January 8, 2006 (STAR) By Eva Visperas - Staying focused on her administration’s agenda, President Arroyo shared her New Year’s wish for the country in 2006, and not surprisingly, it’s "major structural political reform" through Charter change.

As for her own personal resolution, Mrs. Arroyo, as always, had this hope for 2006: to learn "to control my temper."

Earlier, Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. said the majority coalition led by the Lakas-CMD had agreed to support the seven amendments to the Charter proposed by the presidential constitutional commission (con-com), including a controversial proposal to extend the terms of incumbent elected officials.

However, De Venecia said the con-com proposal to scrap the 2007 mid-term elections was still open to debate.

Told of the President’s 2006 wish, De Venecia smiled in agreement as he was seated beside her. The Speaker is a strong supporter of changing the Charter to shift the country’s political system to a parliamentary-federal system.

Mrs. Arroyo noted that everyone makes New Year’s resolutions at the end of each year. But even if our resolutions are not followed through to the letter, "We should not stop making resolutions."

"We are not perfect. We’re just human," she said, adding that one should make a best effort to achieve his or her goals.

It was a friendlier President Arroyo who approached the local media yesterday during her visit here to distribute rice, books and health cards to students. Her sometimes prickly relations with the press were nowhere in sight.

After having her lunch with local officials led by De Venecia, Vice Gov. Oscar Lambino, Lingayen Mayor Ernesto Castañeda and Binmaley Mayor Simplicio Rosario, Mrs. Arroyo stood up and joined the media at one table and had an informal "chat" with them.

Though she did request "no tape recorders and no microphones for television cameras," she did allow the media to take down notes while talking to them.

The President was mobbed by townspeople here, including students, their parents and teachers at the Pangasinan National High School where she also inspected the historic Gabaldon Building built in 1908 and scheduled for restoration.

After her visit here, she also went to the grotto of the Our Lady of Rosales in Rosales town, where she reportedly goes to pray every first Saturday of the month.

Government to distribute school vouchers for poor students By Aurea Calica The Philippine Star 01/08/2006

The government will distribute vouchers for poor but deserving elementary graduates to enable them to enrol in private schools, President Arroyo said yesterday.

This way, the lack of public high school buildings would no longer pose a problem for the high number of enrollees and might prevent as well the closure of private high schools, Mrs. Arroyo said.

The President announced her new education policy during the launching of the "Food for School Program" at the Pangasinan National High School (PNHS) in Lingayen, Pangasinan yesterday.

Mrs. Arroyo ordered the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to release P500 million on Monday for the funding of the government’s pro-poor education program.

The President also distributed math textbooks to the students along with a kilo of rice and health cards to each Grade 1 and preparatory school pupil.

She announced all Grade 1 and pre-school pupils would receive one kilo of rice daily for the entire year.

Mrs. Arroyo said the additional P500 million for the Department of Education (DepEd) would come from the P35-billion fund for the government’s pump-priming economic program for the first quarter of 2006.

She stressed the additional fund for DepEd would ensure the realization of her policy of providing quality education to every Filipino child.

Mrs. Arroyo stressed the government’s priority in education is to close the school building-classroom gap at the elementary level.

She noted there are more than enough private high schools in the country that could take in excess public school students through the issuance of the "vouchers."

"The number one priority in education is closing the school building gap, the classroom gap, particularly in the grade school, elementary level," Mrs. Arroyo said.

"For the high school (level), there are many private high schools that don’t have enough students anymore and we don’t want them to close down," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo reminded the audience of her promise to build 6,000 classrooms or 1,000 school buildings a year, aside from institutionalizing the day care and values formation program in the school curriculum.

She pointed out such a plan has been included in the Medium Term Philippine Development Plan (MTPDP) and in her 10-point pro-poor agenda, highlighting the blueprints of the Arroyo administration for 2004 to 2010.

Upon arrival at Lingayen, the President was welcomed by DepEd officials led by Undersecretary Ramon Bacani.

She was joined by Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., and Pangasinan Rep. Amado Espino.

Lingayen Mayor Jonas Castañeda led local officials in welcoming the President with a tour of the historic Gabaldon Building located at the PNHS compound in the town.

Mrs. Arroyo said the building would be restored to provide additional classrooms for the 5,300 students of the school.

At the same time, Mrs. Arroyo ordered the release of another P100 million from the government’s P35-billion pump-priming economic program fund for the completion of the Dumalandan Bridge in the town.

"Our most important public works (project) here is the Dumalandan Bridge," Mrs. Arroyo said.

"When the Reformed Value-Added Tax Law was not implemented yet, the release of funds was by installment due to lack of it, but now we have funds," she told the officials.

The DBM will release the funds on Monday to start the construction of the half-finished P220-million Dumalandan Bridge.

The President herself led the groundbreaking ceremonies for the construction of the bridge in April 2001, three months after she assumed office in January.

Mrs. Arroyo attributed the availability of funds for social services and vital infrastructures nationwide to "sound fiscal management of our executive-legislative partnership."

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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