Monday, November 26, 2007

Arroyo admits to Tondo folk poverty greatest challenge

from The Inquirer

By Michael Lim Ubac

MANILA, Philippines -- Six years after taking over the reins of office, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo candidly admitted on Monday before the urban poor of Tondo in Manila that poverty remained the greatest challenge facing her administration.

“We can’t claim that we have progressed as a nation if we can’t uplift the lives of the poor and the hungry in our society,” President Arroyo said in Filipino.

Amid her plunging approval rating, the President conceded during an informal interaction with residents of Tondo’s Barangay 20, Isla Puting Bato, that her vision of First World status for the country would remain an elusive dream if a huge portion of the population continued to be mired in poverty.

“We must stand by our beliefs and faith. It is our long-term goal to belong with the developed nations in 20 years,” said Arroyo, reiterating the ambitious goal she set for the country in her State of the Nation Address in July.

To do this, the President again emphasized the need to have a strong middle-class, world-class infrastructure and stable government institutions.

The President’s visit came on the heels of a visit paid to Tondo residents by her predecessor, former president Joseph Estrada. Since Arroyo pardoned Estrada after his conviction for plunder, the latter has been making the rounds of poor communities in Metro Manila where he has been warmly received by local residents.

The President has registered an overall disapproval rating of 39 percent, the highest among the country’s top five officials, from July to October, according to the latest Pulse Asia survey.

The survey, which tracks presidential performance and trust ratings, noted that the President’s overall disapproval rating -- the level of public appreciation of her work -- did not change between July and October.

But her distrust rating increased significantly during the period, increasing by 9 percentage points to 46 percent, Pulse Asia said.

To parry the criticisms that her administration had not made a dent on the poverty incidence, the President argued that the poverty rate had actually gone down after her administration succeeded in producing a million jobs every year since 2001.

“However, we must vigorously talk about the eradication of poverty,” she said before the Tondo residents, many of whom, particularly those residing around the former Smokey Mountain dump, had come to symbolize the poorest of the poor in the country.

She said her administration continued to face the daunting challenge of fulfilling its promise to break the cycle of poverty -- the overarching goal contained in her “Roadmap to Fiscal Strength to Fighting Poverty” and the Medium Term Development Plan.

The medium term plan is a detailed roadmap toward achieving the common goal of reducing poverty through jobs creation and enterprise, while the roadmap calls for balancing the budget, reducing debt and enhancing revenue generation.

The President had earlier said that the “basic goal” of the Medium Term Philippine Development Plan for the period 2004-2010 “is to fight poverty and build prosperity for the greatest number of the Filipino people.” With a report from Kate V. Pedroso, Inquirer Research

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