BUSH MEETS GMA IN MALACANANG, ADDRESS CONGRESS JOINT SESSION TODAY

[PHOTO AT LEFT: IN TOKYO (Reuters) — US President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush wave welcomers on their arrival at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to start a six-nation sweep through Asia that will be dominated by issues of security, counter-terrorism, and trade. His next step will be the Philippines today.]

MANILA, OCTOBER 18, 2003  (BULLETIN) By Genalyn D. Kabiling - United States President George W. Bush arrives today for short state visit to strengthen America's ties with the Philippines, its staunch ally in the Southeast Asia flank of the global war against terrorism.

President Bush and his wife Laura are scheduled to arrive aboard Air Force One at 12:30 p.m. today at Villamor Air Base, Pasay City.

The Philippines is the second stop of Bush on a six-nation Asian tour aimed at mustering support for the US-led campaign against terror.

Among the highlights of his eight-hour visit here are security and economic discussions with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo at the Malacañang.

The leader of the free world will address a special joint session of the Philippine Congress in Batasan Hills, Quezon City.

Welcoming the American leader at the airport are Vice President Teofisto Guingona, Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople, Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Nestor Santillan, and Ambassador Jose Zaide, chief of protocol.

Bush and his convoy will immediately motor to the Rizal Park for a wreath-laying ceremony. The event could be cancelled if weather conditions turn bad, officials said.

Storm "Tisoy" is threatening the Bicol region, bringing rains in parts of western Luzon including Metro Manila.

Should heavy rains fall, the pomp arrival ceremony for Bush and his delegation could also be shelved. Bush will proceed instead to the main building of Malacañang where he will sign the presidential guest book.

President Arroyo and First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo will formally welcome Bush and his wife at Malacañang where they will be accorded full military honors.

Malacañang wants to give Bush the same rare red-carpet treatment given to Ms Macapagal when she visited the White House in May.

High on the agenda of the closed-door 15-minute meeting between the two leaders are security and economic cooperation.

Malacañang said Mrs. Arroyo is expected to seek greater access for Philippine goods to the US market as well as raise the plight of the Filipino war veterans during her bilateral meeting with Bush.

A number of Cabinet members from the Philippines and United States will then accompany the two leaders in an expanded bilateral meeting at the Palace State Dining Room.

At that same time, US First Lady Laura Bush, escorted by First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, will join over 300 Filipino school children at the nearby Kalayaan Hall for story-telling and cultural song and dance presentations.

After the bilateral discussions, Presidents Arroyo and Bush will give separate statements but would not entertain questions from the media.

At 3 p.m., President Bush will proceed to the Batasan Session Hall in Quezon City to address the joint session of Congress.

A festive barrio fiesta cocktail awaits Bush and his delegation at the Malacañang gardens at 6 p.m.

Shortly after, President Arroyo will host a state dinner for her American counterpart at the Palace.

Less than 300 guests from the Philippine and United States sides are invited to the dinner. Aside from a handful of cabinet members, the Philippine delegation will include members of the private sector including business community.

International renowned singer Lea Salonga, the acclaimed cultural group Pangkat Kawayan, and the Philharmonic Strings will serenade the American president and the guests.

After the state dinner, Bush will fly out to Thailand to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) summit. Mrs. Arroyo will also participate in the leader's meeting in Bangkok.

The visit of Bush is seen as a reciprocal move to thank President Arroyo for her all-out support in the US-led campaign against terror and in the coalition force against Iraq.

During her state visit in Washington, Mrs. Arroyo has been rewarded as a major US non-NATO ally, that gives the Philippines priority access to American defense articles.

The designation places the Philippines in equal footing with Japan, Australia, Israel, Egypt, South Korea and Argentina.

The US government has pledged a minimum of $356 million in security assistance to the Philippines, including funds earmarked for further military training exercises this year.

Last Wednesday, Washington has asked the US Congress to allocate over $10 million for law enforcement assistance to the Philippines.

Millions of development aid has also been allocated for the strife-torn Mindanao to alleviate poverty and help convince Muslim separatists to sign a peace pact with Manila.

President Arroyo yesterday assured the safety of Bush and his delegation during their short stay in the Philippines.

"Security preparations for the visit are very tight and there should be no cause of undue alarm," she said in a statement following travel warnings by western nations that terrorists may stage attacks related to the visit of Bush.

Ms Macapagal admitted that the negative travel advisories issued by some countries have "dampened" the spirit of the Bush visit in Manila. "Nevertheless, we hope that these are just transient manifestations of anxiety that will pass," she said.

Although there is no specific threat, Task Force Libra chief Brig. Gen. Efren Abu said the team will not take chances, especially with anti-government elements who plan to embarrass the Arroyo government in front of Bush.

Task Force Bush in coordination with the US Secret Service will provide close-in security for Bush and his party for the duration of the trip.

The elite task force is composed of 1,300 close-in PSG members, 3,000 members of Task Force Libra, and 11,000 PNP personnel. The Philippine Air Force, Philippine Army and the Coast Guard will augment the forces assigned to secure Bush.

In a related development, Filipinos will be able to monitor the entire state visit of Bush through the website of the Office of the Press Secretary (www.ops.gov.ph).

New partnership

The Philippines and the United States are expected to strengthen their cooperation for peace and development when US President George W. Bush visits Manila today to meet with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, members of Cabinet, and the Philippine Congress.

The state visit of US President Bush is aimed at "A New Partnership for Peace and Development," and is expected to follow-up cooperation programs agreed upon by the Philippines and the US during President Arroyo's visit to the US in May.

Ambassador Victoriano Lecaros, spokesman for the Bush Visit, said the meeting between President Arroyo and US President Bush will focus on peace and development, like fighting terrorism, increasing trade and investments, and eradicating poverty.

"We have mutual interests even if our capabilities are assymetrical," Lecaros said in an interview yesterday.

Lecaros expressed confidence in the success of the US president's visit, saying that the visit is "indicative of the higher profile that the Philippines is gaining" in the international community.

The two presidents are expected to discuss cooperation for peace and development in Mindanao, facilitating the peace process between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and implementing social and economic projects.

In trade, the two countries are looking at increasing trade volume - now amouinting to $13.97 billion annually in favor of the Philippines.

The United States is the top trading partner of the Philippines, the leading market for exports, and second leading import source. It is also the second leading direct foreign investor in the country with $3.3 billion or 22% of the total foreign direct investments (FDI) in the country, only slightly behind Japan's $3.5 billion FDI., (David Cagahastian)


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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