METRO MANILA, OCTOBER 21, 2003  (STAR) Congratulations to the Filipino people for a "fantastic" and "successful" fiesta that was the eight-hour state visit of US President George W. Bush last Saturday.

US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone aired this message during an interview with ANC cable television news last night.

Ricciardone said Philippine-US relations are "headed for greater things." He emphasized the need to further improve cooperation in bilateral trade and in combating domestic and international terrorism.

Bilateral trade spiraled downward following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the US and global recession.

President Bush "was moved by the whole event... and was amazed by the thousands of people waving flags" lining the streets where the presidential motorcade passed en route to the House of Representatives, Ricciardone said.

The ambassador admitted he had informed Bush that there were anti-US demonstrators also massing along the way, but Bush said he "wanted to wave at the protesters."

For her part, "First Lady Laura Bush enjoyed her time with the children," Ricciardone said.

Mrs. Bush, a former school librarian and teacher, read to 350 children a story about a tree while her husband and President Arroyo were holding bilateral talks at Malacañang.

In the same interview, Ricciardone corrected media spins by certain quarters that Bush had endorsed the presidential bid of Mrs. Arroyo.

"The central message is we support Philippine democracy. President Bush made that emphatically clear," the ambassador said.

"The President (Bush) was endorsing Philippine democracy," he said, adding that the US hopes that the next Philippine leader will want to continue the "mature, close ties" between the two countries.

Ricciardone said Bush saw a strong Philippine democracy and "you did show it to the world."

However, Ricciardone said "we do not hide our admiration for a leader" who had done so much.

Deflecting an interviewer’s description of the Philippine-US relations as one of "love and hate," the ambassador said he would rather characterize the ties as a "turbulent love affair, with a lot of passion and near divorce in the 1990s." The Senate voted in 1991 to shut down all US military bases, a move that chilled the ties between Manila and Washington.

Ricciardone labeled the present relations between the two countries as "give and take." He said, "we are both equals in terms of partnership."

The ambassador said the "mature" ties could not be measured in terms of dollars or be viewed as that of "client-patron."

"That was not healthy... and those days were gone," he said.

Last Saturday, Metro Manila was on maximum security alert as the US presidential delegation flew in for a whirlwind state visit that saw bilateral talks, President Bush’s addressing a joint session of Congress, and a state dinner with pomp, pageantry, and praises squeezed into eight hours.

The delegation flew in from Tokyo, Japan early Saturday afternoon and left for Bangkok, Thailand shortly before 9 p.m.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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