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Arroyo blasts Aquino: Nobody home

/ 01:29 AM June 25, 2011

Warning of “danger signs” that the economic gains from the reforms instituted during her term might not be sustained under the present administration, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Friday blasted away at President Benigno Aquino III for his “nobody home” leadership in his first year in office.

In her first major press conference since leaving office, Arroyo, who is now a Pampanga representative, said Mr. Aquino should be building on the successes of past administrations.

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“The gains I made were built on the efforts of previous leaders because every administration should build on previous successes,” she told a press briefing Friday.

Malacañang promptly came back with a riposte saying that Arroyo was “upset that the time of her being above the rules and beyond accountability is finally over.”

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“We regret that instead of focusing on her constituents’ needs at this time, she [Arroyo] is instead trying to hog the headlines in a gambit to distract attention from her past deeds,” said deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte in a statement.

Mr. Aquino, who ran for president on an anti-Arroyo platform, has been single-minded in his drive to bring his successor, her family and her allies to justice for alleged corruption.

Valte said she had no idea what Arroyo’s basis was for saying there were danger signs in the economy.

“Whatever economic policies that we have in place, they are clearly working,” as seen from the ratings upgrade from the Moody’s and Fitch rating agencies, the monthly budget surplus and the manageable budget deficit, she claimed in a phone interview.

Aquino’s shortcomings

Arroyo warned that “there may be danger lurking ahead for our economy” because of the kind of leadership displayed by her successor, which she said one columnist has characterized as “nobody home.”

“These shortcomings were seen during the hostage-taking at the Luneta and several other crises that followed,” she said.

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Arroyo claimed the economy had grown in the first year of the Aquino administration only because of the unpopular reforms that she instituted, particularly the new taxes she imposed.

“I left an economy that no longer had boom and busts. I was focused on sustainability and I started with reforms in fiscal sustainability. I had to raise taxes even if it made me unpopular and it doomed me to unpopularity for the rest of my term. But I had to do that because we needed funds for health, job creation and infrastructure,” she said.

“So today, a year later, the economy is still benefiting from sustainable growth but this does not mean that there are no danger signs,” she said.

Danger signs

She proceeded to list down these danger signs—the inflation rate, self-rated poverty, the percentage of people going hungry, the country’s score in the corruption index had all risen and foreign investments are only half what they were a year ago.

“These are the danger signs. I left an economy with sustainable growth but in the long run, that can become the problem. Because if government spending goes down and the PPP (public-private partnership program) does not come to replace it in good time, that will contribute to the deceleration of the economy,” said Arroyo.

The PPP, unveiled last November, is the Aquino administration’s landmark policy initiative, designed to enlist private-sector and foreign-investor participation in an ambitious infrastructure-building program to put in place a “world-class” infrastructure system for the country. At stake are 10 rail, road and airport projects worth a combined $3.4 billion. Not a single PPP project has been approved by the new administration.

In the past week, Mr. Aquino has canceled $2 billion worth of foreign-funded infrastructure projects, deeming them overpriced and technically deficient. The other day, he said the government had saved P7 billion from 19 public works projects started in the previous administration that had been canceled.

Arroyo said Mr. Aquino has to take decisive action soon. “There is a need to decide what programs should be continued and what should be dropped but work has to be done,” said the former President who wore jeans and rain boots to the press conference that was held at a farm resort in her Lubao, Pampanga hometown.

Ploy to deflect attention

Referring to moves by Mr. Aquino to prosecute her for the corruption scandals that marred her administration, Arroyo said: “I’ve said before, these allegations are unfounded and what I can say is that we have a Constitution, we have laws that have to be followed, and there are courts to enforce them.”

Valte said the former President’s news conference was “a ploy to deflect attention from her refusing to submit to proper procedures for ascertaining accountability.”

She may have been referring to Arroyo’s failure to show up at justice department hearings on a plunder case that lawyer Francisco Chavez filed against her for allegedly illegally diverting P550 million of Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration funds to the Philippine Health Insurance  scheme.

“Despite her glaring absence from proceedings inquiring into her culpability and accountability as President, she has found time to try to obtain media mileage at a time that calls for the attention of media, the public and the government on the current weather disturbance,” the Valte statement said. With a report from Norman Bordadora

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, Economy, Fiscal Sustainability, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Government, Politics
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