(STAR) By Mike Frialde - Opposition leader and Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay yesterday dared President Arroyo to publicly announce that she is indeed stepping down in 2010.

Binay, president of the United Opposition, said Mrs. Arroyo’s continued silence on the issue has encouraged her allies in Congress to push for amendments to the Constitution in an effort to lift term limits of all elected officials.

“Mrs. Arroyo’s refusal to make a categorical statement, for whatever it’s worth, fuels the widely held belief that she has no intention of relinquishing power,” Binay said.

He said that for the past weeks, Malacañang officials have been repeatedly saying that Mrs. Arroyo intends to leave office in 2010, and these statements have become more frequent.

“We do not know what prompted these officials to make such statements, but it would be better to hear it from Mrs. Arroyo herself,” he said.

Until the issue is put to rest, Binay said the public would continue to suspect that Mrs. Arroyo intends to hold on to power beyond 2010.

He said the ongoing move in Congress to amend the Constitution through a constituent assembly is part of that plan.

Binay also dismissed Mrs. Arroyo’s call for political unity, saying it is “meaningless.”

“How can Mrs. Arroyo sincerely call for political unity to face the economic crisis when her allies continue to focus on Cha-cha (Charter change), thereby creating political instability?” he said.

'Binay sounding like a broken record' By Delon Porcalla Updated February 27, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Allies of President Arroyo advised Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay to stop sounding like a “broken record” by insinuating that the chief executive will extend her term beyond June 2010.

Speaker Prospero Nograles, president of the ruling Lakas-CMD party of Mrs. Arroyo, said it is “already a given” and there is no need for anybody to force her to say that she will step down in 2010, as it is already “enshrined in the 1987 Constitution.”

“Stepping down after the term limit is in the Constitution. There is no need to say it again and again,” he reiterated.

Nograles said the impending approval by Congress of the P11.3-billion budget for the automation of the 2010 presidential elections is proof that there will be no suspension of the polls.

“It is contrary and not in accordance with the P11.3 billion we are trying to approve for automation of the elections by the Commission on Elections. How can we spend for automation if there is no election?” he asked.

House Majority Leader Arthur Defensor of Iloilo said Binay, president of the United Opposition (UNO), is only engaging in “political sound bites.”

“Election is near so these politicians are willing to say and do anything to get their mugs in the news,” said Defensor.

Mrs. Arroyo has repeated time and again that she will relinquish her post, which means there is no more need for another statement, he said.

“How can she say otherwise? It’s very clear in the Constitution that she only has until 2010. To extend, you need to amend the Constitution, which is impossible when the Senate won’t agree,” Defensor explained.

Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante said Mrs. Arroyo’s administration has “always batted for the rule of law.”

“Although I understand Mayor Binay’s concern, I still think that it will not be a problem for the President to step down. She will, in obedience to the Constitution,” he said.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s Speech during the Philippine Economic Briefing “Challenges and Opportunities in Global Crisis” Grand Ballroom, Dusit Thani Hotel, Makati City, MM, February 25, 2009

Thank you Secretary Teves for your introduction.

Cabinet members, Leaders of business, Excellencies of the Diplomatic Corps, Ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you for joining us once again in this semi-annual activity and this time is a special time like in the World Economic Forum -- it was the biggest attendance ever in their history because of the times we are in.

We’re all very much aware of the challenges of the global economic crisis confronted by countries around the world. But I hope we’re also all aware that ensuring that they continue to weather the global economic storm will require the cooperation and partnership of the government and the private sector.

As I’m sure you can remember, a year ago, we were riding the wave. This year, along with all other developed and developing economies alike, we’re working hard to make sure that we are not swamped by the world economic crisis.

In 2007, the Philippines generated an 8.0 percent GNP growth. In 2008, when two-thirds of the world went into a recession, we still managed a 6.1 percent GNP growth. In the fourth quarter of 2008, Japan’s GDP declined by 12.7 percent, U.S. by 5.0 percent, Taiwan by 9.0 percent, Thailand by 4.0 percent, Singapore by 3.7, Korea by 5.6. But our GDP went up by 4.5 percent. Up to late last year, Filipinos had no difficulties finding and keeping the important jobs overseas that were helping their families and contributing to the economy; food prices were coming under control and inflation was being checked.

Since then, the global financial turmoil has spread and jeopardized the well-being of billions of people across the globe. Late last year, 5,500 of our expatriates lost their jobs. Thank goodness today the number still remains largely the same. Between then and now, 39,000 domestic workers mostly in the export sectors of electronics, auto parts, garments and mining have lost their jobs, though 3,000 new jobs are being processed daily. I just came from the POEA Office before coming here because part of our four-day EDSA celebration is to use the spirit of EDSA, the spirit of unity to join hands against the global crisis. And because the biggest challenge is the challenge of jobs -- we had a jobs fair and the fair had just started a couple of hours ago and I was able to interview workers who were hired right on the spot.

So, we hope that this trend will continue, that there is room for those who have lost their jobs in new jobs. Some of them may require retooling but others need not. For instance, one of the biggest job opportunities that I found earlier today was a Dunkin Donuts store in, and would you believe it in Dubai, which we hope… which we thought was experiencing a lot of difficulties but they have these openings and the pay is good. An electronics worker can get into the job. A garments worker can get into the job, the important thing is that they have the Filipino traits of a smiling face and a congenial personality.

Tourism according to the latest report of Secretary Ace Durano is bucking the regional trend, with our hotels and resorts fully booked for the first quarter though they are going, they’re leaving... well, it’s a… they go from month to month and are not complacent about the rest of the year.

In many respects we were prepared for this global crisis. That preparation has mitigated some of the hardships that have arrived with this worldwide challenge.

Our domestic strength comes in large part from our early response. In January 2008 we approved a stimulus of 1.4 percent of GDP and we implemented it in March as the global food crisis erupted. The resulting deficit though the stimulus was 1.4, the deficit was less than 1.0 percent of GDP. In reacting to this first wave of the economic downturn that early 2008, we worked hard to manage the huge spike in the prices and accessibility of food, fuel and rice. That stimulus that we approved in January and implemented in March included an 11 billion budget for the augmentation of the Department of Agriculture for its program towards rice self-sufficiency in five years. It included 24 billion for the National Food Authority for rice subsidies, 36 billion pesos of tax relief to the middle-class which increased the take home pay of minimum wage earners, and that has buoyed up demand.

If I may go earlier again to my trip to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, we not only saw displaced workers finding new jobs, we also saw displaced workers finding new livelihood opportunities -- food processing, and would you believe perfume making. So, these displaced workers in their new livelihood are doing their work in their own homes and selling in their own homes. And the one who was doing meat processing has a very brisk business, so she has decided that she will also study part time in TESDA so she can go into commercial cooking and expand her little meat process business into a restaurant because she is doing very well where she is now.

The other one is producing perfumes. And I said, why did you get into the idea of perfume? Then she said, well, you know we Filipinas we never get out of our house without putting perfume on. So, I figured that I would have a good market. So, she had this… she went into the training, and I’d like to acknowledge Tommy Alcantara and MECO because all of these, many of these displaced workers came from Taiwan and right in Taiwan they were already told about the training, livelihood and new job opportunities. And so she was trained by the Technology Resource Center, they gave her all the possible sources of supply, so she has her supply of her bottles, her essential oils and so on. And so I said, how is your business doing? She said, very well. I have a very, very good market.

So, we really thank the consumption, our domestic consumption because they buoy up the new opportunities for our displaced workers. And a lot of that, I would like to think was also encouraged by the tax relief of minimum wage earners that Congress passed last year.

To go back to that stimulus that we approved in January and carried out in March, part of that included also 5 billion pesos of conditional cash transfers, 7.5 billion of various cash grants, and 32 billion pesos that went into a 10 percent salary increase for government employees, another stimulus for domestic consumption. And then we worked just as hard to meet the next wave -- the crisis that has come to be called the global tsunami, the worldwide financial calamity. Our GDP and GNP growth in the face of global recession shows that stimulus works. It shows it is not bound to fail. But we all have to work together to make sure that it succeeds.

We have acted to protect the poor as we also worked to protect our nation. While our efforts have been reasonably successful, we know that no country has been totally insulated from the pain and hardship being felt throughout the world. So, we are vigilant in our efforts to respond quickly to changing circumstances.

Ralph Recto gave us a 300 billion-peso stimulus package or 7 billion dollars, bigger than many of the South East Asian countries even if our growth rate is better that theirs but that stimulus package is always open for refinement as we go along.

We have been relatively lucky -- I keep hearing that swerte, swerte, swerte -- We have been relatively lucky because we worked hard to be lucky. We have been able to cushion the blow today because of the pain we endured yesterday. With the support of Congress and our dedicated civil servants, we took the economic reform medicine and improved our banking system, raised revenue, cracked down on smugglers and streamlined our revenue system.

That allowed us to have the resources to make significant investments in our country for the first time in those quantities in a generation; new money for roads, bridges, and ports; new investments in healthcare, education and social services.

Our domestic strength also comes in large part from our countercyclical policy. When I was in Davos, one of the famous professors was saying, the problem with many of the countries that have to follow the multilaterals is that their policies are procyclical. But in our country, we have been able to do a countercyclical policy.

On fiscal policy, we increased taxes in good times, and now we have increased spending in bad global times. Both the national and the local governments now have room to spend and borrow because the local governments this year are enjoying the biggest increase of 40 billion pesos in their internal revenue because there is a 3-year lag in the computation. So, since we increased the VAT, we implemented the VAT increase three years ago, now they will get their share from the VAT increase while the serendipity they can spend now when spending is needed.

On monetary policy, well, we all know that aside from Gary Teves being the Finance Minister of the Year for Asia, Say Tetangco has been rated among our ‘A’ central bankers in the world. The Central Bank has been prudent, with rates generally high during good times, while now lowering rates during bad global times, and some more room to ease if necessary.

The financial sector has been strengthened to supplement its innate domestic orientation and inherent conservatism. Learning from the 1997 financial crisis, we worked out reforms, including the Special Purpose Vehicle Assets Act, and other banking reforms leading to lower non-performing loans and loan-deposit ratios.

And we have healthy gross international reserves of almost 40 billion dollars much more than our need for imports compared to the 15 billion dollars that our administration inherited several years ago.

But we must move quickly if we are to ensure that our economy stays on path. So, that is what I was just telling Peter Favila earlier when we were in the holding room waiting for Gary to finish his talk. We have to move quickly. Let’s not wait for that and that to move before we do. Let’s not wait for Congress to pass this or that because we have lump sums in our budget. Let’s not wait for the private sector to come up with their part of the promise of the 100 billion-peso private sector fund. Let’s work on our 50 billion contribution.

We have accelerated our investments in 2009. These expenditures however are not meant to break the bank. We have brought forward investments to further stimulate the economy, to help our people, and to sustain the growth that has been so important to our economic success.

We remain mindful through all this spending that this acceleration of investments must be balanced. We cannot abandon our hard-fought gains in fiscal discipline. We may increase the deficit, yes, but it must be a finite number and not the sky is the limit. We must have a projection, a ceiling that we will stay under. We are well aware that we must both spend wisely and be prudent if we are to leave our nation in a healthy condition for the next generation. That is the road we were on before the onset of this global crisis. That is the road on which we would like the country to continue when this challenge has passed.

The world financial crisis appears deeper than most anticipated. However, I don’t think our plans are doomed to fail. We remain cautiously hopeful that we can continue to insulate the Philippines from the full frontal assault that much of the world is experiencing. Yet, we realize with each passing day, that objective becomes a greater challenge and therefore we must always be ready to innovate.

Our Government is up to the challenge. But it is clear that our success will come only if it is a true team effort. Government will do its part, but the private sector must step up and seize the opportunity we have created: a nation that is more stable and secure than at any time in recent memory. Working together, we have created a better deal if you will, than many countries in the region. So now, I call upon the leaders of our private sector to take up the challenge at this important time: Join your Government and continue to invest in our nation’s future. Work with us to ensure that our nation’s limited resources, finite resources are able to meet the objective of improving the lives of the people of the Philippines.

We must all band together to shoulder the responsibility of bringing our nation through these challenging global times. As I said, to date we have been successful. But now is not the time to be laid back or inactive. It is the time to step up to the challenge and work hard to ensure our nation’s bright economic future.

We are a tough, proud and resilient people. Our resilience has proven its worth this past year. It will see us through to the global economic rebound that we all know will eventually come. But if we are to continue on the path to progress, we must act together, in common purpose, to provide the long-term opportunities our people want and deserve.

Finally, for your commitment to the Philippine economy, a commitment that will continue to pay dividends for many years to come.

To all of you, maraming salamat and thank you.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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