Arroyo’s SONA to focus on poor

Main thrust: Nat’l social welfare program

By Christine Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:37:00 07/28/2008

MANILA, Philippines—Even as she faces the nation as the most unpopular Chief Executive since 1986, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will try to convey herself as a caring and confident leader when she delivers her penultimate State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday.

In her eighth SONA, the President will be mainly speaking about her national social welfare program that she has set up to help the poor cope with rising food and fuel costs.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said Ms Arroyo would like to show that as President, “she is undertaking programs for the poor. That as a mother of the nation, she cares.”

Ermita, who joined Ms Arroyo in going over her SONA speech on Saturday, said the President was determined to follow the course she had plotted for herself until 2010 when her term ends.

“And even if there are surveys against her popularity, she is confident she’ll be able to push the programs for the poor,” the executive secretary said.

Ms Arroyo will also be talking about the promises she has kept and will be reporting achievements that she has “personally verified,” Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said.

Dureza noted the inspections made by the President on infrastructure and other projects the past months. “That’s why she has been here, there and everywhere,” he said in a phone interview.

On the eve of her SONA, Ms Arroyo went to Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija to inspect one of the biggest nurseries for jatropha (tuba-tuba) that the Philippine National Oil Co. had set up. The oil from the jatropha plant is a biofuel.

This was in keeping with her call in her SONA last year for jatropha production as an energy source to reduce the country’s dependence on imported crude oil.

After going through over 20 drafts in the last three weeks, Ms Arroyo put the final touches to her speech in the early hours of Sunday after a 13-hour meeting that included at some point Vice President Noli de Castro and her senior Cabinet members.

‘Mami’ and ‘siopao’

Pleased with the outcome, the President “graciously” thanked Palace officials and staff members when they ended their last session at 1 a.m. Sunday with a meal of mami and siopao.

Cerge Remonde, Presidential Management Staff chief, said Ms Arroyo made it a point to limit her speech to 10 pages. “Long enough to cover the bare essentials but short enough to excite the imagination,” he said.

Remonde said the President would also talk about the energy and food crisis and tell the nation what her administration “has done” and plans to do to help alleviate the situation.

The main thrust will be her national social welfare program, which Ms Arroyo created last month to consolidate all pro-poor programs of government agencies. She entrusted to Romulo Neri, newly designated Social Security System administrator, the task of coordinating the programs.

Ermita and Remonde said the President would also speak about the relevance of the 12-percent value-added tax (VAT) in financing the pro-poor programs of her administration.

The executive secretary said Ms Arroyo would make reference to the P8-billion fund from the VAT windfall that she had either released or earmarked for pro-poor programs.

Catholic bishops want the VAT reviewed as it pushes up the cost of goods and services, adversely affecting the poor. The bishops claim that doles to the poor from the VAT proceeds are encouraging dependency.

“The President will also be talking about infrastructure projects that have helped enhanced our food production,” Ermita said.

He cited the roll-on, roll-off (Ro-Ro) program that facilitated the movement of food and goods across the country and helped keep food costs lower, and the construction of dams that in turn irrigate the country’s rice lands.

The President will also tell the nation about the following issues:

• What her administration intends to do as she tries to extend the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, which expires at the end of the year.

• Her unchanging position on population control. She plans to continue promoting natural family planning methods in keeping with the policy of the Catholic Church.

• Her efforts to continue pursuing peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army.

• The problem of corruption and her plan to ask Congress for tougher laws against it.

• Faces of some of the more successful programs in health, education, agriculture and microfinance.

• Heroes during Typhoon “Frank” (international codename: Fengshen) and other disasters.

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