JANUARY 1, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - Filipinos can expect more livelihood opportunities this year as the government expands its economic programs to increase investments, Malacañang said yesterday.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said investments are on the uptrend while political stability is being strengthened with the people and the investment community focusing on the economy.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said the people welcome the New Year "for all it represents –a new start, a clean slate, a chance to work harder on the goals we have set for ourselves, whether personally or professionally."

In separate interviews, Ermita and Bunye also said President Arroyo agrees with religious leaders that there should be unity and understanding among all sectors.

The strong showing of the peso and the stock market at yearend augurs well for the country’s financial state this year, the officials added.

Ermita said the optimism of Filipinos as shown by a recent survey is a strong force that must be harnessed by all sectors to bring economic and political stability for the country.

"We can really achieve great heights as a nation and surpass our more prosperous neighbors if we can diminish differences among our circles and more broadly among different sectors of our country and people and focus on how our nation can move forward and progress," he said.

A Social Weather Stations survey showed that 91 percent of Filipinos view 2007 with hope.

Bunye said improving economic indicators would be bolstered by the administration’s effort to bring to the grassroots the fruits of fiscal reforms through greater infrastructure and social spending within the framework of the strategic P1 trillion "super regions" economic blueprint.

"In the same vein, I do not welcome the soothsayers who come out of the woodwork at this time of the year with their ‘fearless forecasts’ of what lies ahead," he said.

"Reliance on fortune-tellers implies that we are at the mercy of the fates, that we have no control over what happens to us, when it should be the opposite," he said.

Bunye said the fiscal reforms have been reducing the deficit like never before and inevitably led to the upgrade of the Philippines’ credit ratings and outlook, reduced interest payments as well as increased investor confidence.

"We largely determine what happens to us through our own efforts and hard work," he said.

Presidential Management Staff director general Cerge Remonde said Malacañang’s 17 government agencies are meeting to discuss the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Sector (MSME).

"There are huge plans to bring the MSME programs down to the lowest economic levels and smallest political units possible," he said.

"If microcredit is changing lives in neighboring countries and in some areas of the country, we will bring it to where the country’s underserved are and to where it is most needed."

Remonde said on a much larger scale, the super regions plan, which will be the principal vehicle and main model for pushing infrastructure programs down to the grass roots, will go into high gear.

"Imagine an infrastructure budget of over P1 trillion in three years," he said. "Not only will this build the needed infrastructure, it will pump prime the countryside."

Earlier, National Anti-Poverty Commission chairman Domingo Panganiban said the administration will intensify its anti-poverty programs, particularly in the 10 poorest provinces, and expand its livelihood assistance to increase the size of the country’s entrepreneurial class.

The administration’s major anti-poverty thrusts are on livelihood and employment; asset reform, which includes agrarian reform; essential services, including education, health, nutrition and water and electricity; social protection, including health insurance; and empowerment, he added.

Panganiban said the government through the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Department of Agrarian Reform, has targeted nearly 500,000 clients for microfinance.

The government has been meeting 75 percent of its target of one million jobs per year since 2004, he added.

As for electrification, the administration is aiming to achieve 95 percent electrification of barangays by February next year and 100 percent by 2008, Panganiban said.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the administration has exceeded its target of setting up 5,000 "Botika ng Barangays" nationwide for 2006 with 7,350 outlets set up.

Each outlet, which sells medicines at low prices, serves at least 250 poor families, he added.

Mrs. Arroyo recently unveiled an ambitious economic blueprint dividing the country into the regions of Northern Luzon, Metro Luzon, Central Philippines, Mindanao and the cyber-corridor, where each region’s strong points are capitalized to focus on economic resources and hasten investment growth.

Earlier, Mrs. Arroyo said much is in store for Filipinos this year with more livelihood opportunities and improved health and nutrition for the poor and higher salaries and benefits for government workers.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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