(STAR) Contrary to the pessimistic forecast of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) of a zero growth of the Philippines’ gross domestic product (GDP), President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said her administration is looking forward to continued economic growth this year.

“As a result of dramatic reforms in revenue collection and generation, as a result of fiscal controls and banking and financial reform, we hope to continue our economic growth this year,” she told the 28th General Assembly of the Asian and Oceanian Stock Exchanges Federation (AOSEF) at the Mactan Shangri-La Resort Thursday.

The President made no mention of the zero GDP growth forecast but Malacanang had earlier stated that the IMF projection was negated by current realities, notably the continuing rise in the remittances of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), the increase in deployment of Filipino workers abroad and the adjustments in the budget deficit ceiling to pump prime the economy.

On Wednesday, the IMF lowered the Philippines growth forecast from 2.25 percent to zero, citing the twin problem of tighter credit conditions and lower global demand that have affected the economies of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Bangko Sentral Gov. Amando Tetangco shared Malacanang’s optimism on the economy, saying the IMF forecast was “unlikely” to happen.

He was quoted as saying that “in the past seven years, the IMF has consistently underestimated Philippine GDP growth forecast by an average of about half a percentage point.”

In her speech before 80 top leaders of the 17 stock exchanges that comprise the AOSEF, President Arroyo noted that “the Asian economies have been weathering the global crisis better than other regions…”

“But that doesn’t mean that there are no challenges that we are facing. Indeed, today, the global challenges faced developed and developing nations alike. But, I am very glad that Asia is weathering it well.”

She pointed out that “in spite of the global economic downturn, like many countries in Asia, the Philippines is not standing still.”

“We have weathered the worst of the global crisis this far. That doesn’t mean we have not been affected. But we are holding our own,” she stressed.

The President said she remains “cautiously optimistic that our resources and plans will allow us to manage our way through this difficult time because we ‘rebooted’ our economy many years ago, and this has held us in good stead.”

“As members of the stock exchange, you must also simultaneously invest in making your own organization and your own industry efficient and competitive,” she urged the AOSEF.

“Investing to improve your methods of cooperation and synergy, investing to turn market challenges into market opportunities, investing to continue to play a role -- a leading role in the recovery of the economies of the region, investing in the renewed prosperity of the capital markets that you collectively represent,” she added.

Calling for a “pan regional body” to be dubbed the Asian Economic Council (AEC), the President pointed out that “an Asian Community, including Oceania, will strengthen our regional economy, our security and our prosperity.”

“During this time in the world -- as we all know, there are strains on alliances from the Middle East to the WTO, and we are facing, as you all know, one of the most powerful economic downturns in modern history so -- it is essential that new, vital alliances be forged to keep the world stable and strong.

“Some sort of Asian Community would certainly be a bold step in that direction. And your Federation uniting the bourses of Asia, East Asia and Oceania, is a very good start,” the President said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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