MANILA, April 21, 2008 (STAR) It will be a busy week for President Arroyo who will lead the Cabinet and government agencies in refurbishing various programs to address high prices of basic commodities.

Presidential Management Staff chief Secretary Cerge Remonde said the President is expected to lead Cabinet officials in discussing ways to address the food crunch and other initiatives to enable the poor to cope with high food prices.

At the top of the agenda in tomorrow’s meeting include the issues on transport, clean water, the food-for-school program, and the one-stop-shop for the housing program, Remonde said.

“The President will implement improvements in the various programs to enable more Filipinos, particularly the poor, to benefit,” he said.

Aside from prodding the regional wage boards to convene and discuss possible increases in the minimum wage, Mrs. Arroyo has also ordered government agencies to come up with immediately implementable programs to help poor Filipinos cope with inflation.

Remonde said Mrs. Arroyo also wants more families in the 10 poorest provinces in the country to benefit from the food-for-school program, which gives each school child a few kilos of rice daily.

Officials said the program has not only helped address hunger and nutritional requirements of poor families but also encouraged school attendance and improved academic performance of elementary pupils.

During an emergency tripartite meeting convened by Mrs. Arroyo last week, labor leaders, business groups and government officials agreed on seven initiatives to allow workers to have more money in their pockets, including raising the minimum wage. – Paolo Romero

P5-B farm-to-market roads, irrigation projects to be completed this year By Paolo Romero Monday, April 21, 2008

Malacañang announced yesterday that several infrastructure projects, including irrigation and farm-to-market roads worth over P5 billion, which are geared at improving the country’s food security would be completed this year.

Presidential Management Staff chief Secretary Cerge Remonde said the status of the projects was tackled during the fourth regular meeting of the Pro-Performance System Steering Committee, composed of representatives from the national government and the local governments, religious, youth, business and media.

“As we move from the second to the third quarter of the year the Steering Committee will undertake intensified monitoring of the projects,” Remonde said.

“From the largely time-based monitoring of cost efficiencies, we will take a closer look at the community benefits – the outcomes as a function of the outputs – to determine the immediate and short-term benefits of the projects to the community and the stakeholders,” he said.

He said the National Irrigation Administration reported that four contract packages of the Casecnan Multi-Purpose Irrigation and Power Project amounting to P2.67 billion and the P3.05-billion rehabilitation of small irrigation projects covering 45,601 hectares are for completion in the first semester of 2008.

The Kabulnan and Balintingon irrigation projects are to begin this year, he said.

For the second quarter of 2008, project components of three major irrigation projects amounting to P1.83 billion and the nationwide rehabilitation of small irrigation worth P958 million are for fast-tracking. At the same time, the rehabilitation of small irrigation projects worth P809.9 million is also hastened for implementation.

The Department of Agriculture, Remonde said, identified 34 farm-to-market roads (FMRs) costing a total of P296.56 million for completion.

Some 57 packages of FMRs totaling 634.33 kilometers are also set to start in the first semester of the year.

He said the Bureau of Post-Harvest Research and Extension identified eight cold chain projects costing P132.67 million for completion, and two cold chain projects that are scheduled to start in the first half of the year.

The P4.2-million Buguias Minimal Processing Plant shall be fast-tracked in the second quarter of 2008, he said.

Among the objectives in creating the Pro-Performance System Steering Committee “is the reinforcement of public-private partnership and collaboration in monitoring government projects, to accelerate the delivery of the Medium Term Public Investment Program by 2010,” Remonde said.

“Given the level of multisectoral cooperation and commitment at the committee as of now, we are well on our way to achieving that objective,” he said.

Groundbreaking in Tarlac

President Arroyo will lead the groundbreaking today for the P11.6-billion Tarlac-La Union Toll Expressway Project, one of the biggest road networks in the country that is expected to boost the development of Central and Northern Luzon, Malacañang said.

Mrs. Arroyo will arrive in La Paz, Tarlac before noon to lead the capsule-laying ceremony at the Central Luzon end of the 88.5-kilometer expressway. From La Paz, the new expressway stretches all the way to Rosario, La Union, a Palace statement said.

Phase I of the project covers the construction of a two-lane expressway between La Paz and Rosario. Under Phase II, the expressway will be widened to four lanes to accommodate 25,000 vehicles daily.

Starting from La Paz, the expressway project will be constructed parallel to the Manila North Road and turn left after Urdaneta, Pangasinan going to La Union.

The government will provide a funding support of P3.7 billion, P793 million of which will be used for the acquisition of road right-of-way and the balance of P2.9 billion to be spent on the construction proper.

When the toll expressway project is completed in 2013, travel time between Tarlac and La Union will be reduced by up to two hours.

The project has been awarded to Private InfraDevelopment Corp., a consortium composed of First Balfour, D.M. Consunji, J.E. Manalo, C.M. Pancho, New Kanlaon Construction, Rockford Development, J.V. Angeles, R.D. Policarpio, D.M. Wenceslao, and Engineering Equipment Inc.

After the groundbreaking rites, the President will conduct a dry-run of the La Paz to Clark segment of the newly opened Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX), the highway corridor linking the economic zones of Subic and Clark.

She will be briefed on the various aspects of the Tarlac-La Union toll project by Public Works Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane, while Bases Conversion Development Authority president Narciso Abaya will conduct the briefing on the SCTEX.

After the dry-run, she will proceed to Clark for the “Localized Team Meeting” for Central Luzon at the Fontana Convention Center.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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