(UPDATE 3) Arroyo: ‘President as strong as she wants to be’

By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez
Last updated 07:11pm (Mla time) 07/23/2007

MANILA, Philippines — President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo went from compassionate to tough in her State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, calling for a “government with wisdom, compassion, vision and patriotism” but also saying she would “rather be right than popular.”


In an hour-long speech that earned 106 rounds of applause and two standing ovations, Arroyo unveiled her administration’s “blueprint for development” in the remaining three years of her term that, she said, would end with the country “well on its way to achieving” her vision of a Philippines joining the First World in 20 years.


She also took the effort to project herself as a president who would remain strong even as her term comes to an end.


“From where I sit, a president is only as strong as she wants to be,” Arroyo declared towards the end of her speech. “Pagpalain tayo ng Diyos at ang dakilang gawain natin [May God bless us and our noble task]. The State of the Nation is strong. Ang inyong lingkod [Your servant], Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Pangulo ng Republika ng Pilipinas [President of the Republic of the Philippines].”


Arroyo presented what she called “just a sampler of our P1.7 trillion medium-term public service program” and warned that, while her successor would have an easier time than she did, she would not tolerate anyone getting in the way of her plans for the country.


“They say the campaign for the next election started on May 15, the day after the last. Fine,” she said. “I stand in the way of no one’s ambition. I only ask that no one stand in the way of the people’s well-being and the nation’s progress.”


“The time for facing off is over. The time is here for facing forward to a better future our people so desperately want and richly deserve,” she added.


“Uulitin ko: Hindi ako sagabal sa ambisyon ninuman [Let me repeat: I will not stand in the way of anyone’s ambition]. But make no mistake, I will not stand idly when anyone gets in the way of the national interest and tries to block the national vision,” she stressed.


Arroyo credited her preference for being right over popularity for having strengthened the economy “because of the fiscal reforms that we adopted at such great cost to me in public disapproval.”


“Tapos na ang halalan at pamumulitika, panahon na para maglingkod nang walang damot [The elections and politicking are ended, it is time to serve unselfishly,” Arroyo said at the start of her State of the Nation Address, her seventh since becoming president in 2001.


Clad in a red terno, Arroyo congratulated all the winners of the May 14 elections and urged them to deliver “government with wisdom, compassion, vision and patriotism.”


Arroyo said her administration will invest in infrastructure — both “human and physical” — to increase business confidence, continue to create jobs, invest in stronger and wider social safety nets through education, cheap medicines, housing, hiring more teachers, and providing more books to school children.


“In today’s global economy, knowledge is the greatest creator of wealth,” Arroyo said.


She added the government will also pour in resources towards achieving peace, especially in Mindanao.


“We have spent more on human capital formation than at any time in past. Why? If the government of the people is not for the people, it is a mockery of democracy,” Arroyo said.


Arroyo vowed to crush terrorism and put a stop to human rights abuses, as she paid tribute to the 14 Marines who were killed in an ambush in Basilan on July 10. Calling them the “Fearless 14,” Arroyo said her administration would work to realize their dream of “peace with justice throughout our land.”


While stressing the need to implement the controversial Human Security Act, saying terrorism “threatens our way of life,” Arroyo also said that “it is never right and always wrong to fight terror with terror and so I ask Congress, I urge you to enact laws to fight political violence.”


“We must wipe this stain from our democratic record,” she said.


She also reported on the accomplishment of the super-regions that she unveiled in her SONA last year, using a PowerPoint presentation as she did so.


Arroyo said the super regions “was not a gimmick for the occasion, but the blueprint for building a future.”


More airports, roads, and bridges will be built all over the country as part of the super regions project, Arroyo said, rattling off a litany of upcoming projects and those already accomplished.


In Mindanao, the country’s food basket, she said her administration would prioritize agribusiness investments.


The Department of Agrarian Reform will move to Mindanao. The agency, along with the agriculture and environment departments, will also devote 30 percent of their program budgets to the region, she said.


The Dipolog and Pagadian airports will be improved, as well as the Cotabato airport.


In the central Philippines, Arroyo said the Kalibo Airport is now operating as international terminal. Next in line is the construction of an P80-million peso terminal.


“The Aklan-Libertad-Pandan Road, waiting for Japan to approve the contractors, will connect Boracay to the nature park we declared in Northwest Panay Peninsula. We are improving other Panay roads and building the road from the Iloilo Airport which we inaugurated in Santa Barbara to Iloilo and the Metro Radial Road,” she said.


The Bacolod-Silay Airport has been completed and is just awaiting completion of the access road, she added.


For the North Luzon agribusiness quadrangle, Arroyo said the government is building 1,000 kilometers of farm-to-market roads, 200 kilometers of which have already been completed.


In 2005, she said an airport in Baler was built to be followed by another one in Casiguran and in Alaminos.


“Poro Point’s international terminal started construction early this year. The Bagabag airport is being lengthened,” she added.


For the Luzon Urban Beltway, Arroyo said the P5 billion Mt. Pinatubo Hazard Urgent Mitigation Project has started. It will protect the towns of San Fernando, Sasmuan, Guagua, and Lubao.


She said the Subic-Clark-Tarlac road is in its final stages. The road will cut travel time between Clark and Subic from two hours to 30 minutes.


Projects are also underway to connect the South Luzon Expressway and the North Luzon Expressway and to continue the Skyway up to Alabang.


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