MANILA, SEPTEMBER 14, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo has urged communist rebels to avail of the government’s amnesty program or face military action.

In her speech at the launching of the Bishops-Ulama Conference with the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police in Malacańang last Wednesday night, Mrs. Arroyo said part of the government’s peace plan is the granting of amnesty and livelihood to rebels with the help of local and religious leaders.

“If we are to become a modernized country, we have to put a stop to their ideological nonsense and their criminal acts once and for all,” Mrs. Arroyo said. “It’s either amnesty or military solution.”

“Whichever way, communist rebellion must be stopped,” she said.

She said the military solution “is our last option, but we must be prepared to wield this option when peace is broken, when non-combatants cower in fear and development initiatives are halted.”

She said government troops will not stop fighting until the country achieves peace and progress.

Mrs. Arroyo earlier issued Proclamation 1377 granting amnesty to members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the New People’s Army (NPA) and the National Democratic Front (NDF). She also ordered the allocation of an initial half a billion pesos for livelihood assistance of former rebels.

She said the government guarantees former insurgents who are willing to turn their guns into plowshares and respect the rule of law, another opportunity to return to normal life under the proclamation.

She, however, said the amnesty offer shall not apply to terrorist groups whose “violence and treacherous deeds” in pursuit of a political agenda will never be tolerated.

Communist rebels, she said, for years were a low-level threat.

“It’s time for their disruption and violation of human rights to be put to rest so that the nation can move ahead,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

PGMA presses for computerized elections starting with forthcoming barangay polls

MALACANANG ( September 14, 2007 - President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo called this morning for the computerization of election processes as she pointed out that her administration has “long provided funds for computerization of elections.”

“Let’s campaign for the modernization of voting, counting and canvassing -- starting with the forthcoming barangay elections,” President Arroyo told the participants of the Women’s National Electoral Assembly 2007 which is celebrating 70 years of women’s suffrage in the Philippines at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City.

The Chief Executive – the second woman president of the Philippines – also called on women leaders to “work for the day that no woman in the Philippines has to live a life of poverty and exploitation.”

President Arroyo said that the “suffrages of seventy years ago… will be able to truly rest in peace when… we can say that every Filipina is liberated -- not only electorally but in every other way -- to fulfill their hopes and dreams, free from fear and full of opportunity.”

The “suffrages” who fought for the Filipina’s right to vote include Sofia De Veyra, Josefa Llanes Escoda, Pura Villanueva Kalaw, Trinidad Legarda, Pilar Hidalgo Lim, Concepcion Felix Rodriguez, and “many others whose memory today still inspires respect and admiration…”

The jubilee celebration -- which has the theme, “Charting Our Future For God, Country and Family” – was organized by the National Federation of Women’s Clubs headed by Julita Benedicto as overall chairperson, and the National Federation of Women’s Clubs headed by Ester Sta. Ana. It was attended by some 1,000 Filipino women leaders and their organizations, and by United States Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney, who was dubbed by the President as “our very outstanding American woman, who's representing her country in the Philippines.”

Addressing the two-day national assembly which commemorates the signing by President Manuel L. Quezon on Sept. 15, 1937 of the Philippine Suffrage Act, the President called on her fellow women leaders to “exercise our right of suffrage to achieve the right of women to have more economic choice, to determine the future of their lives and the lives of their families.”

“And to be able to exercise our right of suffrage to its fullest, let us crusade for electoral reforms,” she stressed. The 70-year-old Act granted equal right of suffrage to both Filipino men and women.

“We can disagree on political goals but not on the conduct of democratic elections. And let us lobby for a law to fund poll watchdogs -- and a stronger law against election-related violence.

“To be able to lobby for all of these, as women, we count on organizations like the women's organizations represented here in this federation's gathering to empower women to organize at the grassroots level with training on leadership, communication, negotiation, assertiveness,” the President added.

Saying that “women’s rights are human rights,” President Arroyo said “our society must do everything in its power to ensure that these rights are respected and protected.”

“Let's use our right of suffrage to modernize the Philippines to make the life of our sisters a better one with more economic opportunity, greater social justice and a better future for our children.”

“What an honor to be here to join hands with you to celebrate 70 years of Filipino women suffrage and to extol its champions… Today, 70 years later, we can say that we are proud that women in the Philippines got the right to vote ahead of women in many other parts of the world,” the President pointed out.

President Arroyo also noted that “women in the Philippines rose to the very top of political and corporate world ahead of women in many other developed parts... of the world.”

And aside from being champions in the workplace, Filipino women are also champions in the home. “We hold the purse strings, unlike in many other parts of the world,” she said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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