NEW YORK (via PDLT), September 26, 2003  (STAR) By Marichu Villanueva - President Arroyo arrived here early Thursday to join other world leaders attending the 58th General Assembly of the United Nations.

Philippine Permanent Representative to the UN Lauro Baja said Mrs. Arroyo is expected to reaffirm the country’s commitment to the UN process in maintaining world peace.

Baja expressed optimism that the country’s chances of securing a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council (UNSC) would not be diminished by Mrs. Arroyo’s staunch support for the United States in its war on Iraq.

He said the Philippines has been "networking" with the five permanent UNSC members — the US, Britain, China, France and Russia — as well as the non-permanent members such as Mexico and Romania.

"We need at least 130 votes or two-thirds of the present 191 membership of the UN (to get the seat)," Baja said.

Baja expressed confidence that the country will clinch its latest bid for a seat in the UNSC, being the lone nominee for Asia with the full backing of its Asian neighbors.

"The Philippine election to the UN Security Council will elevate the status of the country in the international community," he said.

"We would like to have a meaningful participation in the UN Security Council in laying down policy decisions (on world security issues)," Baja added.

He said the Philippines had been a non-permanent member of the UNSC in the 1960s and in the 1970s.

If ever, the Philippines will serve for two years as a UNSC member along with four other non-permanent members – Brazil, Romania and two African countries. Voting is scheduled on Oct. 10 but Baja said this might be delayed because of other pending issues in the UN.

Baja said Mrs. Arroyo’s first official activity is a meeting with UN Secretary General Kofi Anan at the 38th floor of the UN headquarters here.

Mrs. Arroyo is expected to take up the Philippine contribution to UN peacekeeping and humanitarian missions in Iraq.

Following the meeting with Anan, Mrs. Arroyo would meet with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to discuss the government peace initiatives with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Malaysia has offered to facilitate the peace talks between the Philippine government and the MILF with the US providing rehabilitation assistance to Mindanao once a peace accord is signed.

The President is also scheduled to attend the UN meeting here of the foreign ministers and ambassadors of 15 members of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).

She will have a luncheon meeting Friday with the OIC foreign ministers at the West Terrace of the UN building.

The President’s appearance and 20-minute address before the UN body will be the highlight of her trip here. She will be the fourth speaker and her speech aired live in Manila on Friday (11 a.m. Saturday, Manila time).

Observer Status

Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople and newly appointed Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita also started the Philippine initiative to gain "observer" status with the OIC.

Both officials came with the Philippine delegation to meet with their counterparts in the OIC taking the opportunity to push the country’s bid for an observer status.

The Philippine diplomatic initiative in the OIC gained momentum as Ople and Ermita met at the sidelines of the UN meeting with Libyan Foreign Minister Abdulrahman Mohamed Shalgham and OIC Secretary General Dr. Abdelouahed Belkeziz.

"Both (OIC) officials continue to be supportive of our bid for observer status in the OIC. We hope that we will soon be admitted as an observer in the OIC," Ople told reporters after the meeting.

He said it was possible that the Philippine application for observer status would be included in the agenda of OIC leaders summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia next month.

Mrs. Arroyo earlier accepted an invitation by Malaysian leader Mahathir, as host of the OIC summit this year, to address the summit on Oct. 16.

"But as I understood it, there is a particular process that must be observed before this status is given to the Philippines but we’re more than willing to observe this procedure and wait for our turn," Ople said.

Aside from discussing the country’s bid, Ople said he and Ermita reiterated to the two OIC officials the Philippine government’s compliance with the 1996 peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

For his part, Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit informed the UN General Assembly about the efforts of the Philippine government in monitoring the prevalence of AIDS/HIV cases in the country’s millions of overseas workers.

‘Pro Bono’ Advisors

The President, for her part, also took the opportunity to schedule a meeting with her "pro bono" international board of advisors at her Carnegie Suite in the world famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel here.

Among those who are expected to attend the meeting with Mrs. Arroyo included Dr. Stephen Zuellig of the Zuellig Group; Maurice Greenberg (AIG); Marten Van Den Bergh (Lloyds TSB Group); Minori Makihara (Mitsubishi Corp.); Marce Fuller (Mirant Corp.) and Andrea Jung of Avon Products.

Top American executives who have investments in the Philippines which included Michael Drucker (Fedex); Richard Parsons (Time Warner); David Raisbeck (Cargill); Robert Trent Jones (Robert Trent Jones LLC) and Ernest Bower of the Business Council, were also invited to the meeting.

Top Filipino businessmen led by Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala of the Ayala Group were also invited.

Mrs. Arroyo has scheduled the meeting on Friday before flying to the Vatican.

The meeting would tackle the country’s rising unemployment problem and the sliding value of the peso against the US dollar. The President will also get the inputs of the economic experts in sustaining the growth of the country’s economy following the spate of political scandals that rocked her administration.

Mrs. Arroyo is also scheduled to meet selected American journalists and representatives from other US media entities that have published critical commentaries over her perceived "ambiguous statements" on her political plans in 2004, which they said caused political instability.

‘The Safest Area In The World’

As several heads of state are expected to attend the UN General Assembly here, including the leader of the world’s most powerful nation, New York City is now swarming with security personnel to make "the city that never sleeps" the safest area in the world.

Even the Philippine security team who arrived in advance for the UN participation of Mrs. Arroyo, got a glimpse on how tight the security is implemented to secure US President George W. Bush.

The entire areas surrounding Waldorf Astoria hotel, where Bush has stayed for the past two days for the UN General Assembly meeting, was sealed off to all traffic, man or manmade.

Mrs. Arroyo herself is also billeted at the same hotel for her two-day working visit.

Meanwhile, technicians of the Office of the Press Secretary (OPS) headed by Assistant Secretary Claro Fernandez were setting up their video phone patch equipment on the hotel rooftop, unaware that they were in the crosshairs of a sniper’s rifle.

The OPS technicians were busy setting up their gear for their satellite broadcasts when they were accosted by the US Secret Service who initially suspected them as "potential terrorists" for their "unexplained presence" in the area.

The angry Secret Service agents were later placated after Fernandez explained they had made proper arrangements with the hotel management to set up a satellite antenna.

Apparently, the Waldorf staff failed to inform the Secret Service.

Fernandez and the rest of the crew were later released after they presented their UN-issued ID cards allowing them access to barricaded areas.

Because of the traffic rerouting, one lane was reserved along 5th Avenue and other major thoroughfares for VIP vehicles.

With traffic at a standstill, a New Yorker remarked: "This is not rush hour. This is slow time!" 

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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