[PHOTO AT LEFT - ALL’S WELL: President Arroyo and former President Fidel Ramos, along with (from right) Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. and Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs Gabriel Claudio give the thumbs-up sign following a meeting at the Macapagal residence in Forbes Park in Makati City Wednesday night.]

MANILA, January 13, 2006 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - President Arroyo remains the best person to lead the country forward despite persistent moves to bring her down and consistently low approval ratings in surveys, Malacañang maintained yesterday.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye made the statement after the Social Weather Stations (SWS) released its survey showing that about 54 percent of Filipinos agreed with former President Fidel Ramos’ proposal that the President should leave office before the end of her term.

In brushing aside the latest survey results, Bunye said the President "continues to take the brunt of negative surveys because of steep socio-economic pressures on the lives of the poor, rooted in high oil prices and the lack of jobs."

But Bunye said the President was optimistic that her efforts to improve the economy and lives of the people would ultimately make her win over her detractors despite low approval ratings from the people.

He noted that economic conditions were improving as oil prices were decreasing and the peso was much stronger.

"Investments are on the rise. Payback time for the people is at hand. Near-term relief is being accelerated by a massive pump-priming program," he said.

"But even if the President tries her level best to grow the economy and raise strong safety nets for the poor, she will always be pilloried by her detractors, whose only desire is raw, personal power," Bunye noted.

Surveys notwithstanding, Bunye said the President’s performance and policies had been the reason for her victory in the 2004 elections and the defeat of numerous attempts to unseat her.

Aside from the people’s desire for the President to cut her term, fewer than half reportedly want her to become prime minister in a parliamentary system of government, according to the SWS poll.

The SWS survey said Ramos’ proposal was the most popular among five ideas for amending the 1987 Constitution posed in survey questions in December.

In a press briefing last Monday, Ramos reiterated his proposal from last year, that Mrs. Arroyo step down and push for a shift to a parliamentary system of government to speed up the country’s development and resolve the lingering political crisis hounding Mrs. Arroyo.

Ramos’ original timetable was for the President to step down this year. Last Monday, he suggested she step down by June 2007.

Meanwhile, a party-list representative said yesterday that the SWS survey vindicates the views of the former president.

"The survey result means that FVR is correct in reading the public pulse," said Rep. Joel Villanueva of the Citizens Battle Against Corruption. The lawmaker is a son of defeated presidential candidate and evangelist Bro. Eddie Villanueva and is a member of the opposition bloc in the House.

Villanueva said the underlying public sentiment reflected in the SWS survey was that Mrs. Arroyo should disappear from the political landscape.

"In the past, people were overwhelmingly against Cha-cha. Now, they are ready to accept Cha-cha provided that Mrs. Arroyo goes out of the picture," he said.

Villanueva’s is the lone voice of support for the proposal of Ramos, founder and chairman emeritus of the ruling party Lakas.

From the former president’s own party mates, there has been an avalanche of opposition to what he has asked Mrs. Arroyo to do. Some Arroyo loyalists have made unflattering remarks about the former leader.

In a statement yesterday, Majority Leader Prospero Nograles said he was confident that Lakas would overwhelmingly reject the Ramos proposal for the President to relinquish power in June 2007 when it meets tomorrow.

"Lakas members will side with what the Constitution and the rule of law provides — which is for the President to finish her term until 2010," he said.

For his part, Palawan Rep. Abraham Mitra urged Mrs. Arroyo to consult not only with Lakas but also with other political groups supporting her administration.

"This is not just a Lakas show, although we concede that they have a member who is good at throwing theatrical tantrums," he said, apparently referring to Ramos.

Mitra is one of several Arroyo loyalists in the Liberal Party, which had taken a party stand in July last year calling for the resignation of Mrs. Arroyo.

He said non-Lakas members in the pro-administration political coalition outnumber those belonging to Lakas, but that they are not as noisy as some ruling party members. — With Jess Diaz

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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