Filipino President plans reforms, Bishops pleased but cautious

.- In her state of the nation address, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo committed to fighting poverty and hunger and to generating foreign investments — a plan that pleases some of the country’s Catholic bishops.

"It is my wish that the Philippines be among the ranks of developed nations in 20 years," Arroyo said in her July 23 address. "By then, poverty shall have been marginalized and the (former) marginalized raised to a robust middle class." Her term ends in 2010.

Just hours before Arroyo’s speech, Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez of Marbel told UCA News that the government must urgently address the problem of hunger in the country.

Bishop Gutierrez, chairman of the bishops' social justice and peace commission, said Arroyo's administration "has done something" to address poverty, such as government-funded stores in communities that sell basic goods and rice to people without profit. However, government programs must aspire to develop more permanent food security, the bishop insisted.

In 2000, the National Statistics Office estimated that 40 percent of the country's 76 million people were poor. In June, a survey estimated that 2.6 million Philippine households were experiencing hunger.

Bishop Gutierrez said Congress also must prevent the entry of foreign mining corporations, create laws to stop extrajudicial killings and reform the electoral process.

The bishops have been calling for the repeal of the 1995 Mining Act. Furthermore, the human rights group Karapatan says 885 people have been killed and 183 abducted since Arroyo became president in 2001.

Many alleged victims belonged to leftist groups that accuse the state of resorting to killings and abductions to silence critics and suspected sympathizers of the Communist Party. About 5,000 members of leftist groups rallied with human rights advocates, including priests and other religious, outside the House of Representatives as Arroyo was delivering her address.

Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon echoed the Church's concern about the killings and poverty in a July 24 statement, issued by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines.

Bishop Bastes, who led the mining investigation commission on the 2006 Lafayette Mine spill in his diocese, said he is glad Arroyo "did not mention mining activities, which is a very destructive way of earning money."

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