and will start their two-shift operations this month, which will double the plant’s production capacity from 16,000 to 32,000 vehicles per year.

Ford’s P4-billion plant in Laguna has a current capacity of 25,000 vehicles per year and is capable of producing at least four different vehicle platforms.

In his 2003 visit to the Philippines, Ford chairman and CEO Bill Ford made an investment commitment of $50 million to help build the Philippines into a regional export hub. — With Marianne Go

Bush all praises for Pinoy chef The Philippine Star 09/15/2005

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — US President George W. Bush had nothing but praises for the new Philippine-born White House chef when he ran into President Arroyo outside the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.

Bush asked Mrs. Arroyo if he had heard about Cristeta Comerford, who had been an assistant chef at the White House for 10 years and was chosen last month from hundreds of applicants to head the executive kitchen.

"Yes, we celebrated that because she’s the most famous" Filipino chef, President Arroyo replied as they walked together, not knowing that their conversation was being picked up by UN microphones.

"She’s fantastic," Bush said of Comerford, who is a naturalized American.

Bush ran into Mrs. Arroyo after a nearly hour-long meeting with Secretary-General Kofi Annan that focused on global issues ranging from Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan’s conflict-wracked Darfur region and African peacekeeping missions. The presidents are here for the opening of a UN summit on Wednesday.

When Bush arrived at UN headquarters with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, he greeted Annan with a friendly gesture, putting his arms around the secretary-general’s back. He then kissed Rice three times on the cheek.

"It was very friendly meeting," Annan told reporters afterwards at a press conference which focused on the last-minute agreement by member states on a document to be approved by world leaders at the three-day summit which starts Wednesday.

Annan added that the new US ambassador, John Belton, had been "very constructive" during the lengthy negotiations.

During their meeting, Bush expressed his support for the United Nations, according to a statement from the UN spokesman.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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