MANILA, January 27, 2004
(STAR) By Marichu Villanueva - President Arroyo assured the public yesterday that the bird flu virus has not entered the Philippines even as she ordered a strict quarantine to keep the disease out of the country.

The Philippines buys poultry products only from Canada, Europe and the United States. Last week, the government banned the import of live birds and other poultry-related products from Cambodia, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan and Vietnam.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) is set to impose the ban on similar products from Indonesia in the wake of the bird flu scare. Indonesia’s poultry farms have also been reported to be affected by Newcastle disease, a viral disease affecting all species of birds. It is not fatal to humans, but so virulent that many birds die without showing any clinical signs. "We need to keep a tight rein and a watchful eye on inbound poultry products for as long as the bird flu threat lasts," the President said in a statement.

"Our vigilance mechanisms have been honed by the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) threat and the concerned agencies have teamed up in implementing precautions against the entry of infected poultry into the country’s markets," she said, referring to the SARS epidemic last year. "Zero incidence is our objective and everybody must work on it." The President sought to allay the public’s fears over the possible spread of bird flu in the country after 19 refrigerated vans of dressed chicken were released under suspicious circumstances from the Batangas port last Friday.

Authorities are still verifying whether the shipment actually came from the United States and Canada, and just passed through Taiwan, as shown by documents. The President ordered agriculture and customs officials "to track down illegally smuggled chicken while the health department checks the safety of the products" sold at local markets. Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said that the Department of Health (DOH) has not reported any case of bird flu in the country even after five of the 11 refrigerated vans found so far were empty.

He said the DOH has safety precautions in place to keep the disease from entering the country. "I think our experience in fighting SARS will help a lot in averting the threat of bird flu in our country," Bunye added. He did not mention what other actions the government will take against those who imported the 19 container vans of dressed chicken, aside from filing charges of smuggling against them. — With Rocel Felix, Sheila Crisostomo, Rainier Allan Ronda, AFP, AP

Palace function room named after Cory The Philippine Star 01/27/2004

Now, visitors who are honored with a stay in the Premier Guest House of Malacañang will see the President Corazon Aquino Room, named after the former president by President Arroyo.

The President feted Aquino, who turned 71 Sunday, and named function rooms on the guest house’s second floor after the woman who restored democracy in the Philippines after the 1986 EDSA revolt. These rooms were where Aquino held office during her term from 1986 to 1992.

Aquino was catapulted to power when the EDSA revolution ousted her nemesis and predecessor, strongman Ferdinand Marcos, who held office and lived in Malacañang Palace during his 20-year rule. When she assumed power, Aquino did not stay at the Palace, but instead used the Arlegui residence across Malacañang administration building, as her official residence.

"I chose this office because I know I will just be a temporary guest here," Aquino told the President.

During the truncated stint of deposed President Joseph Estrada, the Premier Guest House served as Estrada’s guest house and office. — Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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