MANILA , MAY 11, 2010
(STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo, who has won a congressional seat by a landslide, convened her Cabinet yesterday to prepare for what she called “a smooth transition to a new government” that would likely be led by Liberal Party standard-bearer Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

Mrs. Arroyo won a seat as representative of the second district of Pampanga by an overwhelming margin in last Monday’s elections.

In her first public speech after the elections, the President also said she was gratified by the peaceful conduct of the automated polls.

“Yesterday was a great day for our nation: the votes are coming in and the election was free, fair and open. Our democracy is strengthened by the power of the ordinary Filipinos who exercised their constitutional right to vote to shape the direction of their nation,” Mrs. Arroyo said at the celebration of the 112th anniversary of the Philippine Navy at its headquarters on Roxas Boulevard in Manila.

“The new electronic voting was a great leap forward for ensuring a smooth and protected vote… To all who made automation a reality and a success, congratulations,” she said.

Mrs. Arroyo said the true hallmark of a strong and functioning democracy is a smooth transition of power.

As the nation waits for the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and Congress to officially determine the election winners, she said the people should respect the work that “the dedicated men and women of the Comelec are carrying out.”

“No matter which candidates emerge victorious, we must all respect the outcome and work with these newly elected officials to take our country forward,” the President said.

“We must now turn our sights to preparing for a new president, a new Congress, and a new set of local government officials,” she said.

“To ensure a smooth transition to a new government, I am putting our government at the disposal of the incoming leadership,” she said.

She directed the Armed Forces to extend the same support and loyalty she received during her nine-year term to the incoming commander-in-chief.

New team

Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza was instructed to lead a 12-man “transition coordination team” and to work closely with representatives of the next president to ensure a peaceful, orderly and effective transition on June 30.

“Our goal is to support a process that will help the next president hit the ground running as soon as they take office. They will be assuming tremendous responsibility. We all need to do what we can to support them,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

“We are committed to doing what is required during this transition to give the next team the support they need to keep our country moving forward,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

She said she is handing over to the next administration a nation that has a strong momentum on a number of fronts.

“We have been able to provide 37 quarters of consecutive growth in the Philippine economy since we took office. There is no other economic record in the nation’s modern history to match our overall macroeconomic performance,” the President said.

“Ours is the only administration with a stronger peso at the end of its term than in the beginning. Our reforms fended off the global economic recession of the last two years and gave us the resources to spend on stronger safety nets for the very poor. This explains why the latest survey indicated a tremendous drop in self-rated poverty – the lowest in 30 years – even though the global economic slump was not yet over,” she said.

Deputy presidential spokesman Rogelio Peyuan, for his part, said the Arroyo administration hopes the next president would be a “uniting president” so that the country would continue moving forward.

Aquino has vowed to create a special commission that would investigate allegations of corruption against Mrs. Arroyo and some of her officials.

While there is no guarantee that Aquino would heed the call of the Palace for reconciliation, Peyuan said that it would welcome a continuation of the programs initiated by the President.

AFP ready for next chief

Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Delfin Bangit said he is under instructions from President Arroyo to prepare for a smooth transition regardless of who is declared the next president.

“She (Mrs. Arroyo) has instructions and we are just formalizing this and so I think this nation will move on,” Bangit said on the sidelines of the Navy’s anniversary celebration.

When asked if he is ready to serve the next president, Bangit replied: “If you are referring to me, then I work at the pleasure of the commander-in-chief,”

The next president, also the AFP commander-in-chief, has the authority to reorganize the military. Bangit used to be Mrs. Arroyo’s security chief. Bangit is set for retirement in July 2011.

AFP spokesman Lt. Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr., however, said they are not thinking about reorganization and that they are focused on securing the turnover rites to be held on June 30.

“We are not letting our guard down even if the election is over. We will still secure the return of the counting machines. We will remain vigilant,” Burgos said in an interview.

“We want to maintain a safe and secure environment. The peak would be during the turnover ceremonies,” he added.

Military officers speaking on condition of anonymity believe that the next president would retain Bangit.

“I think he (Bangit) won’t be relieved. There was never an instance when the president relieved the chief of staff,” a source said.

“If you do that (replace AFP chief), you would be perceived as engaging in politics,” another officer said.

Bangit is a member of Philippine Military Academy class ’78, of which Mrs. Arroyo is an honorary member.

Bangit was appointed AFP chief last March, bypassing more senior military officials. With Marvin Sy and Alexis Romero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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