MANILA, December 12, 2003  (STAR) By Marichu Villanueva - President Arroyo flew yesterday to the Japanese capital of Tokyo to join her fellow heads of state attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-Japan Commemorative Summit.

The President said she is attending the summit to obtain more jobs and other economic fruits for Filipinos, while other players in the political arena are engaged in a "flurry of partisan activities in Manila" preparatory to the May 2004 elections.

Mrs. Arroyo said this in a pre-departure statement before she boarded a chartered Philippine Airlines (PAL) flight to Tokyo at the Kalayaan Lounge of Villamor Air Base in Pasay City.

Accompanied by a small Philippine delegation led by Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople, the President is staying overnight in Tokyo and will return at dawn on Saturday.

"The flurry of partisan activities in Manila shows how the campaign is heating up this early," the President said, adding that she is "not getting into the hype."

The President is seeking a full six-year term in the 2004 elections. She will again be out of the country on Sunday, when she flies to Hong Kong and Bahrain, and wonít be back until the Commission on Elections (Comelec) opens for the filing of candidacy on Monday.

The President again stressed the significance to the country of her trips abroad. According to her, these overseas trips will take her to three countries that host large communities of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), a number of whom have registered under the Absentee Voting Law that entitles them to cast their votes for next yearís polls from their host countries.

"The Christmas season is the best time to give accolades to our OFWs because it is a time when many of them are reunited with their families back home," the President added.

"We do recognize their sacrifices and the honor they are bringing our country and Japan is one place where we are building close people-to-people bonds, which has worked very well for our national interest," she said.

This is the Presidentís fifth visit to Japan since she assumed office in January 2001.

"We have always looked upon Japan as one of the major engines of growth in the Asia-Pacific, as well as for our country," Mrs. Arroyo said. "We are expected to sign a declaration for a more enduring partnership for the new millennium and this augurs well for Filipinos in the Philippines and Japan."

"All the leaders of ASEAN are here to reaffirm their commitment to fair and open trade and collective security, together with Japan, which is our number one source of official development assistance (ODA)," the President said.

The summit aims to strengthen the economic partnerships between Japan and the ten member-states of ASEAN.

On a bilateral basis, Mrs. Arroyo expressed hope that her scheduled meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on the sidelines of the Japan-ASEAN summit will improve the already warm and friendly ties between the Philippines and Japan.

"I shall ask Prime Minister Koizumi to help us open more jobs for our caregivers in Japan and I will meet our workers who are already there to thank them for bringing great pride (to) our country and for their solid contributions to our economy," the President said.

The two leaders agreed to begin negotiations for the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) in early 2004 "to deepen regional economic integration" of the two countries towards the common goal of sustainable growth. This accord seeks, among other things, to liberalize trade, investments and the exchange of services between the Philippines and Japan.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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