MALACANANG, October 15, 2003  (STAR) By Marichu Villanueva  - President Arroyo is scheduled to fly to Malaysia today to attend the 10th Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) leaders’ summit, where she will formally seek the granting of "observer status" to the Philippines.

Mrs. Arroyo, accompanied by a small delegation of government officials led by Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita, will leave this afternoon on board a chartered Philippine Airlines flight for Kuala Lumpur.

"This is the first time in Philippine history that a president of our country has been invited to attend the OIC summit," Ermita said.

Only three other heads of states of non-Islamic countries — Russia, South Africa and Ghana — were invited by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to attend the summit.

"We consider it an honor because the President is only one of four non-OIC members who have been invited to such a meet. I believe it’s a strong indication of the intent of at least on the part of (the Malaysian prime minister) to accede to giving ‘observer status’ to the Philippines during the OIC meeting," said Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye, who is part of the official delegation.

Mahathir’s invitation to Mrs. Arroyo came after the Philippine delegation attended the 30th OIC meeting in Iran last May and reported the government’s full compliance to the terms of the final peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which the OIC brokered in 1996.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople, Ermita, and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Parouk Hussin headed the delegation.

"Considering our good relations with Malaysia, we are very hopeful we will get observer status," Ermita said.

Thus far, the OIC has granted "observer status" to Bosnia Herzegovina, Central African Republic, Thailand and Cote d’ Ivoire.

Bunye believes that the President will not find herself in an awkward position at the summit despite reports that a resolution will be raised calling for the United States to commit to a specific timetable for the withdrawal of its forces from Iraq, a member of the OIC.

Mrs. Arroyo has been openly supportive of efforts made by US-led coalition forces conducting the post-war rehabilitation in Iraq.

"Our principal interest in OIC is the fact that the OIC could be factor in helping bring peace in Mindanao as soon as possible. I believe this is the overriding concern," Bunye said.

Ermita, for his part, said the President’s attendance in the two-day summit "will be a big boost to the ongoing peace process in Mindanao," coming at a time of the impending resumption of the government’s peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

GMA first RP President invited to OIC summit (from the Office of the Press Secretary)

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will be making history as the first Philippine head of state to be invited to attend a summit of the powerful Organization Islamic Conference (OIC) in its 34 year of existence.

Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo, the second woman president of the Philippines, will attend the 10th Session of the Islamic Summit Conference to be held in Kuala Lumpur on Oct. 15-16.

No other Philippine president in the past had been invited by the OIC to attend its annual summit. The President is scheduled to leave tomorrow for Kuala Lumpur.

"This is the first time in Philippine history that a President OF our country has been invited to attend the OIC summit," Defense Secretary Eduardo R. Ermita, the outgoing Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, said.

Ermita said it is a great honor for the President, in particular, and the Philippines, in general, to receive such an invitation coming from the influential OIC.

The defense chief said that the attendance of the President in the two-day summit will be a big boost to the ongoing peace process in Mindanao, particularly on the impending resumption of the peace talks between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Kuala Lumpur this month.

"Definitely, it will a big help," Ermita said.

Ermita will be among the few Cabinet officials to accompany the President to Malaysia during the two-day OIC summit.

The other Cabinet men are Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople and Gov. Parouk Hussin of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Ermita said the invitation extended by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, the host of the 10th Session of the Islamic Summit Conference, is in recognition of the Philippine government’s genuine efforts to solve the long-drawn Mindanao problem hounding the country for more than 30 years.

The Philippines has already submitted an application to become an observer of the OIC.

Ermita recalled that the OIC was "very supportive" to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) during the bloody guerilla war waged by the MNLF against the Philippine government in the early 1970s until 1996 when a peace accord was signed in Manila.

"But because of the efforts of President Macapagal-Arroyo and then President Ramos, the OIC has fully recognized the Philippine government’s efforts in resolving the Mindanao problem," Ermita said.

He said the Philippine government has religiously implemented the GRP-MNLF peace accord of 1996 and "the OIC has found it appropriate."

One of the provisions in the 1996 pact was the integration of former MNLF fighters to the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police (PNP).

Thousands of former MNLF rebels have been integrated into the AFP and now fighting side by side with government troops in the Southern Philippines.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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