[PHOTO AT LEFT - ON THE WAY UP: President Arroyo spends the first working day of the year yesterday inaugurating the P17.4-million farm-to-market road in Barangay Aguid in Sagada, Mt. Province. Photo by Artemio Dumlao]

SAGADA, MT. PROVINCE, January 3, 2006 (OFFICE OF THE PRESS SECRETARY) On her first working day of the new year, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered today the release of P35 billion to buttress the government’s fight against poverty, hunger and unemployment and pump prime the economy.

In a declaration highly symbolic of the priority her administration is giving to the war on poverty, the President said the P35 billion allocation will finance pro-poor programs such as education, housing, health, food and public works.

"On this first working day of 2006, I want to declare to you we will pursue the fight against poverty, hunger and unemployment…And to be able to move forward with the speed of light, I have asked my Cabinet to release P35 billion immediately to help the poor people of the Philippines," she said.

The President made the announcement this morning during a simple program at the St. Mary’s High School Quadrangle here, after she inaugurated the P17.3 million Nangonogan-Aguid farm to market road (FMR) upgrading project.

The FMR is part of the Baguio-Bontoc-Banaue Road (Halsema) in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR).

The President also directed the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to release P500 million for the construction of FMRs in various parts of the country during the first quarter of the year.

To her detractors, the President said it is now the time to leave the past behind and for all Filipinos to join hands in the great national effort to win the race for economic excellence.

She said the strong performance of the peso against the US dollar, the recent 50 centavos rollback of oil prices, and the fresh investments flowing into the country underline the country’s "great leap forward."

"The vibrant economic indicators are propelling the nation to a bright new year…We open the gate of a new race for regional and world competition and I’m confident that you, our people, are ready to break out to a strong start," she said.

She said that as a result of the positive developments in the Philippine economy, investors are now more confident in infusing fresh investments into the country and tapping the potentials of the world class Filipino workers.

"To pump prime the economy and bring the dividends of growth to the poorest households of our society, the project that we inaugurated today exemplify what’s in store for our people with that P35 billion pump priming fund," she said.

The President was referring to the Nangonogan-Aguid FMR which is expected to boost economic activity in the six barangays of Aguid, Pide, Fidelisan, Banga-An, Madongo and Kilong since the people in the area will now be able to transport their products easily to other parts of Luzon.

The President’s visit to Sagada marked the end of the First Family’s annual Christmas holiday in Baguio City.

She was joined in Sagada by First Gentleman Atty. Jose Miguel Arroyo, Mt. Province Governor Maximo Dalog, Sagada Mayor Robert Baaten, Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman, Environment Secretary Michael Defensor and Presidential Assistant for the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) Tom Killip.

"The farm to market road, like the one we inaugurated today is the basic unit of infrastructure that links national productivity. Therefore, for the entire country as part of the P35 billion pump priming projects today I have instructed the secretary of the budget to release P500 million to the Department of Agrarian Reform to construct more farm to market roads in the entire country in the first quarter of 2006," she announced.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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