SEPTEMBER 1, 2006 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - President Arroyo said yesterday "abruptly" linking the military to extra-judicial killings was part of an opposition plot to bring down her administration.

"(The opposition had become) no less threatening element, which in its despondency seeks to enter into unholy alliances even with the leftist elements if only to achieve its political objective of destabilizing and replacing the present leadership," she said.

In a speech during the conferment ceremony of the Master in National Security Administration graduates, Mrs. Arroyo said she is committed to protecting individual freedoms as enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

"I have put the investigation of extra-judicial killings on a higher plane by forming the Melo Commission, whose chair and members come with a long haul of professional credentials and personal integrity," she said in her speech read by presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor.

Mrs. Arroyo said she was determined to put a stop to the killings.

"This is a national tragedy that strikes at the very core of democracy," she said.

"Everyone must be free to present views legally and responsibly, even if they are views of dissent, without fear of violence from those who have no respect for our Constitution," the Chief Executive said.

Mrs. Arroyo said the government must be ready to fight the "destabilizing elements and problems" on many fronts.

"I have issued a policy statement to put an end to the long-standing communist insurgency — possibly in two years," she said.

"But as I unleash the resources at my command to quell rebellion, I offered peace and reconciliation to the groups seeking to establish an independent Islamic state in Southern Philippines," she added.

Mrs. Arroyo said aside from strengthening the fight against communist insurgency, the government had also improved collaboration with other countries in stomping out terrorists, the gravest threat to regional and international peace.

"The capabilities of our Armed Forces and national police must be upgraded to enable them to bring the insurgents to their knees, keep the terrorists at bay, and effectively negotiate and win the peace with the separatists," she said.

"There is the challenge to protect the country from the threats of global terrorism by strengthening law and order."

Meanwhile, retired Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo said yesterday the commission which he heads will summon Army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan after he retires on Sept. 11 as part of their investigation into the extra-judicial killings of journalists and militants.

The Melo Commission intends to formally begin its investigation on Sept. 11.

Militants and human rights organizations have accused Palparan of being behind the series of political killings.

Human rights groups claimed that 749 cases of political killings have taken place since Mrs. Arroyo assumed office in 2001.

Yesterday, the Melo Commission held a closed-door meeting with the Task Force Usig led by police Deputy Director General Avelino Razon Jr., who presented updates on their investigation of the killings. — With Katherine Adraneda, Edu Punay

GMA: 2006 growth targets can be achieved By Paolo Romero The Philippine Star 09/01/2006

President Arroyo is optimistic that the country will achieve its growth targets for the year, despite continued external pressures such as rising oil prices.

The President issued the statement after the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Gross National Product (GNP) grew 5.5 percent and 6.1 percent, respectively, in the second quarter.

"This assures us that our target for the entire year of 5.5 to 6.1 percent GDP growth is within our reach," Mrs. Arroyo said in Filipino during a televised roundtable discussion at Malacañang with Tourism Secretary Joseph "Ace" Durano.

"What our economy attained is more significant in light of the many challenges that we face — the strong surge in oil prices and interest rates, increasing regional competition and the worldwide threat of terrorism," she said.

The President also stressed that there is no end in sight yet to the external pressures the country is experiencing.

"We call on our countrymen to sustain the momentum of enterprise and productivity backed by permanent political stability brought about our unwavering focus on alleviating poverty, establishing peace and rule of law," she said.

Presidential Management Staff (PMS) chief Secretary Arthur Yap earlier said that under the Arroyo administration, the country has experienced an unprecedented economic growth for 22 consecutive quarters.

Mrs. Arroyo also said that the government has already bared its economic plan to bring progress to the country by increasing food production, improving competitiveness, and modernizing infrastructure to speed up trade and mobility of people.

The government has started taking steps to cut red tape and reduce business costs in an effort to jumpstart local economies in the "super regions."

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye added that the continued strengthening of the peso vis-à-vis the US dollar "elevates the tone and pace for our economic takeoff."

"We must continue to seek the great potentials of our nation, brush aside the doomsayers and stand resilient amid adversity and controversy," Bunye said. "Faith in the Filipino will bring our most fervent goals within reach if we would just work together as one nation," he said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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