MANILA,  November 16, 2004
By Marvin Sy - The Philippines was unanimously elected to chair the anti-terrorism task force of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum for a two-year term beginning next year.

President Arroyo said the selection of the Philippines as head of the anti-terrorism task force "affirms the trust and confidence of the international community in our sincere efforts to fight terrorism."

"On behalf of the Filipino people, we accept this new responsibility with honor and profound appreciation for the recognition that it brings to our country," she said in a statement issued by Malacañang yesterday.

The Philippines was elected during the meeting of senior officials of APEC member economies in Santiago, Chile, in a run-up to the leaders’ summit there this weekend.

"This is a clear recognition of the leadership role of the Philippines in global efforts against terrorism," Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo said in a statement.

As head of the task force, the Philippines will "coordinate APEC’s work on securing trade in the Asia-Pacific region and its various projects on counterterrorism capacity-building," Romulo said.

"This honor and heavy responsibility is a fitting prelude to the President’s participation in this year’s APEC leaders’ meeting in Chile," he added.

The Philippines’ commitment to the US-led global war on terror was put into question following the President’s decision in July to cave in to Iraqi militants holding Filipino truck driver Angelo de la Cruz hostage.

The gunmen had threatened to kill De la Cruz unless the Philippines withdrew its 51-member humanitarian contingent from Iraq.

Mrs. Arroyo’s decision to send home the troops angered the United States and other allies, which warned that the pullout would embolden terrorists.

Manila has been trying to mend ties with Washington since then. Mrs. Arroyo was originally hailed as Washington’s staunchest ally in Asia in its war on terrorism as well as in its invasion of Iraq.

The US government, however, maintained that the Philippines remained a partner and friend in the fight against terrorism.

The Philippine government’s resolve is again being tested amid efforts to secure the release of diplomat Angelito Nayan, who is being held in Afghanistan, and accountant Robert Tarongoy who has been kidnapped in Iraq.

Mrs. Arroyo vowed her government will "lead this international task force with a firm commitment towards the global pursuit of peace and freedom with the help and support of all APEC economies."

"I share this diplomatic milestone with our own military and police personnel who continue to wage war against terror within our boundaries with single-minded political will."

Her spokesman, Ignacio Bunye, said Mrs. Arroyo will project the Philippines’ determination to meet its commitments to the US-led global war on terror at the four-day APEC summit.

"This is the nexus of Philippine diplomacy as the President embarks for the APEC summit in Chile to join other nations in the big push forward to make the world economy more responsive to the lives of ordinary people," Bunye said in a statement.

Mrs. Arroyo will also bank on Manila’s "strong" alliance with the United States when it assumes its role as head of the anti-terrorism task force, Bunye said.

In an attempt to ease differences over the Philippine troop pullout from Iraq, US President George W. Bush phoned Mrs. Arroyo last Wednesday to affirm their countries’ bilateral ties.

APEC groups together Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.

Mrs. Arroyo and other Asia-Pacific leaders will meet this week to grease rusty world trade talks, suppress terror and prod North Korea to abandon a nuclear weapons program.

APEC organizers say the big issues are: how to deal with a growing web of one-on-one and regional free-trade deals; how to secure people against terrorism and diseases such as SARS; anti-corruption measures; and enhancing financial markets. — With Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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