MARCH 22, 2007 (STAR) By Marvin Sy - President Arroyo wants figures on hunger incidence down within six months or some bureaucrats would lose their jobs and go hungry.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita told reporters Mrs. Arroyo can revamp the agencies involved and replace their heads if she does not see any improvement in the government’s anti-poverty program.

"The President sees who is working to implement programs against hunger," he said. "There is a continuing assessment by the President so that she would be provided with a basis to determine whether her team should remain as it is or whether there are changes that are needed, especially with those agencies involved in addressing hunger."

Ermita said Mrs. Arroyo has directed the officials concerned to speed up implementation of the school-feeding program and the provision for cheap medicines and basic goods, and the government’s other anti-poverty programs.

"The President has ordered the review of all of these programs so that these would trickle down (to the poor)," he said. "We feel that the developments are very positive but have not yet been felt by the poor."

If after six months the statistics on hunger and poverty have not changed positively, Mrs. Arroyo would not hesitate to do what is necessary, Ermita said.

The heads of agencies involved in the anti-poverty program met last Tuesday on Mrs. Arroyo’s orders.

Heading the meeting were National Anti-Poverty Commission lead convenor Domingo Panganiban and Health Secretary Francisco Duque, who heads the National Nutrition Council.

They were joined by the Secretary of Agriculture and the National Housing Authority chief.

The meeting came a day after the Social Weather Stations released a survey showing that 19 percent of Filipinos have experienced hunger at least once in the first quarter of the year.

All-time high hunger highlights 'disconnect' in economy, says Roxas 03/21 3:18:02 PM

Senator Mar Roxas said on Tuesday that despite the stronger fiscal situation and good performance of financial markets, more people remain unable to benefit from such gains.

"We must face the unfortunate reality that all is not well, that the real economy has not improved as much as the monetary economy," Roxas, who chairs the Senate Committees on Trade and on Economic Affairs, told members of the Rotary Club of Makati.

He said more Filipinos have reported having experienced involuntary hunger, an all-time high of 19% or roughly 3.5 million Filipino families as of February, as reported by the Social Weather Stations.

This, despite good news that the 91-day Treasury bill rate has improved to 2.94% as of February, compared to three years ago when it was in the range of 7% to 8%.

Despite strong stock market and currency performance over the past few months, other indicators highlight the fact that the financial economy remains disconnected from the "real economy."

He cited flat sales of electricity and appliances, decreased consumption of cement, high underemployment rate and self-rated poverty, among others.

"I'm sure that you’re wondering why sunny statements in the financial markets aren’t reflected in these indicators. The truth is, the money economy remains disconnected from the real economy. Our 'Wall Street' remains disconnected from 'Main Street'," he said.

He likened the Philippine economy to a Jeepney that "is resilient and reliable during tough times, serviceable during rains and floods, functional even on bad roads, and we can certainly overload it."

"But it cannot run as fast nor as clean, nor as efficiently as other better models available in other parts of the world. Our Jeepney only works in Philippine conditions, but it cannot be our vehicle for global competition," he said.

Moreover, Roxas said that the upcoming national election in May is crucial in implementing reforms in seeking to transform our "Jeepney economy" to an "SUV economy."

He said the upcoming elections are crucial in "stabilizing the terrain our society stands on," and "instrumental to doing the reforms necessary to re-weave these frayed threads into the whole cloth upon which we can build our lives, our economy and our country."

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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