Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was criticised yesterday for sacking her economic planning secretary, Dante Canlas, and replacing him with Romulo Neri, a critic of the government's economic policy. Economic experts and business leaders were puzzled by Ms Arroyo's dismissal of a competent cabinet minister. Solita Monsod, who was economic planning secretary under former president Corazon Aquino, said: 'She [Mrs Arroyo] must be punch drunk or desperate. I'm absolutely depressed. It's a wrong move, a wrong signal and everybody knows it. Why are you going to remove somebody who's done a good job?' Professor Monsod noted that under Mr Canlas' watch, gross domestic product was expected to grow 5 per cent this year. She said this year's budget deficit of about 5.1 per cent would be in the same range as Malaysia and Hong Kong's deficit last year. She accused the president of a 'copycat sacking a la George Bush' following the departures of US treasury secretary Paul O'Neill and economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey. Professor Monsod accused the administration of pushing 'junk food economics' over Mr Canlas' 'basic nutrition economics'. Sources said Mr Neri had dazzled Mrs Arroyo with his '747 formula' to bring about a 7 per cent growth in the economy in seven years. Mr Neri is a business management professor at the Asian Institute of Management and head of the congressional committee on the budget. Mr Neri could not be contacted yesterday. He said recently that to resolve poverty, the gross domestic product or goods and services produced domestically, had to grow by seven per cent in about 10 years. Critics said the change was mainly to shore up the president's popularity which fell to 45 per cent in November from 54 per cent in July over the issue of poverty. Mr Canlas said Mrs Arroyo, his former student in economics, asked him to resign 'because of perceptions of an economic crisis that needed to be dispelled'. Mrs Arroyo said it was part of her move to change some economic policies. Miguel Varela, of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce, feared the move could disrupt programme implementation. Donald Dee, the chairman of the Employers Confederation, said Mr Canlas had done all he could to improve the economy. He suggested that Mrs Arroyo was not looking at his performance but at his capacity to sell his policies.