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Arroyo Plans to Wipe Out Poverty in Philippines - 2002-07-22

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo says her government has set a target to wipe out poverty within the next decade and to end rampant corruption. The president outlined her vision before a new congress Monday, amid loud public protests over her handling of the economy and domestic security.

In her second state of the nation address since taking office 18 months ago, President Gloria Arroyo emphasized the need for creating and improving job opportunities in the impoverished country of 81 million.

She says the government is now fighting a war on multiple fronts, against poverty, corruption, and criminal gangs. The Philippine leader says her government is determined to break the back of what she calls the cycle of terrorism and criminality. "Criminal syndicates will be treated as what they are, direct threats to the national security," she said. "They will feel the full brunt of the arsenal of democracy. Indeed, we are at war and we are determined to win decisive victories on all fronts."

Ms. Arroyo, who swept into power following a military-backed popular uprising against then-President Joseph Estrada, has had her share of criticism in recent months.

She has been battling growing perceptions at home that little is being done to tackle the perennial problems of corruption, cronyism, and crime.

Her support for a six-month, joint military exercise with U.S. troops in the southern Philippines has also been controversial. The exercise, to help fight Muslim guerrillas linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network, is now winding down. But Ms. Arroyo promises there will be more joint training in the future to enhance the Philippine military.

Critics argue the presence of U.S. troops undermines Philippine sovereignty. The country was a U.S. colony for more than 40 years, until 1946.

On Monday, many nationalists joined thousands of mostly left-wing protesters outside congress to demand Ms. Arroyo's resignation. Chanting "Gloria resign" and "U.S. puppet," stone-throwing demonstrators battled 500 policemen in riot gear, and they tried to march into the legislature building. Several people were reportedly injured.