, December 31, 2005
 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - There is reason to have high hopes for the coming year, President Arroyo said yesterday as she cited the economic reforms pushed by her administration are now beginning to pay off.

"High hopes are the mark of the winning Filipino, whose excellence shines worldwide. The vibrant economy that is propelling the nation to a bright New Year shows the gleam of our capacity for renewal, leaving the past behind, and uniting for the great leap forward," she said.

"The fight against poverty, hunger and unemployment shall be pursued with equal vigor, beside the march for political change that will seal our grand destiny to be a First World country in two decades," she added.

Mrs. Arroyo said her administration swallowed the bitter pill of economic reform with fortitude and the payoff had been strong — a world more confident in the Philippines, investors taking a hard look at its potentials and a people raring for the gold medal in every enterprise and effort.

"There are lots of things to look forward to and what makes it easier is we have the means now to spend for these things, thanks to the economic reforms that were very painful but ended up not really that painful because we saw the results, the strong peso, the inflows of investments coming in," she said.

"So we made hard decisions but the decisions are beginning to pay off because there is so much we can do now in the coming year," the President said after a visit to Isabela province, which was hard-hit by floodings.

She ordered the release of P40 million for rehabilitation projects in the area and ordered the government agencies to work together to ensure that floods would be prevented.

"We close the year at the gates of a new race for regional and world competition; and our people — united in their dreams and energies — are ready to break out to a strong start. With the speed of light, we shall leave the tumultuous past behind and drive past our best expectations," Mrs. Arroyo said.

For his part, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said political change would consolidate economic gains, "the sooner the better."

The President said she was bent on pursuing this once she has finished putting the country’s economy and fiscal house in order.

"The opportunity for Charter change is now as we ride the crest of economic reforms that are beginning to bear fruit. We must likewise reform our flawed political system in order to make us more politically mature and more globally competitive," Bunye said. "Let the debates roll in the halls of Congress."

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas governor Amando Tetangco Jr. said the peso is likely to hit 52 to $1 in 2006, especially if the expanded value-added tax (EVAT) is adjusted to 12 percent as originally planned.

Market analysts have been bullish about the performance of the peso, tagged as the best-performing currency in Asia and one of the best performers in the world.

As surging dollar remittances from overseas Filipino workers buoyed the peso to a new 31-month high, analysts said the local currency could appreciate to an average of 52 to 53.50 to $1 in 2006.

The EVAT is said to be the cornerstone of the President’s economic reform agenda.

In its most recent survey, the Social Weather Stations (SWS) found that 85 percent of adult Filipinos are entering the year 2006 with fresh hopes, rather than fears.

The SWS’s fourth quarter survey was conducted from Nov. 27 to Dec. 4 and also found that many adult Filipinos had resolved to "be a better person" and to "work harder or look for work."

PGMA leads nationwide Rizal Day rites

[PHOTO AT LEFT - RIZAL DAY RITES: President Arroyo troops the line of PMA cadets during yesterday’s 109th Rizal Day commemoration in front of the Rizal Monument in Baguio City . Photo By ARTEMIO DUMLAO]

BAGUIO CITY – President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo led today the nationwide commemoration of the 109th death anniversary of Dr. Jose Rizal, the country’s national hero.

Rizal’s execution by Spanish colonial authorities by firing squad at the Luneta or Bagumbayan on Dec. 30, 1896 triggered the Philippine Revolution and the proclamation of independence from Spain in 1898.

The President led the commemorative rites at the Rizal monument near Burnham Park here. The theme of this year’s Rizal Day is "Rizalismo: Sandigan ng Pagkakaisa, Nasyunalismo at Pag-unlad" (Rizalism: Bedrock of Unity, Nationalism and Progress).

The local commemoration of Rizal’s death anniversary, which was replicated in various regional capitals, principal cities and towns nationwide, was highlighted by the raising of the Philippine flag at 7 a.m. by the President, who was assisted by eight Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) gold medallists from the Cordilleras.

Local Rizalistas and war veterans joined the President in the ritual.

Another highlight of the event was the ceremonial sealing with masking tape of the muzzles of policemen’s guns by the President and Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Arturo Lomibao.

The sealing of the gun muzzles was meant to stress the seriousness of the President’s order to the police, military and local governments banning the indiscriminate and illegal firing of firearms during the New Year celebrations.

The indiscriminate and illegal discharge of firearms in previous New Year revelries had claimed many lives. Gun bullet slugs fired into the air travel at the same lethal velocity when they return to the ground as when they leave the gun muzzle.

The President was escorted to the Rizal Day rites by First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, whose efforts significantly helped Filipino athletes in their campaign for honors and glory for the flag during the recent SEAG.

The eight SEAG gold medallists who participated in the Rizal Day commemoration were Rhea Mae Rifani, Benjie Rivera, Edward Folayang and Rexel Nganghayna, wushu; Jouveliet Chalem, boxing; Helen Dava, judo; Christabel Martes, marathon; and Nelson Pacalso, karate-do.

Other officials who joined the President during the Rizal Day rites here were Baguio City Mayor Braulio Yaranon, Baguio Rep. Mauricio Domogan, Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz, National Historical Institute (NHI) Executive Director Ludovico Badoy and Gen. Generoso Senga, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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