Philippine Leader Vows Reforms, Crackdown On Kidnappers

Published August 24th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo vowed Friday to pursue market-opening reforms and crackdown on kidnappings to restore investors' confidence in her country. 

In a public lecture shortly after her arrival here for a three-day state visit, Arroyo assured her audience that her eight-month-old government was taking measures to protect investors and improve the business climate. 

She said her administration was moving to liberalize closed sectors of the economy such as power, transportation and telecommunications in order to improve efficiency and raise the level of competitiveness. 

"We intend to bring down the cost of domestic and international transportation and raise the standards of competition and quality," she said in the speech to more than 1,000 corporate executives, diplomats and academics. 

"Similarly, we will keep opening the telecommunications sector to competition to raise the quality of service, increase the rate of connection and lower costs," she said. 

She announced the signing of an agreement between Manila and Singapore to raise the number of seats for airlines between them from 6,500 to 8,700 in a bid to raise tourism and business travel. 

The president also said the Philippines was trying to find niche markets, acknowledging that the country cannot compete with China in the production of low-value exports. 

But while carrying out market-opening measures, Arroyo also assured investors that they are safe in the country, whose image has been battered by a spate of kidnappings for ransom. 

She said that "the most important" was to rid the country of crime and corruption. 

"We are therefore doing everything that is necessary to stamp out serious crime in our country," she said, mentioning kidnapping, drug dealing and "general lawlessness" which she said prospered during the two-year rule of her deposed predecessor, Joseph Estrda. 

Rebels of the Muslim Abu Sayyaf group still hold hostage several people, including two Americans in the southern island of Basilan. 

The Philippines' second woman president said she has reorganized the national police force, some of whose members are believed to be involved in kidnap gangs and other crime, and formed a national anti-crime commission. 

Arroyo jetted into the city-state from neighboring Brunei, where she held talks with Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah on reviving a special economic zone in areas along their maritime borders along with Indonesia and Malaysia. 

Arroyo, who came to power in January following a military-backed popular uprising that toppled Estrada amid a corruption scandal, pledged Manila's support for the multilateral trade process but stressed that a new round of trade talks must be fair to developing nations. 

"We must not just follow globalization without qualifications or reservations," she said. 

She said Manila was "resolutely against any attempt to chip away at our comparative advantage" through the imposition of arbitrary labor and environment standards, protectionist anti-dumping measures and unfair farm subsidies. 

The Philippines has been off investors' radar screens because of law and order problems, highlighted by the spate of kidnappings. 

A wrenching impeachment trial, which led to the bloodless uprising that toppled Estrada, a former movie actor seen as lacking the skills for the presidency, also kept investors on the sidelines. 

But officials and analysts said the accession to power of Arroyo, a US-trained economist and daughter of a former Philippine president, should bring back the much-needed political stability and expertise needed by the country -- SINGAPORE (AFP) 

© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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