NEW YORK CITY, September 14, 2005
(STAR) By Jess Diaz - Don’t hard economic times call for traveling light?

A large group — including members of the House of Representatives, governors and other officials — is accompanying President Arroyo on her three-day visit to the United Nations here.

Lower-level Filipino diplomats who have been transporting the arriving VIPs and shepherding them around town since the weekend told The STAR yesterday that they have on their list between 50 to 60 congressmen, congresswomen and governors.

Yesterday morning, a group of more than 10 House members flew in to this city. Included in the group were Reps. Anthony Miranda of Isabela, Carmelita Villarosa of Mindoro Oriental, Herminia Ramiro of Misamis Occidental and Danilo Suarez of Quezon.

The governors included Erico Aumentado of Bohol, Raymond Villafuerte of Camarines Sur, Leandro Verceles of Catanduanes and Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar.

Tomorrow morning, several other House allies of Mrs. Arroyo are arriving with her. They will include Reynaldo Aquino, Ana York Bondoc of Pampanga, and Jesli Lapus of Tarlac.

They will join scores of congressmen, congresswomen, local executives, Cabinet members and other officials who are already here. The visitors will be billeted at the Hilton Hotel along the Avenue of the Americas, not far from Central Park, where a room costs at least $500 a night.

Interestingly, the large group of Filipino VIPs here includes not a single senator. Senate President Franklin Drilon, who flew here last week to attend the world conference of parliamentarians, is leaving at 7:30 Tuesday morning, three hours after Mrs. Arroyo is expected to arrive. The President and the Philippines’ No. 3 official are not expected to meet each other.

Despite their large number, none of the Filipino VIPs will get to witness at close range how Mrs. Arroyo will preside over the UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday and her address before the summit of world leaders on Thursday.

"Our honorable lawmakers and other visitors will just be kibitzers and spectators," said one diplomat.

The sizes of official delegations have been reduced to the minimum for this summit, largely because presidents, kings and prime ministers from 191 countries led by United States President Bush are attending.

The official delegation from the Philippines, which will assume the presidency of the UN Security Council for the session, is composed of six members, including Mrs. Arroyo. The five other members are Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, Ambassador to the United States Albert del Rosario, Ambassador Lauro Baja, permanent representative to the UN, and one Cabinet member, possibly Finance Secretary Gary Teves or Trade Secretary Peter Favila. Only one Filipino bodyguard has been assigned to watch over the President.

De Venecia arrived here last Thursday in time for the concluding session of the conference of parliamentarians, where he formally presented his debt-for-equity proposal to world leaders. Most of the conference participants are heads of parliament. This is the same forum that Drilon attended and addressed.

The House members and governors joining the President for her New York visit all supported her in fighting the opposition’s impeachment efforts and in weathering the "Hello, Garci" crisis.

Miranda and Umali were among her staunch defenders during the inquiry by five House committees into the controversial audiotapes and the subsequent impeachment hearings.

During the impeachment proceedings, the governors addressed press conferences and parroted the administration’s propaganda line, and placed full-page newspaper advertisements criticizing the opposition and calling for sobriety and unity among the people.

Aumentado and Evardone, a former journalist, are leaders of the League of Provinces and the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP).

Like the large delegation of lawmakers and local officials, the equally huge group of Filipino journalists who flew here to cover the President’s UN activities will also be watching her Security Council and World Summit addresses from the sidelines.

Consul Elmer Cato, a former colleague of Evardone at the Malaya newspaper who is assigned with the Philippine mission in the UN and who is coordinating media coverage, said only two of over 50 Filipino journalists here would be included in the media pool.

"There are only 48 slots for journalists from 191 countries and we have been fortunate to be given two only because we are holding the presidency of the Security Council," Cato told The STAR.

He said the two slots would be raffled off among the members of the Filipino media group. Business As Usual Favila, Finance Secretary Margarito Teves and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Gov. Amando Tetangco are trying to woo American investors and convince them that it is "business as usual" in the Philippines.

In a statement sent from New York, Favila said that, over the course of several meetings, he assured American business leaders that the Philippines remains a haven for foreign investors.

He said the meetings provided the US business community with updates on the business environment in the Philippines, with the Philippine economic team on hand to address their questions and concerns.

The American business community, he said, is concerned about the stability and consistency of the country’s regulatory policy framework and the integrity of agreements entered into by the Philippines.

Other crucial business issues raised were fiscal incentives to foreign investors, biotechnology commercialization, mining sector liberalization and intellectual property rights, as well as the implementation of economic reform measures.

According to Favila, the American business sector is keeping a close watch on the implementation of the amended expanded value-added tax (VAT) law.

He said American business leaders welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the legality of the tax reform measure.

Favila and other members of the President’s economic team will be accompanying Mrs. Arroyo to various meetings with Dell Inc. vice president Kip Thompson, APAC Customer Services Inc. senior vice president James McLenahan, Affiliated Computer Services Inc. regional vice president Art Di Bari, Sutherland Global Services chairman and CEO Dilip Vellodi and GreenMango Catalog of Philippine Export Lifestyle Product founder and CEO Lawrence Lee.

Sutherland Global Services is a firm engaged in business process outsourcing in Makati City. The firm will relay to Mrs. Arroyo its intention to expand its call center operations by 3,000 jobs over the next 12 to 15 months.

Dell is set to operate a call center in the Philippines by February 2006. It operates over 30 call centers worldwide. Upbeat Sendoff In Manila, the atmosphere at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Centennial Terminal’s Presidential Lounge was upbeat as a handful of the President’s Cabinet officials and top aides gathered there for the Chief Executive’s sendoff.

Vice President Noli de Castro, who has been appointed officer-in-charge (OIC) while the President is away, led the despedida for the President.

The President is traveling to New York via a commercial Philippine Airlines (PAL) flight to San Francisco, California, where she will take a connecting flight to New York.

She was sent off by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Arturo Lomibao, Mindanao Rep. Abdullah Dimaporo, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye, Air Transportation Office (ATO) chief Nilo Jatico and other Malacañang functionaries.

Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) general manager Alfonso Cusi and MIAA assistant general managers Brig. Gen. (ret.) Angel Atutubo and Octavio Lina were among the airport officials present at Mrs. Arroyo’s sendoff.

The President’s second son, Diosdado Ignacio, his wife Cacai and their daughter Eva Victoria were also on hand to see her off. The President’s plane departed at 10:40 p.m.

Newly-appointed Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Generoso Senga and some of the AFP brass — Generals Jose Reyes and Hermogenes Esperon — were among the military officials who saw their Commander-in-Chief off. — With Marianne Go and Rainer Allan Ronda

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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