MALACANANG,  October 11, 2004
Malacañang today said the three-day working visit of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to Hanoi for the 5th Asia-Europe Meeting has strengthened the Philippines’ friendly relations with its ASEM partners.

In a radio interview this morning, Press Secretary and Presidential Spokesman Ignacio R. Bunye said that the President took advantage of her Hanoi trip to meet with leaders of ASEM and discuss various issues of mutual interest to their respective countries.

He said that during President’s meeting with her Vietnamese counterpart, President Tran Duc Luong, the two leaders discussed wide-ranging issues, including trade between their countries.

The Philippines is the 20th largest investor in Vietnam, with food and beverage giant San Miguel Beer and fast food leader Jollibee among the top Filipino business companies operating in that Southeast Asian country.

Other Filipino-owned business firms in Vietnam are engaged in such fields as optometry, pharmaceuticals and automotives as well as basic services.

Professional companies, among them Palafox & Associates, an architectural firm, are also doing good business in Vietnam.

"Nagpahayag ng satisfaction ang ating Pangulo at ang Pangulo ng Vietnam dito sa magandang relasyon at lumalaking investments ng magkaibang panig sa isa’t isa (President Macapagal-Arroyo and the Vietnam President Tran Duc Luong both expressed satisfaction with the good relations and the increasing trade and investments between the two countries)," Bunye said.

Bunye said that the President, the lone woman head of state at the ASEM forum, participated actively in all the discussions and "she was appropriately recognized in all the different sessions."

During the opening ceremonies, the President was positioned between President Jacques Chirac of France and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Bunye said, adding that during the banquet, the President was seated between Vietnamese President Tran Duc Luong and Prime Minister Phan Van Khai.

"Ibig sabihin, talagang binigyan ng special honor ang ating Pangulo doon sa kaniyang pagdalo dito sa ASEM. At ang ating Pangulo, ay nagging active doon sa lahat ng mga sessions ng ASEM (this means that they truly gave special honors to the President and her attendance at the ASEM and the President was very active in all the sessions)," Bunye said.

Bunye noted the importance of institutionalizing the discussions of ASEM after ten years of existence as well as coming up with a permanent Secretariat, which the Philippines can initially host.

He also noted the proposal to push for an ASEM Bloc on the Dialogue of Culture and Civilization in the United Nations.

The objective of this, Bunye explained, is to gather different religions and discuss the present situation such as terrorism without the religious color.

"Hindi dapat gamitin ang relihiyon para maging basehan ng mga terrorist nets at malaking bagay iyan kung itong Dialogue of Culture and Civilization ay maidadaos, under the United Nations (religion must not be used as bases of terrorist nets and it would be very significant if the Dialogue of Culture and Civilization will be undertaken through the office of United Nations)," Bunye said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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