Monday, July 27, 2009

Philippine leader lashes out at critics during state of the nation address

Anti-Arroyo protesters hold a rally Monday, July 27, 2009 during President Gloria Arroyo’s State of the Nation Address. (AKP Images / Buck Photo)

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / July 27, 2009) – President Gloria Arroyo lashed out at her critics Monday as she delivered her last state of the nation address before a cheering crowd of allied lawmakers in Manila.

“I am accused of mis-governance. Many of those who accuse me of it left me the problem of their mis-governance to solve. And we did it. I am falsely accused, without proof, of using my office for personal profit. Many of those who accuse me of it have lifestyles and spending habits that make them walking proofs of that crime.”
”We can read their frustrations. They had the chance to serve this good country and they blew it by serving themselves. Those who live in glass houses should cast no stones. Those who should be in jail should not threaten it, especially if they have been there,” Arroyo said, referring to the opposition politicians led by ousted President Joseph Estrada.

Arroyo, who took over Estrada during a military-led revolution in 2001, boasted of her accomplishments, among them the country’s economy.

“Our administration, with the highest average rate of growth, recording multiple increases in investments, with the largest job creation in history, and which gets a credit upgrade at the height of a world recession, must be doing something right, even if some of those cocooned in corporate privilege refuse to recognize it,” she said.

She said in 2008 up to the first quarter of 2009, the Philippines stood among only a few economies in Asia-Pacific that did not shrink. “Compare this in 2001, when some of my current critics were driven out by people power, Asia was then surging but our country was on the brink of bankruptcy,” she said, adding the economy has posted uninterrupted growth for 33 quarters; more than doubled its size from $76 billion to $186 billion.

Arroyo said the average Gross Domestic Product growth from 2001 to the first quarter of 2009 is the highest in 43 years.

GDP is commonly used as an indicator of the economic health of a country, as well as to gauge a country's standard of living.

“Today the Philippines is weathering well the storm that is raging around the world. It is growing stronger with the challenge. When the weather clears, as it will, there is no telling how much farther forward it can go. Believe in it. I believe,” Arroyo further said.

She also mentioned about the government peace process in Mindanao and the prospects of resuming peace negotiations with the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the communist New People’s Army rebels.

“There is now a good prospect for peace talks both with both the Communist Party of the Philippines and the MILF, with whom we are now on ceasefire. We inherited an age-old conflict in Mindanao, exacerbated by a politically popular but near-sighted policy of massive retaliation. This only provoked the other side to continue the war.”

“There is nothing more that I would wish for than peace in Mindanao. It will be a blessing for all its people, Muslim, Christian and lumads (indigenous peoples). It will show other religiously divided communities that there can be common ground on which to live together in peace, harmony and cooperation that respects each other’s religious beliefs,” Arroyo said.

Arroyo also praised Saudi Arabia and King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud for granting clemency to hundreds of Filipino prisoners. And so were Sheikh Khalifa, the Prime Minister of Bahrain; and the Emir al-Sabah of Kuwait who commuted death the sentences of many Filipinos.

“We thank all the world leaders who have shown compassion to our OFWs (overseas Filipino workers),” she said.

She also said she would step down when her term ends in 2010. Arroyo was applauded by lawmakers.

But militant groups and indigenous people’s organizations also held simultaneous rallies and protest in Manila and some areas in Mindanao. They accused Arroyo of corruption and failing to uplift the living standards of the poor.

“We have heard Arroyo before make the SONA, and we have not heard her tell the truth about the situation of the Indigenous Peoples,” said Peter Duyapat, an Ifugao leader.

The protesters also held their own state of the indigenous peoples address in Manila.

“Under her administration, our lives have become harsher, as she has allowed foreign mining companies come and take our lands,” said Duyapat, who is opposing mining operations of the Oceania Gold, an Australian mining corporation in Nueva Vizcaya province.

“For the indigenous peoples, Arroyo leaves behind continued discrimination, rising human rights violations and legitimized land grabbing in the name of illusory development. This is her real legacy,” said Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center, a legal and policy advocacy institution, closely working with the indigenous peoples.

In Mindanao, anti-Arroyo protesters led by the group called People’s Movement against Charter Change also held street rallies. Street rallies were also held in Zamboanga and Davao cities.

“No amount of rhetoric can mask what is truly happening in the country. Arroyo can go on and lie about accomplishments but the people are wise enough to know that the contrary is true,” said Michael Dumamba, spokesman for the Liga ng Kabataang Moro and a convener of the People’s Movement against Charter Change in Cotabato City.
Dumamba said Arroyo’s involvement in corruption charges and countless human rights violations best sum up her 9 years of presidency, adding that the people will always be appalled by her deceits and lust for power.

“It is a grave human rights violation yet we see no sign that the government will finally be heeding their plight,” he said. (Mindanao Examiner)

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