Charter change not part of no-frills SONA – Remonde

President Gloria Arroyo will not include Charter change in her State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, Presidential Management Staff chief Cerge Remonde said Friday.

He added that the President and her entire Cabinet are working to come up with a good SONA, which will be delivered without frills and straight to the point.

Twenty out of the 149 priority infrastructure projects mentioned by President Arroyo in her 2006 and 2007 SONAs have already been completed, Malacañang reported Friday. The 20 projects have a total cost of P53.73 billion, while all 149 projects are to cost P800 billion.

The rest of the multi-year, big-ticket projects mentioned by the President under her “super regions” economic plan are under various stages of implementation. Thirty of the remaining 129 priority projects are scheduled to be finished this year, while the rest will be “substantially completed” by 2010, as Mrs. Arroyo leaves office.

Most big-ticket, economic development infrastructure projects are programmed for implementation over several years, thus their classification under “multi-year projects.”

Remonde said the Arroyo administration doesn’t deny the existence of the problems that the country has been facing, adding, “We face many problems, [and] the President is doing a well-crafted, well considered plan to address the crisis.”

Skeptical audience

Mrs. Arroyo will deliver her SONA amid a recent Pulse Asia survey that said there is “much skepticism . . . as regards the truthfulness” of the president’s SONAs.

Only 13 percent of 1,200 polled said they will believe Mrs. Arroyo’s SONA statements.

Among the most skeptical of what President Arroyo will say Monday are former Cabinet secretaries and ranking officials, who formed the group Former Senior Government Officials.

During a forum at De La Salle University on Friday, the group’s members credited Arroyo’s administration for seven “curses.”

These are, according to a statement, the “inability to feed its own people; worsening poverty and increasing disparity between the rich and the poor; deteriorating basic social services; corruption; abuse of presidential power; illegitimate presidency; and robbing the nation of its dignity, unity, and future.”

“Our 1987 Constitution states that there should be an equal distribution of wealth and social services so as to improve the quality of life of the people, but the President has violated this by not fulfilling the promises of her previous SONAs,” the statement added, stressing that the administration has failed to provide food because of lack support for agriculture and rural development.

Mrs. Arroyo had promised rice sufficiency and food for every table in her 2001 and 2003 SONAs.

Instead, the Philippines has become the largest rice-importing country in the world. The former government officials also claimed that the country’s trade deficit has ballooned to $1.5 billion in 2006 from $967 million in year 2000.

“The SONA is the President’s chance to report on the true state of its people, but it should be taken as an opportunity not only to detail the government’s achievements, but instead give us an update of the promises were fulfilled,” said Vicente Paterno, a Cabinet member during the Marcos government.

The group, however, recognized that the country’s 7.5 percent gross domestic product (GDP) growth last year—the highest in 20 years—provided jobs but did not eradicate poverty since only one million jobs were generated in seven years. The former officials said the country needs one million jobs in agriculture and fisheries each year.

Former Civil Service Commission Chairperson Karina David, however, admitted that institutionalizing reforms in the government, of which all the former officials were once part of, cannot be achieved overnight.

SONA boycott

A spokesman for Estrada, Margaux Salcedo, said he will not attend Mrs. Arroyo’s SONA, amid calls of militant solons to boycott the activity.

“He simply believes that it would be a waste of time to go to Congress only to listen to the fairy tale story of the economy from President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo,” according to a statement released also on Friday.

Salcedo added that rather than listen to Mrs. Arroyo’s “lies,” Estrada will just listen to the truths from the Filipino masses.

“The truth of severe hunger, the truth of worsening poverty, the truth of rising inflation, the truth of a worse economy, and the truth that no less than the World Bank has assessed the Philippines to be the most corrupt country in East Asia,” Salcedo said quoting the former president.

She added that Estrada believes that proclamations of “progress and sound economic fundamentals” would be like rubbing salt on the wounds of the hurting poor.

Perceived threats

The Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines said it does not see any threats during the SONA, aside from the possible commotion from the protesting militant groups.

No similar threat is forthcoming from rightist groups, said military intelligence chief Romeo Prestoza, adding they only expect commotion between militants and the police’s civil disturbance management teams.

But the national police in Metro Manila will put its forces on red alert on Sunday.

The police’s Special Action Force and police units in Central Luzon and Region 4-A (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon) will also be on full alert, said police Director for Operations Silverio Alarcio.

He added other police units would be on heightened alert status. In other parts of the country, commanders will have the discretion to raise their respective alert levels.

At least 6,000 Metro Manila policemen will be deployed to secure major roads and sites where protesters are expected to converge on Monday.

The military in Metro Manila will also put on standby 2,000 troops to augment the police force. Some 600 civil disturbance management personnel will also support policemen.

Maj. Gen. Arsenio Arugay, the military chief in Metro Manila, had earlier said security forces were on the lookout for possible attacks by the New People’s Army units.

Classes cancelled

Classes have been suspended in 22 schools in Quezon City on Monday as a precaution against possible violence during the SONA. The Department of Education made that decision also in anticipation of heavy traffic around in the Batasan Complex, where the President will deliver her address.

An Education official said government will allow private schools administrators to decide whether they too will suspend classes Monday.
— Angelo S. Samonte, James Konstantin Galvez, Maricel V. Cruz and Llanesca T. Panti(ManilaTimes)

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