MANILA, MAY 1, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - As the body count continued to rise, President Arroyo ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) yesterday to assist the Philippine National Police (PNP) in stopping violent incidents in the run-up to the May 14 elections.

In a statement, Mrs. Arroyo also urged all candidates not to defy the authorities, warning that those who did would face prosecution.

The wave of election-related violence has claimed 31 lives since January.

"I am calling on the Armed Forces to reinforce the police, under Comelec (Commission on Elections) authority, to stop election violence and move forcefully against those using threats and intimidation for partisan ends," Mrs. Arroyo said.

"I strongly urge candidates of all parties and persuasions to keep tensions at bay and not to test or defy the authorities," she added.

She ordered the PNP to man checkpoints around the clock in critical areas and to confiscate all unauthorized firearms.

"Cases of election violence must be speedily investigated and (charges must be) filed promptly. All identified private armies must be preempted and dismantled," Mrs. Arroyo said.

PNP officials said there were a total of 97 violent incidents related to the coming elections during which 59 people were hurt.

Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs Gabriel Claudio admitted the election period has become "very tense," but said the tension is arising mainly from local politics: "None of these incidents appear to be related to our national candidates."

He also said most of the victims of election-related violence are administration candidates or their supporters, even as he gave assurances that the authorities "will spare no effort to identify and prosecute those behind the violence."

Claudio urged the people to help make the elections honest, peaceful and credible: "The people’s vigilance is the best means to protect the elections against fraud and violence."

GMA breaks ground for Poro Pt tourism complex By Jun Elias The Philippine Star 05/01/2007

SAN FERNANDO CITY, La Union — President Arroyo led yesterday the groundbreaking of a P5- billion tourism complex project inside the Poro Point Special Economic and Freeport Zone (PPSEFZ).

The project, which is being implemented by Thunderbird Pilipinas Hotel and Resort Inc., a subsidiary of the US-based Thunderbird Resorts Inc., will lead off with the construction of a luxury hotel and a world-class nine-hole golf course intended to put the former US military air station at the world map of major tourist and recreation destinations.

Peter Lesar, president of Thunderbird Pilipinas, told the Chief Executive in a briefing that the project, which will be completed by July 2008, will generate 10,000 jobs for local residents and will generate more than P500 million in yearly income for the government.

Lesar said that the tourism complex makes up the second phase of Thunderbird Pilipinas’ total investments in Poro Point.

Mrs. Arroyo said that she was very happy with the project, which she hopes will make La Union a tourist hub because of the Mediterranean-style resort.

Designed for tourism and recreation, the project’s component include luxury hotels themed after the famous village of Santorini in Greece, resort-style villas, condominium units, championship golf course, restaurants, centers, family amenities, aqua sports, and entertainment and gaming facilities.

For the initial phase, Thunderbird has so far spent P250 million over the past two years for the development of PPSEFZ including the establishment of a casino.

This was way above its minimum investment commitment of P162 million for its master development plan as stipulated in its lease agreement forged with the state-run Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) two years ago.

With the President taking a personal interest in Poro Point, BCDA president and CEO Narciso Abaya said the area would likely assume a more vibrant pace of development.

Underscoring the significance of a fully developed PPSEFZ, Abaya said once the tourism infrastructures are in place, Poro Point will be a magnet to both local and foreign tourists, adding that inceased tourist spending will augur well for the economy of La Union and Northern Luzon.

Each foreign tourist brings in $800 and creates one job. Assuming Poro Point can attract 10,000 foreign tourists in a year – a very conservative number, this translates to $8 million into the local economy and 10,000 new jobs generated.

"The economic impact of tourism is immediate. It generates jobs not only inside Poro Point but in the entire region as well," Abaya pointed out.

A key component of the initial phase of development is the transformation of the erstwhile Voice of America building into a multipurpose building, including an entertainment center and a 75-seat fine-dining restaurant.

The cost of phase two, initially pegged at P216 million, is also expected to swell, raising speculations that Thunderbird would likely more than double its commitment under the lease contact.

It covers the construction of the nine-hole golf course, with options to expand to 18 holes in the future. Thunderbird hired IMG Sports Entertainment Media (IMG), one of the world’s leading golf course design firms to plan the world class golf course. The golf course clubhouse would be attached to the hotel and resort complex.

Thunderbird has commissioned the prominent architectural and design firm Impacto to implement a master development plan that involves setting up of a beautiful promenade close to the seashore where a projected "Little Boracay" would emerge out of a short stretch of white sand beach.

With Thunderbird’s all-out pursuit of its program to develop Poro Point into an "ideal tourist destination," complemented by BCDA’s upgrading of the San Fernando Airport to ensure easier access to Poro Point, Abaya said the BCDA is right on track in realizing President Arroyo’s economic agenda of eight percent growth next year.

Thunderbird has leased some 65.5 hectares of real estate in the Poro Point Special Economic and Freeport Zone that is under the stewardship of the BCDA. Among the areas leased by Thunderbird include the former Voice of America facilities and some real estate along the Poro Point tourism complext area that includes the Poro Point Cottages and the San Fernando Coral Promenade.

Among the major benefits of Thunderbird’s investment in Poro Point is the increased number of good permanent, full time job opportunities to the people of La Union. Thunderbird is committed to source at least 85 percent of its employees from San Fernando City and the province of La Union provided a sufficient number of these employees are readily available and eligible for hire.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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