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GMA, governors pledge unity

Attending three multi-sectoral fora in a day would surely saps one's stamina - but not President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who, all buoyed up by the warm reception extended by Bicolanos, not only attended the three fora held in Polangui, Albay; Iriga City; and Legazpi City, but also visited two other places when she visited Albay last November 5.
President Arroyo was here for the launching of the "Kalsada Natin, Aalagaan Natin!" project that would
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provide employment to residents of barangays traversed by the national highway, through maintenance work on the roadsides. The program was launched early in October in Pangasinan under Phase I, covering the national highway stretch from Urdaneta down to Unisan in Quezon province, while the launching in Legazpi City of Kalsada Natin Phase II covers the stretch from Unisan town down to Matnog in Sorsogon, covering the Daang Maharlika portion from Camarines Norte to Sorsogon.

Upon her midmorning arrival at the airport here, the president, together with Albay Governor Al Francis Bichara and Congresswoman Krisel Lagman-Luistro (Albay 1st District), proceeded to Tabaco City for an ocular of the damage on the Antonio Berces Memorial Market that was gutted by fire early morning of November 3. President Arroyo vowed to provide assistance for the reconstruction of the market which would cost the local government some P170 million. The National Disaster Coordinating Council has provided P5 million assistance for emergency operations that would include preparations for a temporary relocation of the market vendors to ply their trade.

From Tabaco City, Arroyo flew by helicopter to Libon town, particularly Barangay Pantao, for an ocular of the on-going works at the regional port project. Warmly met by barangay residents, the President assured that she will work for the completion of the port project that would serve as Bicol's gateway on the western seaboard of the region for the easy navigable route not only towards Metro Manila but primarily to the Visayas and Mindanao regions. It will be recalled that the President visited Barangay Pantao in October last year for the Pantao Summit initiated by albay 3rd District Representative Jose Ma. Salceda to fasttrack the development of Pantao Port, that would require some P350,000 funding support.

This year, the PPA has released P82.7 million for excavation, construction and reclamation works, including fendering/mooring system at the port, following the initial P50 million fund released for 2002. From Pantao, Arroyo proceeded to Polangui, Albay where she was met by an overflow crowd at the Salceda Sports Complex where the multi-sectoral assembly was to be held. The assembly witnessed the show of force of all the six provincial governors in Bicol - Al Francis Bichara of Albay, Jesus Typoco of Camarines Norte, Luis Villafuerte of Camarines Sur, Leandro Verceles Jr. of Catanduanes, Antonio Kho of Masbate, Raul Lee of Sorsogon - who forged a unity pact with Arroyo to work for the upliftment of the Bicol region. At the assembly, the President also distributed 55 emancipation patents/Certificates of Land Ownership Awards that benefited 98 farmer-beneficiaries of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program in the towns of Pio Duran, Libon and Polangui.

After the luncheon and press conference at the residence of Congressman Salceda, the President motored to Iriga City for the multi-sectoral assembly at the University of Northeastern Philippines grounds, initiated by Camarines Sur 4th District Representative Felix Alfelor Jr. and Iriga City Mayor Emmanuel Alfelor. The President bared to the participants that a big project - the Bicol River Basin and Water Management Project would benefit 31 municipalities in Camarines Sur and Albay, in terms of flood protection measures that would maximize rice production and minimize flooding impact. The present administration has assisted in securing funding assistance of US$30 million from the World Bank. Arroyo's next stop, after the Iriga multi-sectoral assembly, was the multi-sectoral assembly and launching of the Kalsada Project at the Albay Astrodome in Legazpi City, where an overflow of participants and well-wishers awaited the President.

The President said that her administration is earnest in the delivery of programs and projects that would lift the Bicol region from its dire status as the second poorest region in the country, next to the ARMM. She said that the government has poured in some P14 billion for big infrastructure and support projects in Bicol. "Said amount is only partial, covering rehabilitation works on the geothermal power project in Tiwi and Bacon-Manito, rehab of the PNR south line and projects under the agricultural modernization program."

The President said that the Kalsada Project would boost employment in the barangays traversed by the national highway, aside from ensuring protected and well-maintained roadsides for the safety of motorists. "For every kilometer of the national highway, four barangay residents will be hired for the maintenance works on the roadside. The hiring of workers will be on rotational basis to accommodate as many and give chance to the unemployed in the barangays." Arroyo also distributed housing goodies to beneficiaries in Albay, which included 157 Certificates of Entitlement to Lot Allocations (CELA) for beneficiaries in Barangay Bagumbayan in Daraga, Albay together with the initial 500 CELAs for beneficiaries of Procalamation 40 issued by the President earlier this year for the disposition of PNR non-core properties to informal occupants in Albay, covering the municipalities of Daraga, Sto. Domingo, Malilipot, and the cities of Tabaco and Legazpi.

The President also distributed checks, which include the following: P236,000 from the Department of Agriculture for the Fishcage Project in Barangay Banquerohan, Legazpi City; P100,000 from the DSWD for the Barangay Buhatan Water System in Sto. Domingo, Albay; a total of P200,000 for four recipients of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration Livelihood Development Program and another P120,000 for a beneficiary of the OWWA insurance program.

The Albay provincial government is the recipient of a check amounting to P135,000 for procurement of a multicab service vehicle for use in the research and development activities in the province, while the municipalities of Bacacay, Malinao, and Malilipot in Albay, and Pilar and Irosin in Sorsogon were each the recipient of 5 sets of nebulizer. The City of Legazpi and the towns of Virac and Pandan in Catanduanes were the recipients of 3 boxes of assorted medicines each.