(STAR) By Alexis Romero - The commander-in-chief has started bidding goodbye to the troops.

President Arroyo on Tuesday paid a farewell call on the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and reminded its members of the benefits that her administration has given them.

AFP spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr. said the “private visit” at Camp Aguinaldo did not dwell on any controversial issue such as the proposed term extension of AFP chief Lt. Gen. Victor Ibrado or the May elections.

“It was a farewell visit. She took that time to thank the soldiers for their loyal service to the country. She also said she was genuinely concerned about the welfare of soldiers so she made sure the benefits of soldiers – the pay and allowances – were increased during her term,” he said.

“Basically that was her message. There were no instructions about the elections... There was no mention of any extension (of Ibrado’s term), no mention of any appointment,” he added.

A source from the AFP who attended the private meeting said the President was in a good mood during the visit, which was attended by around 2,000 soldiers from General Headquarters.

“The visit was filled with light moments. She (President Arroyo) thanked the military for their sacrifices for the country,” the source who requested anonymity told The STAR.

Brawner said the President was welcomed by AFP acting chief of staff Lt. Gen. Rodrigo Maclang, other top military

officials, and soldiers. Ibrado was in Thailand during the President’s visit and was scheduled to return to the country yesterday.

“It was a farewell (call) because she is preparing to step down as president and commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces,” he said.

Mrs. Arroyo ends her term in June after serving as president for more than nine years. She is seeking a congressional seat representing the second district of Pampanga, the first president ever to run for a lower position.

On the other hand, Ibrado, who assumed his post last June, will retire from military service on March 10 upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 56. Various sectors, however, have called for the extension of Ibrado’s term until June 30 to ensure the neutrality of the military during the May polls.

Malacañang has yet to decide on the matter but Ibrado himself has started bidding farewell to his troops as early as last month.

Brawner said it was a coincidence that Arroyo’s visit happened during the start of the campaign period and at a time when Ibrado is out of the country.

“It is a coincidence. She did not mention anything about campaigning. There was no mention of politics... The trip of Gen. Ibrado was scheduled a long time ago,” he clarified, adding that the visit “wasn’t just for one particular person but it was for the organization.”

Brawner said the President’s meeting with the soldiers started at 2:30 p.m. and ended a little past three. The media were not allowed to cover the visit.

The AFP spokesman said President Arroyo then had a “boodle fight” with the soldiers and shared with them a meal consisting of pansit (noodles), roast chicken, banana and bread.

A boodle fight is a communal meal where food is laid out on banana leaves.

The visit boosted the morale of the troops who were given the sensitive task of ensuring peaceful elections, a source said.

“She is bidding farewell. We are happy we were visited by our commander-in-chief,” the source said.

The source said Mrs. Arroyo will likely visit the different major services to make farewell calls. “She served as our commander-in-chief for nine years so it is but proper she bid farewell to the major services.” Ten chiefs of staff have served under Mrs. Arroyo.

Malacañang said Mrs. Arroyo’s farewell call to the military will dispel notions that she wants to remain in power even beyond her term.

“If the President visits Camp Aguinaldo to say farewell to the military, then it is obvious that she is saying farewell to her job,” deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar said in a phone interview.

“If that does not convince the critics of the President then nothing ever will.”

Olivar said the President will start her campaign for a congressional seat in March but believes that she can still perform her functions.

“She will still do her job even if she is already campaigning,” he said.


PGMA: ‘No regrets’ for taking bold economic steps

(Office of the Press Secretary, malacanang) President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo maintains that she does not regret being unpopular, stressing that it is the price to pay for the bold steps she has taken to turn the economy around after assuming the presidency in 2001.

“We never shied away from taking on tough issues. Most notably, my unpopularity dipped when I went against the grain and championed the passage of the expanded value added tax (E-vat),” the President said in a speech at the University of Batangas in Batangas City on Monday.

“We knew that E-vat would be unpopular, but someone had to get the nation’s fiscal house in order and bring in fresh revenues to invest in the people,” the Chief Executive said.

“It was the right thing to do. It has served the people well. We have no regrets,” she stressed.

President Arroyo indicated that the fiscal initiatives “formed the building blocks of change that delivered 36 quarters of continuing economic growth, created nine million jobs, expanded healthcare to cover 52 million more Filipinos, and bring about financial stability in the country.”

She also dared the cynics and political critics to look at the skyline of Metro Manila, Clark in Pampanga, or Sta. Rosa, Laguna to see the progress that she was talking about.

“It is a skyline with new, modern buildings, construction cranes, better roads, hotels, shopping malls, and small businesses. This is part of the Philippines we have helped nurture and create,” the President pointed out.

President Arroyo’s visit to the state-run university was the second leg of her Super Regions tour which started last week with sorties in the Cyber Corridor, the growth region for information and communication technology (ICT) and business process outsourcing (BPO).

This week’s swing will cover the Urban Luzon Beltway (ULB), which will be transformed into a globally competitive logistics and services hub in the Asia-Pacific Region. These areas principally cover the CALABARZON region composed of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon provinces; Marinduque and Mindoro provinces; Metro Manila and southern Central Luzon.

To attain this objective, the Arroyo administration embarked on massive infrastructure development program to provide efficient support services to investors in the ULB areas. This involved the implementation of ambitious road-building projects, seaport and airport facilities, creation of qualified workforce, modernized mass transport systems, and sustainable power supply.

The ULB is one of five growth areas called “Super Regions” mapped out under an aggressive development program of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as laid out in Executive EO 561 issued in 2006. ULB is referred to as the base of the national industries, manufacturing, and trade and commerce and accounts for 55.86 percent of the Philippine economy.

The goal is to transform the ULB into a globally-competitive industrial and services logistics hub, at par with Singapore and Hong Kong, and tap the potentials of the $3.5 trillion global logistics market of which Asia-Pacific accounts for about $ 1 trillion.

The major infrastructure investments and initiatives in ULB are:

• Upgrade and development of the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Clark with enhanced capabilities. Since 2003, passenger traffic of 7,880 in 44 international flights have increased to 589,507 in 550 international and 560 local flights.

• The P792-million improvement of the NAIA Terminal 3 Expansion Project with a potential of 13 million passenger capacity and now serving 170 domestic and international flights and 16,500 passengers daily. The project eased congestion at NAIA Terminal 1.

• The P8.04-billion Subic Bay Port rehabilitation and expansion, completed in February 2008, which expanded the ports’ capability to accommodate an additional 600,000 twenty foot-equivalent units (TEUs) and boosted its competitive advantage against other Asia-Pacific international ports.

• The P6-billion Batangas Port Project, completed in December 2007, which now accommodates Panamax and post Panamax-size vessels and boosted the port’s capability to 400,000 TEUs and its capacity to service ships passing through the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

• Two Ro-Ro (roll on-roll off) ports were developed: the P63.37-million Lucena Port completed in November 2007 and the P32.8-million Cawit Port in Boac Marinduque completed in Sept. 2007 to provide access to and from the capital town of Boac.

• The P20.9-billion Subic-Tarlac Expressway Project completed in April 2008, to include the Floridablanca and Porac Interchanges, which greatly shortened travel time to Subic, Tarlac and Metro Manila and gave greater access to movements of people and logistics.

• The ongoing NLEX-Pres. C.P. Garcia (C-5)-SLEX Link Project to promote seamless travel between northern and southern Metro Manila.

• The SLEX Toll Roads 1 and 2, which widened the expressway from South Manila to Calamba and Toll Road 3 or the Hidden Link which will connect SLEX Calamba to the Sto. Tomas portion of the STAR tollway in Batangas. Toll Road 3 will connect five expressways spanning Subic, Clark, Metro Manila and the CALABAR industrial zones and the two main seaports of Batangas and Subic.

• The southbound lane of the Southern Tagalog Arterial Road (STAR) completed in April 2008, which eased traffic between Lipa and other Batangas cities

• The P1.57-billion Tarlac-Nueva Ecija-Aurora-Dingalan Port Road completed in December 2009, which connects SCTEX to Dingalan, Aurora to boost economic activities there.

• The P2.32-billion Marikina-Infanta Road slated for completion in March 2010 to provide economic access to the potentials of Rizal, Quezon and Laguna provinces.

• The P199.5-million EDSA rehabilitation project completed in May 2009, which improved travel time and safety conditions along EDSA.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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