NEW ZEALAND PM:  'WE'RE  HERE  FOR  DEMOCRACY'

CEBU CITY
, March 16, 2006 (STAR) By Ana Marie Pamintuan - During the parliamentary elections in 1984, Helen Clark was sent here by a Catholic Church group as an election observer. The visit took her around the country.

Three years later she returned to Manila, this time as head of the foreign relations committee of the New Zealand parliament. Clark wanted to know how her country could help the administration of Corazon Aquino in the difficult transition from dictatorship to democracy.

Now Clark is back as head of the New Zealand government, and she remains optimistic about the prospects for democracy in the Philippines.

"The Philippines is certainly more prosperous now than in 1987," Clark told The STAR yesterday.

But she acknowledged the challenges faced by fledgling democracies. "That’s why we’re helping democracy here."

She noted that a developing country with the population of the Philippines faced more difficult challenges in making democracy work. New Zealand consistently ranks high in international surveys on transparency and is one of the most prosperous and peaceful democracies in the world. "We have always had strong institutions," Clark said.

Her government’s assistance to the Philippines includes financing projects that promote environmental protection and eco-tourism, natural resource management, good governance, education and the welfare of indigenous people.

Yesterday morning, Clark watched dolphins in Pamilacan in Bohol, where villagers who once hunted dolphins and whales have realized the benefits of eco-tourism and have turned into tourist guides for spotting the aquatic mammals.

The Dolphin Watch Pamilacan project is a beneficiary of financial and technical assistance from the New Zealand Agency for International Development. Clark said her government is looking for other areas in the Philippines that can be developed for eco-tourism.

Wellington is also helping promote inter-faith dialogue as a way of fighting terrorism, which threatens democracy and development.

Clark came here mainly to attend the Dialogue on Regional Interfaith Cooperation for Peace, Development and Human Dignity, which opened last Tuesday and was co-sponsored by New Zealand. Some 200 delegates from 15 countries in the Asia-Pacific and Oceania attended the gathering. Held in Cebu, it was the second such dialogue in the region. The first was held last year in Indonesia and was prompted by the deadly terrorist attacks on the resort island of Bali. Wellington will host the next dialogue in 2007.

New Zealand is helping in the global war on terror by promoting development and contributing troops to reconstruction efforts in conflict areas such as the one in the province of Bamiyan in Afghanistan. So far, New Zealand has been spared from being a specific target of terrorists. When two newspapers in New Zealand recently published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that Muslims consider blasphemous, Clark condemned the publication and called for responsibility in the exercise of press freedom.

Wellington also organized dialogues between the local Muslim community — about one percent of the country’s four million population — and the other parties concerned. The newspapers subsequently apologized to the Muslim community.

"Understanding between faiths is very important," Clark said yesterday.

She said her government is not overly concerned about any specific security threat in the region, and said Manila seemed to have placed the Abu Sayyaf threat under control.

The two countries have a mutual assistance program that currently involves military training, and are strengthening police cooperation against transnational crime and terrorism. This includes providing scholarships and special training to members of the Philippine National Police, according to Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo.

"We feel that there will be much to gain from doing more together," Clark said.

A hub for dairy products

During bilateral talks on Panglao Island in Bohol the other day, Clark and President Arroyo agreed to strengthen economic and defense ties. Philippine officials asked that the country be considered an alternative regional distribution or processing hub for New Zealand dairy products. Clark said the Philippines is the fifth biggest market for her country’s dairy products.

"The trade balance is currently in favor of New Zealand," Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila said. "We buy practically 90 percent of our dairy product requirements from New Zealand."

Favila said New Zealand buys bananas, pineapples and even mobile phones from the Philippines. He said the feedback from New Zealand about the Philippine proposal was "very positive." Last year, total trade with New Zealand amounted to $315 million, mostly dairy products. Clark’s visit coincides with the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

She returns to Wellington today. — With Aurea Calica

NZ leader goes dolphin-watching By Aurea Calica The Philippine Star 03/16/2006

PAMILACAN ISLAND, Bohol — Residents here consisting of some 250 households said they have now stopped hunting dolphins and whales as a means of livelihood. In a shift reminiscent of the farmer deciding not to kill the goose that laid the golden egg, these fisherfolk now see the tourism potential of these local marine attractions.

Thanks to the New Zealand development project that was completed in 2004, the endangered species are no longer sold alive, dried and cooked like adobo, as was the practice before. Most residents have now become tour guides and "spotters" of dolphins and whales for an increasing number of tourists.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark went dolphin watching here yesterday as part of her visit to a project assisted by her government to promote ecotourism.

"Rather than killing (them), we think that ecotourism can give people good living and give a lot of pleasure to people to come and see the animals... So it’s a wonderful project and we’re pleased that New Zealand helped develop (it)," she noted. Clark arrived to a warm welcome from the members of the community, which has become self-sustaining after receiving development aid from New Zealand.

The night before, President Arroyo hosted a state dinner for the visiting leader at a not so traditional venue — on the beach off Panglao island nearby — apparently to express gratitude for New Zealand’s support for environmental protection and tourism in the country. The Prime Minister was treated to Filipino food for breakfast with Environment Secretary Angelo Reyes, some local officials and residents who thanked her for New Zealand’s support.

In response, the Prime Minister thanked her Filipino companions on the boat for "making sure we see some dolphins." "Thank you for the beautiful breakfast that you put on, we’re so full we won’t eat for the rest of the day," Clark said.

"As you know New Zealand tries to focus on helping people here really get some livelihood. It’s really wonderful that you’re using the dolphin for eco-tourism rather than killing them. I’m all for that. Congratulations on what you’ve achieved," she said.

Clark said she was very pleased to see the development here because her country also has very strong conservation programs for dolphins and whales. Clark said she indeed enjoyed the short tour. Some of the photographers who covered the "dolphin watch" said the Prime Minister caught glimpses of only a few dolphins.

"I think there will be more eco-tourism projects (in the Philippines). The New Zealand Aid is focusing on projects, like resource management, indigenous peoples, poverty alleviation," Clark said.

Bohol is famous not only for its beaches but also for its Chocolate Hills and tiny tarsier monkeys as well. State dinner on the beach The state dinner for Clark took place by the sea off Panglao island where guests wore what the formal invitation described as "elegant beach attire."

The President was dressed in simple, light aquamarine chiffon gown while Clark was clad in a Hawaiian-inspired outfit. "We are so happy that you’ll spend your morning (yesterday) with the whales and dolphins in Pamilacan island," the President said during the dinner.

Clark said she was indeed looking forward to the boat ride to see the dolphins. "You have given me some ideas on how to organize official visits," she said, adding she would likely leave Wellington to be at the other beautiful places in New Zealand when hosting leaders and guests from other countries. Clark arrived here with minimal security and a small delegation. During her boat ride over from nearby Panglao, where she and the President stayed overnight, she covered her pants with a towel to avoid getting splashed by waves.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said holding Clark’s visit here did not have anything to do with the security situation in Metro Manila, especially after a failed coup attempt recently. Bunye said it was simply the best way to showcase the country’s natural beauty and attract more tourists.

During the dinner, the President thanked Clark for her partnership with the Philippines in natural resource management, eco-tourism, indigenous people’s welfare, governance, education and Mindanao development. Clark, for her part, said she was grateful for the hospitality shown to her by Filipinos.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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