JANUARY 8, 2007 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - President Arroyo vowed yesterday to give the opposition a good fight during the May mid-term elections and promised that 2007 would be a banner year for the Philippines.

"We’re off to a good start. We’re confident 2007 will be the year it all comes together," the President said during the inauguration of the P745.5-million Domalandan Bridge in Pangasinan.

Mrs. Arroyo said she would not be distracted from pursuing economic reforms.

"Even as we face the usual political noise attendant to mid-term elections, that won’t threaten at all the established growth curve of the economy," she said.

"Imagine, we thought our budget deficit for 2006 is P120 billion, but it’s (down to) only P80 billion. The inflation rate is at the lowest in the last three years. The foreign exchange reserve is $23 billion, which is the highest in the country’s history," she said.

She said her politics would be the "welfare of the people," and that she would not be bothered "by the jabbing and shadow boxing of the other side" in her goal of improving the life of every Filipino by 2010.

Mrs. Arroyo said her economic team was determined to work harder to meet the government’s macro economic targets for 2007.

She said their macro targets include maintaining a low inflation rate and a strong peso, while the government’s micro target is to reduce the number of families living below the poverty line.

The President noted said that during the first half of her term, the number of families living below the poverty line went down to 24 percent from 28 percent in 2000.

"Pababa ang kahirapan (Poverty is on the downtrend)," the President said.

She also noted that opinion polls show that the number of people who said they were poor was down to 51 percent from 63 percent.

Mrs. Arroyo said the inauguration of the Domalandan Bridge, which connects the capital town of Lingayen to the rest of the towns in the western part of Pangasinan, is a fulfillment of the promise she made to the residents of Lingayen when she attended their town fiesta last year.

She lauded the congressmen, led by Speaker Jose de Venecia, for passing the expanded value-added tax (EVAT) law that resulted in more taxes collected by the government, which can then fund projects such as the Domalandan Bridge, which is nearly a kilometer long, without resorting to foreign loans.

The President said the EVAT has strengthened the economy, convinced investors to pour money into the country, and won back the trust of the international community.

Mrs. Arroyo said she is happy because some of the projects that are part of her "super-region" concept are located in Pangasinan.

One of them is the Domalandan Bridge that connects the North Luzon Quadrangle to the urban beltway.

The bridge links the western part of the province to Zambales, particularly the municipalities of Labrador, Sual, Alaminos, Bani, Dasol, Anda, Burgos and Infanta.

It will shorten travel time and promote the efficient movement of people, goods and services in the province as well as enhance agricultural, industrial, commercial and tourism activities.

The old Domalandan Bridge collapsed in August 1999, when three consecutive typhoons hit the province and caused massive flooding along the Limahong Channel.

The President said she would be back to inaugurate another super-region project, which is the irrigation component of the Agno River project.

Mrs. Arroyo said these super-region projects would enable the Philippines to be a First World country within the next 20 years.

Fighting poverty is the primary goal of the Arroyo administration as gleaned from its centerpiece program, the 10-point pro-poor agenda.

In her New Year’s message, the President said 2007 would be the year when ordinary Filipino families would enjoy the social payback of her tough policy reforms. — With Eva Visperas

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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