MANILA, May 20, 2008 (STAR) By Marvin Sy - The government’s education services for the poor have improved significantly, unexplained killings are down and the country’s press remains one of the freest in the world.

This was President Arroyo’s report to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) yesterday as she said her administration’s programs dovetail with the mandates of the organization.

Citing the primary objective of the UNESCO to attain quality education for all and lifelong learning, the President noted the Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan for 2004 to 2010 gives high priority to this objective and that this is part of her administration’s 10-point agenda.

“Our education services to the poor have vastly improved though we have a long way to go. We’re expanding early childhood education. We’re paying cash to the poorest of the poor who send their children to school. We’re providing food-for-school programs in food-poor areas in elementary school. We’re abolishing all fees collected in public primary schools,” Mrs. Arroyo said in her speech during the 14th Quadrennial Conference of National Commissions for UNESCO of Asia and the Pacific Region at the Shangri-La EDSA Plaza Hotel in Mandaluyong City.

UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines secretary general Dr. Preciosa Soliven pointed out that the President has already issued an Executive Order establishing a Center for Lifelong Learning for Sustainable Development of the Philippines, which is supportive of the objectives of the international organization.

During her speech, the President said human rights is an important issue under her administration and that several measures have been undertaken to improve the record of the country on this particular item.

“Since the formation of a special commission to tackle our unfortunate history of political violence, extrajudicial killings are down and prosecutions are up,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

“Of course, we will not be satisfied until we are at zero and we count on UNESCO’s support for this,” she added.

The country has been criticized on numerous occasions on the reports of a high number of cases of unexplained killings of activists and journalists under the present administration.

The President said she was deeply committed to press freedom and its role in building inclusive societies.

“Well, I might not always like what the media writes about me (but) I respect their right to say it because we live in a vibrant and robust democracy,” she said.

“As we improve security in the parts of the country that have known some degree of violence, with the support of UNESCO, we’re able to move quickly to build inclusive societies and develop the economy of those areas,” she added.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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