[PHOTO AT LEFT - President Arroyo offers a toast to the diplomatic corps led by Papal Nuncio Archbishop Fernando Filoni during the annual vin d’honneur at Malacañang yesterday. - Photo By WILLY PEREZ]

MANILA, FEBRUARY 1, 2007 (STAR) President Arroyo sees no other way for the country to go but up.

Speaking at the traditional vin d’honneur at Malacañang yesterday, Mrs. Arroyo said peace and progress are in sight for the Philippines this year.

"With all of our dreams come the day-to-day realities that change and reform never move fast enough," she said.

"Disparities exist that are hard to witness: there are too many poor, too many sick, too many without a job. I wish I could just make the process move forward to slow down and eventually halt the inequalities."

Mrs. Arroyo said she wanted to create high-paying jobs so overseas Filipino workers could come home and live in comfort and dignity with their families.

"I see 2007 as the year we start to bring home the fruits of reforms to those who need nourishment the most: the poor here in the Philippines," she said.

"Through the painful but necessary battles to raise new revenue, crack down on tax cheats and prosecute corrupt officials, we are now finally a nation ready to do right by our poorest citizens."

Mrs. Arroyo said all the economic indicators are pointing to one thing: The Philippines is on the verge of an economic takeoff.

"I am once again in the proud position this year to announce strong economic numbers: Our stock market has never been higher in a decade nor delivered better returns for investors; the peso is at its highest point in recent years; exports have grown by double digits; direct foreign investment has soared to $2 billion; one million jobs were created; and our credit outlook has come up," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo said the government had been working on pro-poor projects as spelled out in her 10-point agenda to alleviate the lives of the poor.

The P1.126-trillion national budget for this year would be allotted solely to programs and projects that would benefit the poor, she added.

New investments would lead to more jobs, and that there would be more available funds to build the necessary infrastructure for the development of the super regions, healthcare and education, she said.

Mrs. Arroyo said peace and security were essential elements in achieving economic growth and vowed that the government would pursue without letup its campaign against terror and insurgency.

"I can attest to another idea whose time has come: the model for peace and stability we achieved thus far in Mindanao… we have a paradigm for peace that is built on interfaith dialogue and cultural awareness, investments in economic development and basic service infrastructure, and mutual security cooperation," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo said peace in Mindanao was finally within reach, and that the government’s campaign against terrorists was making significant strides with the killing of key leaders of the Abu Sayyaf and the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah.

"So to move beyond the imponderable to the hopeful, let me say to everyone in this room and everyone in this nation: I welcome you to 2007 with a keen sense of hope and optimism about the future," she said.

This year, she would push for a comprehensive plan for the "greening" of the Philippines "as no nation would be modern without

thinking of our environment," she added.

About 70 members of the diplomatic community, including US Ambassador Kristie Kenney and Papal Nuncio Fernando Feloni, attended the affair. – Aurea Calica

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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