, JULY 23, 2007 (MALAYA) BY REGINA BENGCO & JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR - PRESIDENT Arroyo yesterday said she will not get in the way of anyone’s presidential ambition in 2010 in what was seen as an assurance she would not attempt to stay in power beyond 2010.

"I stand in the way of no one’s ambition. I only ask that no one stand in the way of the people’s well being and the nation’s progress," Arroyo, in a red terno, said near the end of her seventh State of the Nation Address (SONA). She has two more years to go before she bows out of office.

Arroyo repeated her statement for emphasis in Filipino: "Hindi ako sagabal sa ambisyon ninuman."

"They say the campaign for the next election started on May 15, the day after the last. Fine," she said. "The time for facing off is over. The time is here for facing forward to a better future our people so desperately want and richly deserve."

She warned those with presidential ambitions, however, that she "will not stand idly when anyone gets in the way of the national interest and tries to block the national vision."

"From where I sit, I can tell you, a President is always as strong as she wants to be," she added.

The remark drew the longest and loudest applause and earned Arroyo a standing ovation.

The 13-page SONA took 56 minutes to deliver and was interrupted by 102 rounds of applause, including the standing ovation at the end.

At the start of her speech, Arroyo reminded government officials that the elections are over and it is now time for selfless public service, steadfast leadership, and governance with wisdom, compassion, vision and patriotism.

She reiterated her desire to see the Philippines among the developed nations in 20 years, by which time, she said poverty would have been marginalized and the poor would have been raised to a robust middle class.

She said she wants most of the plans that she outlined, which are part of the P1.7 trillion Medium-Term Public Investment Program (MTPIP), fully achieved when she steps down in 2010.

"All that will remain for my successor is to gather the harvest. He or she will have an easier time of it than I did," she said.

Arroyo said "the state of the nation is strong."

She said government has been investing hundreds of billions in human and physical infrastructure and that "the next three years will see record levels of well thought out and generous funding" for certain priorities.

She said these priorities are: investments in physical, intellectual, legal and security infrastructure to increase business confidence and result in the creation of a million jobs yearly; investments in stronger and wider social safety nets involving education, health, and housing; investments in bringing peace to Mindanao, crushing terrorism, and putting a stop to human rights abuses.

She said government will fund the investment priorities from state revenues and tax reforms (P1 trillion), state corporations (P300 billion), and the rest from government financial institutions, private sector investments, local government equity and bilateral and multilateral partners.

"We were able to strengthen our economy because of the fiscal reforms that we adopted at such great cost to me in public disapproval. But I would rather be right than popular," she said.

Arroyo asked Congress to enact at least 10 important bills, including laws imposing harsher penalties for political killings and election-related violence.

These include measures on the protection of witnesses from lawbreakers and law enforcers; guaranteeing swift justice from more empowered special courts; imposing harsher penalties for political killings; and "reserving the harshest penalties for the rogue elements in the uniformed services who betray public trust and bring shame to the greater number of their colleagues who are patriotic."

The others are bills creating a Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines to ensure safe, sturdy and efficient airports; amending the Electric Power Industry Reform Act for open access and more competition; ensuring more access to affordable quality medicines; and ensuring long-term care for the senior citizens.

Arroyo gave an update on the projects in the five super regions that she outlined during her SONA in 2006.

In the Mindanao super region, Arroyo said she wants the Department of Agrarian Reform transferred to Davao City to improve agribusiness in Mindanao and make it the country’s food basket.

She said the agrarian reform, agriculture and environment departments would devote 30 percent of their budgets to Mindanao. She said P3 billion would also be spent for the construction of 3,000 kilometers of farm-to-market roads, 1,000 kilometers of which are located in Mindanao and to finish the roll-on-roll-off network that would connect Mindanao to Luzon through the Dapitan-Dakak, Sibuco-Siraway-Siocon-Baliguian, Dinagat island network, Manay-Mati, and Maguindanao-Lebak routes.

More airports would be put up in Mindanao, including in Dipolog, Pagadian, Cotabato and Ozamiz cities, along with the completion or construction of major bridges like the Butuan bridge and the Pangil Bay bridge, and the construction of major roads like the Iligan Circumferential Road.

To protect transmission lines in Mindanao, Arroyo said government would have to "resolutely apply" the Human Security Act or the anti-terrorism law.

In promoting the Central Philippines super region, Arroyo said more infrastructure projects are being put up or improved like the now converted Kalibo International Airport which boasts of a new instrument landing system, which is in addition to a new P80 million terminal that would be constructed.

She said the Bacolod-Silay airport would soon be opened as it awaits the completion of an access road while the Dumaguete airport would soon be upgraded.

Arroyo said new roads like the Aklan-Libertad-Pandan Road that would connect Boracay to Northwestern part of the Panay peninsula and the Metro Radial Road in Iloilo are also up for construction along with the completion of the Sibunag Roro port that would connect Bacolod to Guimaras.

She said the interconnection of ro-ro (roll on, roll off) ports in Mambajao and Guinsiliban in Bohol would be completed by November while Daanbantayan port that would connect to Naval, Maripipi and Esperanza in Cebu would be finished by next year. The roro ports in Ubay and Maasin were completed in October last year.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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