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Philippine President Claims Economic Gains, Announces Major Infrastructure Spending


Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, in her state of the nation address, claimed her government has enacted reforms that are leading to significant economic gains. The embattled leader also announced a massive spending plan focused on the provinces.

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo told the country's House of Representatives Monday that hard work on economic reforms was paying off, in modest economic gains and the creation of new jobs.

Mrs. Arroyo has survived allegations of election fraud, impeachment proceedings, and a thwarted plot to overthrow her government in recent months.

She tried to use this speech to move on.

"For those who want to pick up old fights, we're game," she said. " But what a waste of time. Why not join hands instead?"

Mrs. Arroyo outlined plans for infrastructure projects, healthcare and education reforms - especially for the country's provinces, where much of her political support lies.

Patricio Abinales, a political analyst at Kyoto University's Center of Southeast Asian Studies in Japan, called Arroyo's investment plans significant.

"The speech on infrastructure was actually interesting, because she was very detailed about it," he said. "It's basically saying to the local politicians - the mayors, the provincial governors and the members of the lower house of Congress from the different districts - saying, 'Well we have the money here… The money will flow directly to you.'"

Outside the Congress building in Manila, more than 10,000 protesters braved torrential rains to call for Mrs. Arroyo's removal from office.

Renato Reyes, secretary-general of the opposition group Bayan, was among protesters who burned an effigy of Mrs. Arroyo. He thought little of the speech.

"No substance, no meaning, and people won't believe it. She boasts of economic growth, but for us it's far from our stomachs...development is not felt in the countryside," he said.

The economy is on pace to grow by six percent this year, but economists say seven percent growth is needed to tackle the country's 40 percent rate of poverty. Arroyo's term in office is set to end in 2010.

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