, November 30, 2005
(STAR) With the country enjoying greater political and economic stability, Malacañang predicted yesterday that 2006 would be a good year for President Arroyo and for Filipinos as well.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said various economic and political developments, including the strengthening of the peso and the surfacing of former Commission on Elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, would allow the people and the government to focus on making the country stable.

"We’re optimistic that 2006 would be very stable and I believe this would be a better year for all of us," Bunye said in a telephone interview.

Asked if Malacañang foresees more destabilization efforts against Mrs. Arroyo, he said: "The intensity of the opposition (against the administration) is waning and the people are more hopeful."

While maintaining the Arroyo administration had nothing to do with Garcillano’s reported return, Bunye said the public statements of the former election official could bring closure to allegations of electoral fraud against the President.

Bunye said he is not surprised that members of the opposition have sought to discredit Garcillano, even if they said in the past that his statements would bolster the charges of electoral fraud against Mrs. Arroyo once he emerged from hiding.

In another statement, Bunye said the President believes "the people are by her side in the fight against poverty and that there is no stopping our momentum."

He said Mrs. Arroyo remains focused on her goals and is not distracted by partisan politics.

President Arroyo, he said, is leading the country by championing "the themes of unity and change" and she appreciated the hard work and forbearance of the public through the administration’s painful economic reform measures.

Bunye said market indicators and increasing investments show the nation is regaining confidence in the economy but Filipinos are aware that more obstacles need to be hurdled.

"More good things are yet to come, but tough decisions and sacrifices still have to be made in order for us to achieve First World country status in 20 years," Bunye said.

Economic data for the third quarter of this year shows slower-than-expected growth, hobbled by a weak farming sector, higher oil prices and political uncertainty.

Based on reports, the government said the gross domestic product (GDP) grew 4.1 percent in the third quarter year-to-date, lower than the 4.9-percent average growth expected by economists. GDP is the local output of a country’s economy, minus overseas remittances.

For the first nine months of the year, the GDP grew 4.6 percent, well below the government’s full-year target of 5.3 percent.

Bunye said while it was clear that the nation was regaining confidence in an economy poised for takeoff, "the Filipino people know only too well that the struggle has just begun."

The Palace has regularly trumpeted positive developments in the economy during the past few weeks, saying these were brought about by fiscal reforms initiated by the Arroyo administration.

Mrs. Arroyo has also taken credit for the strengthening of the peso and the improvements in the performance of the local stock market, saying her economic programs also contributed to the reduction of political instability and diverted the people’s attention from politicking.

Malacañang has increased efforts to seek public support for its fiscal programs. It has been citing the benefits of the new taxes it began imposing this year to reduce possible public backlash when it increases the expanded value-added tax (EVAT) rate from 10 percent to 12 percent next year.

The administration has implemented a series of fiscal measures this year — including the EVAT and an excise taxes on alcohol, cigarette and tobacco — aimed at wiping out the deficit and balancing the budget by 2009.

Malacañang has insisted the taxes would have minimal impact on the prices of basic commodities and that the government would implement measures to cushion the blow of the new taxes.

Some international credit rating agencies, however, cautioned that it is too early for the administration to rejoice over the latest economic figures and said the government must take strong steps to address the country’s debt problem.

Officials said the government’s image has improved before the international community and more investments would come into the country.

The President has also been saying the country’s economic indicators were good despite the political problems besetting her administration.

However, her critics said the President was not giving a true picture of the economy and the figures she cited are not enough to show that the economy is really doing well.

Mrs. Arroyo was accused of cheating in last year’s elections as well as misusing public funds to boost her candidacy.

Three members of her family were also accused of corruption and receiving payoffs from operators of jueteng, an illegal numbers game. — Paolo Romero, Aurea Calica

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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