(STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo assured the nation yesterday of a smooth transition of power and an easier time for her successor.

“The next president after me is lucky. It is only under my administration that the peso became strong instead of being weak. And the programs are already in place, including the tax reforms,” Mrs. Arroyo said in an interview over radio dzRH with veteran broadcaster Joe Taruc.

“The next administration will just continue to help our country grow,” she said.

Mrs. Arroyo said her accomplishments in her nine-year administration were a result of clear plans and programs, many of which had even hurt her popularity. She said that while she has achieved much, her administration still has a lot to do even with a little over five months remaining before the end of her term on June 30.

“It is our duty as well as the duty of all to help the Comelec (Commission on Elections) ensure peaceful, fair and transparent elections as well as the peaceful transition of power to the new administration,” the President said.

Her fiscal reforms, she said, have helped raise funds for automated polls, a priority of the administration.

When asked how she would want to be remembered, she said: “I wish our countrymen (would know) that everyday I wake with work (as) the first thing on my mind, how to bring all the services they need, work on straightening out the wrinkles in our economy to turn it around, create jobs, raise capital for infrastructure and that brings me fulfillment.”

Mrs. Arroyo also said she hoped Filipinos would realize that she had to make tough decisions to “destroy the cycle of economic misery.”

Among the milestones under her administration, she pointed out, were having over two million Filipinos graduate from extreme poverty and enabling the top 1,000 corporations to net P700 billion in profits. “Middle-sized companies flourished,” she added.

She also pointed out that nearly 50,000 kilometers of roads were constructed during her term, or more than the combined accomplishments of the previous three governments.

Empty treasury

Meanwhile, an opposition congressman said leading presidential candidate and Liberal Party standard-bearer Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III or whoever wins in the May elections will inherit an empty national treasury.

Bukidnon Rep. Teofisto Guingona III said President Arroyo will leave her successor with a government that is short of cash and which subsists on local and foreign borrowings.

He said the Arroyo administration is borrowing money even for the salaries of the more than one million state personnel.

Due to the administration’s borrowing spree, the nation’s debt jumped to P4.424 trillion as of end-October, nearly thrice the 2010 national budget of P1.541 trillion, he said.

Guingona cited a report from the Bureau of Treasury stating that in October alone, the government raised P86 billion in loans from foreign and local sources, including $1-billion worth of bonds it offered to investors.

“The average debt of Filipinos, including newly born babies, is now P47,968 and still increasing,” he said.

He claimed a large part of the nation’s borrowings went to the pockets of corrupt government officials and employees, and private contractors.

“I could accept the size of the national debt if I were certain that the funds were put to good use. If the country did not rate high in global corruption surveys, if poverty was not worsening, then I could say the debt was worthwhile,” he said.

“But just knowing how the budget is raided by those in power leads me to believe that we are burdening future Filipinos for the benefit of the few,” he said.

However, he expressed hope that things will turn for the better once a new leader takes over from Mrs. Arroyo.

“The 2010 elections can change that. Let us put honest people in office. They will safeguard our funds and ensure that the country benefits,” he said.

Guingona is one of LP’s senatorial candidates.

In a speech before the influential Makati Business Club (MBC) on Thursday, Sen. Aquino acknowledged that he would be taking over an empty treasury if he wins the presidency.

But he said he would avoid imposing new taxes and raising existing tax rates and would focus on improving tax collection.

MBC members had always supported Aquino’s mother, the late President Corazon Aquino. Most of its members are supporting Aquino’s candidacy, according to an in-house survey.

No need for reminder

With President Arroyo’s clear assurance of smooth transition of power, Malacañang said there is no need for anyone to remind her to step down after her term.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Gary Olivar said the people behind the so-called June 30 Movement were wasting their time doing something unnecessary.

Composed of members of civil society, militant organizations and the religious sector, the June 30 Movement aims to ensure the President steps down on June 30 as stated in the Constitution.

“The President does not need to be reminded that she has to step down on June 30, and if these people have nothing better to do than to form a movement like this and that’s their own decision, that’s their call,” Olivar said. – With Jess Diaz and Marvin Sy

RP now a better investment destination - GMA (The Philippine Star) Updated January 23, 2010 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Arroyo administration has made the Philippines a better investment destination in infrastructure and education, the President said yesterday.

In an interview with radio dzRH’s Joe Taruc, President Arroyo said the tough fiscal reforms she undertook a few years ago have helped provide funds for more expenditure on infrastructure, social services, and other basic services.

Malacañang has claimed that the expenditures on infrastructure of the Arroyo administration were higher than the past administrations combined and that this has reaped benefits for the country.

“This has helped in making the Philippines a better investment destination and a place to be a good employee,” the President said.

She noted that part of the investments has gone to the building of roads and bridges, making movement of the country’s workforce easier.

She said the investments in education also increased, which allowed Filipinos to secure higher-paying jobs.

In spite of these accomplishments, the Philippines still suffered from poor ranking in terms of economic freedom as indicated by the 2010 index of the United States-based think tank Heritage Foundation.

The foundation ranked the Philippines 109th among 183 countries based on 10 measures of economic openness, regulatory efficiency, rule of law, and competitiveness.

The basic principles of economic freedom emphasized in the Index are individual empowerment, equitable treatment, and the promotion of competition.

Among the issues cited by the Heritage Foundation were the Philippine government’s failure to do anything substantial to liberalize the economy, a weak judicial system, and a high tax rate.

It also noted that corruption is perceived as pervasive and the enforcement of anti-corruption laws is inconsistent.

Deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar said the report should only encourage the government to work harder to address the issues and bring up the country’s ranking in the index. – Marvin Sy 

GMA fulfills promise to media (The Philippine Star) Updated January 23, 2010 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - President Arroyo has started fulfilling her Christmas promise to journalists to be an “easier subject to cover” in the remaining months of her term.

Last night, Mrs. Arroyo had dinner at Malacañang with members of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.

On Thursday, she had lunch with members of the Malacañang Press Corps, the group of print and broadcast journalists covering the Palace.

Today, she is scheduled to have lunch with members of the Manila Overseas Press Club in Malacañang.

The flurry of meetings with media came after her Press Secretary Cerge Remonde died of a heart attack on Tuesday.

Media credited Remonde for improving transparency and information dissemination in Malacañang.

Mrs. Arroyo told reporters Remonde, a close friend, asked questions like a journalist during Cabinet meetings and had strongly opposed martial law in Maguindanao.

Remonde’s remains were flown to Cebu yesterday from the Heroes’ Hall in Malacañang, where it stayed for necrological services and a tribute on Thursday.

He will be buried on Sunday in his hometown of Argao in Cebu.

Icban’s appointment hailed

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and Sen. Manuel Roxas II hailed yesterday the appointment of newspaper editor Crispulo “Jun” Icban Jr. as press secretary.

“Jun is best qualified for the job,” Pimentel said.

“But he’s stepping into a minefield of corruption, maladministration, legal and constitutional shortcuts, extrajudicial killings, private armies, rebel groups challenging the administration.”

Roxas challenged Icban to “speak the truth” when dealing with members of media.

Roxas said much would be expected from Icban, being a respected long-time member of the media, who staunchly conformed to the journalists’ Code of Ethics.

“Mahirap ang posisyong ito (It’s a difficult position),” he said, adding that Icban’s greatest challenge would be to keep a delicate balance between telling the truth and maintaining the Palace’s integrity.

Roxas said Icban could prove his worth by not only learning to handle media affairs but by being truthful. – Paolo Romero, Aurea Calica

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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