NOVEMBER 13, 2006 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - Malacañang chided its critics yesterday for refusing to acknowledge the country’s economic gains brought about by the Arroyo administration’s fiscal reforms.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said the international financial community has already taken notice of the Philippines’ economic growth, with some foreign institutions taking steps to further strengthen the country’s investment climate, including upgrades in credit ratings and outlooks.

"Our drive for economic strength and social justice has not escaped the eyes of the international community," Bunye said.

"It seems that the economic turnaround, under the Arroyo administration, is now an international open secret. Only the most rabid detractors of the President still don’t know about it," he said.

Mrs. Arroyo on Saturday said the economic growth did not happen by chance, even as she vowed to finally break the boom-bust cycle, which has characterized the country’s economy for the past decades.

Citing latest reports, Bunye said the international media have noticed that the country’s average gross domestic product (GDP) growth has been higher than at any time since 1961 to 1965, when the Philippine economy was second to Japan.

He said the country’s inflation rate remains stable amid the volatile prices of crude oil in the world market.

Job creation has "been the best for decades" while the continued surge in the stock market as well as the steady appreciation of the peso all reflect the confidence of investors in the country, Bunye said.

Bunye pointed out the recent assessment of the Business Times of Singapore is typical of the new international image of the Philippines.

"With the fiscal deficit and public debt heading downwards, infrastructure spending going up, and investor confidence returning, the Philippines has its best chance since the 1960s to stake a claim to being a player in Asia’s economic renaissance," Bunye quoted the news report.

National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales said opposition leaders and critics have been opposing practically every reform measure initiated by Mrs. Arroyo.

He claimed critics do not want the President to succeed even if the programs are urgently needed and would benefit the people.

Gonzales said opposition political leaders actually agree with the economic reforms being undertaken by the administration but they do not want her to take credit for the positive results.

"They (political opponents) do not want her to succeed in her economic and political reforms because it would make her look good and even ensure that the administration would continue to be in government," he said.

"What they want is to remove her and install themselves so they would be the one to take credit."

Gonzales claimed an opposition senator, after a heated debate during a public hearing, had approached him and privately acknowledged the economic reforms of Mrs. Arroyo but pointed out his job is to criticize the President.

Meanwhile, Gonzales’ Partido Demokratiko Sosyalista ng Pilipinas (PDSP) urged Malacañang to address what they called "flawed investment policies and glaring education-labor mismatch" that prevents the economic gains from being felt fully by the youth sector, particularly new college graduates.

The Demokratiko Sosyalistang Kabataan ng Pilipinas (DKSP) said youth unemployment rate in the country has reached an alarming figure despite the growing economy.

Michael Eric Castillo, head of the education and program committee of the DSKP, pointed out that as of July this year, half of the 2.91 million unemployed are in the 15 to 24 age group.

Castillo made the statement in reaction to a recent report of the International Labor Organization that youth unemployment is on the rise in developing countries, including the Philippines.

The report said the number of jobless youth is highest in Metro Manila and Southern Tagalog provinces.

Castillo said the unemployment rate has been on the rise even if the economy posted respectable GDP growth at 5.5 percent in the 2nd quarter of 2006.

Last year, only 700,000 jobs were created while 1.29 million new workers joined the labor market, which meant a shortage of 590,000 jobs in just one year, he said.

While the government’s policies have led to the country’s economic growth, Castillo said the economic programs do not necessarily promote labor-intensive investments.

"It is also ironic that youth unemployment is highest in Metro Manila and Southern Tagalog. These areas regularly post higher income compared to other regions. It is also in these areas where most of the investment parks and Special Economic Zones are located," he said.

The poor quality of education also contributed significantly to youth unemployment. This is because few workers possess the right competencies for the available jobs, indicating education-employment mismatch, Castillo pointed out.

He said degree-granting colleges and universities produce some 350,000 graduates annually but only 20 percent of these find jobs.

On the other hand, 60 percent of the 1.3 million graduates of vocational courses find employment.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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