DECEMBER 27, 2006 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - Making the grassroots enjoy the country‘s economic gains and stamping out terrorism and insurgency are the main thrusts of the government in 2007, President Arroyo said yesterday.

In her speech at the opening of the Microsoft office in Cebu, the President said "the season of optimism and hope sends a clear message that the best is yet to come for our people."

"Next year will be the time to drive our economic gains deeper into the grassroots as we make more strategic headway against terrorism and insurgency and improve the climate of law and order in the cities and the countryside; rehabilitate our calamity-stricken communities; and get our people back on the platform of enterprise," Mrs. Arroyo said.

She thanked Microsoft for expanding its Philippine operations, saying the development indicates the increased investor confidence in the country.

Mrs. Arroyo was scheduled to proceed to Southern Leyte from Cebu to preside over the turnover of more than 600 housing units to survivors of the tragic mudslide in St. Bernard, Guinsaugon, but did not push through due to bad weather.

She just called up Southern Leyte Gov. Rosette Lerias and told her that the nation was "hoping for the fast recovery of Guinsaugon," where more than 2,000 people, including some 200 schoolchildren, were buried last Feb. 17 in a massive mudslide triggered by rains.

The houses were built jointly by the government and private organizations, including the Gawad Kalinga foundation and the Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

"Guinsaugon happened only nine months ago," Mrs. Arroyo said. "Nine months after, it’s a closure of the tragic incident. We are now celebrating it." She said Guinsaugon’s recovery is "an inspiration for those who are suffering because that event happened in Southern Leyte and now they are up on their feet."

Mrs. Arroyo also said drastic economic reforms, including the imposition of new taxes, improved the government’s fiscal position and eventually led to better credit rating for the country.

Mrs. Arroyo earlier said crowded malls, larger number of vacationing overseas Filipino workers, and bigger dollar remittances point to a bountiful Christmas this year.

She said the economy is on a rebound despite the four devastating typhoons that hit the country and the resurgent political noise in the last quarter.

"And if we are enjoying now a strong peso, reduced interest rate, mild inflation, a sustainable growth rate, we only have the Filipino people to thank... for their hard work and perseverance," she said.

The government sees a growth of 5.7 percent this year as against its earlier projection of 5.5 percent to 6.1 percent. Officials said the devastation from recent typhoons prompted them to adjust the growth forecast.

A quiet Christmas for Arroyos at Malacañang By Aurea Calica The Philippine Star 12/26/2006

Like most Filipinos, President Arroyo quietly spent the Christmas holidays with her family in Malacañang and like a godmother, gave P500 each to Palace maintenance and security personnel who were on duty.

Mrs. Arroyo did not have any official engagements since Saturday, but was scheduled to go to St. Bernard in Leyte to visit the mudslide victims today before proceeding to Cebu to inaugurate a project.

The Chief Executive also delivered an early Christmas message last week, calling on Filipinos to help typhoon victims.

Yesterday, she went out of the Palace and waved at the staff who were at work, even if it was Christmas, and asked them to come to her.

Some of them thought she would just give instructions but they were surprised when she handed them red envelopes, or ang pao, instead.

The recipients said the envelope contained P500 and the personnel, including members of the Presidential Guards, were made to queue to get their gift from the President.

Wearing a red outfit, Mrs. Arroyo first went to the guest house area inside the Palace grounds and then to the side lobby to distribute the money.

She was accompanied by some members of her family, including her daughter, Evangeline Lourdes or Luli.

On Dec. 24 last year, Mrs. Arroyo and First Gentleman Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo played Santa Claus to the residents in the barangays inside the Malacañang complex by distributing goods to them. This year, however, the food items were given to the barangay residents early on.

The President normally spends Christmas in Manila and then New Year in Baguio City. She is expected to stay in the Mansion House in the summer capital from Dec. 27 until Jan. 1.

When in Baguio City, Mrs. Arroyo invites Cabinet officials and some journalists to join her and her family at the Mansion House. She also visits nearby tourist spots like the Banaue Rice Terraces and Sagada.

Last year, she also tried surfing in a beach in San Juan town, La Union province with her husband, daughter and daughters-in-law.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved