[PHOTO AT LEFT - President Arroyo gets a hug from Lakas-CMD chairman emeritus Fidel Ramos during the party’s national convention at the Folk Arts Theater in Pasay City yesterday. Looking on are (from left) Team Unity senatorial bet Cesar Montano, Speaker Jose de Venecia, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and senatorial candidate Tessie Aquino-Oreta. Photo by WILLY PEREZ]

MANILA, APRIL 3, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - Saying its record of achievements remains unmatched by any political party in the Philippines, the ruling Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats leadership and its huge mass base will lead the country into its next "economic miracle" and era of peace, President Arroyo said yesterday.

Addressing more than 2,000 Lakas leaders and members at the party’s national convention at the Folk Arts Theater in Pasay City, Mrs. Arroyo rallied her partymates to internalize recent surveys showing Lakas as the most trusted and capable political party in the country and "pursue the fight for the rightful economic and social deliverance of our countrymen."

"This challenge is most timely and urgent because at no other time in the last decade have we had real opportunity for an economic takeoff. The grand agenda of the administration, fighting poverty and terror and building peace, is the foundation of our political victory in the elections," Mrs. Arroyo said.

"Today, the administration coalition has the most comprehensive, doable and ongoing platform of nation-building that has brought almost two years of continuous growth to the Philippines on top of a strong campaign for law and order, democracy and human rights," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo is national chairman of Lakas. Also leading the convention were former President Fidel Ramos, chairman emeritus; Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., president; Bukidnon Rep. Juan Miguel Zubiri, secretary general; outgoing Eastern Samar Rep. Marcelino Libanan, acting secretary general; and Quezon City Mayor Feliciano Belmonte Jr., executive vice president.

She said the administration’s platform is focused on creating jobs and income, making consumer prices stable, and bringing the benefits of the strong economy to each Filipino.

"This is the platform that is pro-poor, pro-progress and pro-modernization," she said.

She stressed that local Lakas leaders were vital in ensuring the implementation of economic reforms, being in the "frontlines of change."

"Lakas is the dominant majority party and therefore we have the extraordinary capacity to help forge unity, stability and a united front in support of our country’s progress, in achieving victory, in advancing our country’s goals and visions," Mrs. Arroyo said.

De Venecia for his part pointed out that Lakas produced two presidents under whose terms the country had experienced economic growth and peace in Mindanao.

He said Mr. Ramos "created the first modern economic miracle" in the country during his term from 1992 to 1998, and Mrs. Arroyo is "successfully creating the second economic miracle."

He said under the Ramos administration, the country was able to exit from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) program after 37 years of monitoring and posted a budget surplus.

In the last six years, the Arroyo administration had remained focused on economic recovery, from the Asian financial crisis and the depression of the previous years, despite repeated opposition attempts to unseat her through Cabinet revolt and impeachments, and through military mutinies.

De Venecia described Mrs. Arroyo as "brilliant" and "courageous" in pushing for painful economic and political reforms that the country is beginning to enjoy.

The Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, IMF and other foreign financial institutions as well as the investment community are now recognizing the Arroyo administration’s economic achievements, including the appreciation of the peso and the posting of the highest-ever foreign reserves amounting to $24 billion.

"President Arroyo’s determined efforts are now paying off in a renewed wave of strength and a new wave of growth to match the first Lakas administration’s feat of structural reforms," De Venecia said.

"We now have the beginnings of a genuine bona fide economic miracle and you and all of us have done a great deal. But we have not done all, our civic job is not yet over, we still must keep up the momentum of the economy as a team," he said.

It was also under Mr. Ramos and Mrs. Arroyo that the country had greatly pushed for peace in Mindanao, De Venecia stressed.

During the term of Mr. Ramos, the government forged a peace pact with the Moro National Liberation Front as well as with some rightist rebels, he said.

In a year’s time, the Arroyo administration would be able to forge another peace agreement, this time with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Political boost

In her keynote address, Mrs. Arroyo called on the various parties under the Team Unity coalition to work together to ensure the victory of all administration candidates from senatorial race down to the local contests.

She called for unity among the six parties of Team Unity in order to bring about the goal of sustaining the country’s economic growth.

It was the first time that Mrs. Arroyo spoke about the issue of the administration coalition as she has opted to avoid political issues in general and instead focus on the economy.

"Let us be in synergy rather than in combat with the five other parties within the Team Unity coalition as well as the essential sectors of the national community," she told convention delegates.

Since the election period started earlier this year, the administration coalition has been plagued by reports of a feud between its two major parties, the Lakas-CMD and the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi).

Rumors of the supposed rift were fueled by defections of several Lakas members to Kampi.

While Malacañang and Lakas have an arbitration process to thresh out problem areas where the administration has more than one candidate vying for the same post, it has not always been successful in resolving disputes.

Administration officials said earlier that the problem has been resolved by allowing the administration bets to run against each other in the concerned areas.

Team Unity has five parties under its wing, namely Lakas-CMD, Kampi, the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino, the Liberal Party-Manila Mayor Lito Atienza faction, the Nationalist People’s Coalition and the Partido Demokratiko Sosyalista ng Pilipinas.

Mrs. Arroyo said that the numbers of Lakas and the other coalition parties would build momentum for victory in all election races.

"The campaign has still a long way to go but the air of victory rides on the tide of the optimism of the people," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo called on candidates in the local levels to actively campaign for Team Unity’s senatorial ticket so that each vote they secure would translate to a vote for each of the senatorial bets.

Presidential Political Adviser Gabriel Claudio reiterated that the political machinery of the administration would ensure that the Team Unity senatorial candidates would perform well in the May polls.

Claudio pointed out that Lakas-CMD alone has been able to field over 70 percent of candidates in all local government positions, including the House of Representatives.

"If we add Kampi and other political parties within the coalition, it is not mere hot air when we say the administration coalition is in virtually complete dominance of the local campaign," Claudio said.

"Ninety percent of incumbent local officials are on the side of the administration. Seventy percent of them are incumbents running for reelection; that is why the local candidates are a very decisive and major factor in bringing about the victory of national candidates," he added.

Claudio also said that the claim of the opposition that a victory by Team Unity would only mean that they cheated is "most unfair and typically insidious of the opposition."

"That is the problem with the opposition. They are conditioning the minds of the people that a victory by Team Unity and the administration can only be achieved through cheating," he said. – With Marvin Sy

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved