[PHOTO AT LEFT - The University of Sto. Tomas conferred upon Koichiro Matsuura, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizaton, the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa on May 22 at the UST Museum of Arts and Sciences. Rev. Fr. Rodel Aligan, O.P., acting UST Rector, led the ceremony with the assistance of Amb. Preciosa Soliven, Secretary General of UNESCO-Philippines, and Carlito Puno, chairman of the Commission on Higher Education. - Photo By MIKE AMOROSO]

MANILA, May 24, 2006 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo commended visiting United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General Koichiro Matsuura yesterday for his efforts to address poverty and promote cultural diversity as well as his support for Philippine initiatives in the United Nations.

At the House of Representatives, Speaker Jose de Venecia said Matsuura had expressed support for his proposed debt-for-equity program, which seeks to convert half of the foreign debt of some 100 debt-saddled nations into equity to fund projects aligned with the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.

Matsuura was conferred a degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa, by the University of Sto. Tomas (UST) in Manila last Monday for his work.

Acting rector Rev. Fr. Rodel Aligan conferred the degree upon Matsuura in a ceremony held at the UST Museum of Arts and Sciences. Aligan was assisted by UNESCO-Philippines Secretary General Preciosa Soliven, Faculty of Civil Law dean Augusto Aligada Jr., regent Rev. Fr. Roberto Luanzon, and Commission on Higher Education chairman Carlito Puno.

Matsuura, now on his second term as UNESCO director general, is known for his passion for cultural diversity and his firm belief that unity in cultural diversity is the key to achieve peace.

In her speech during the dinner-reception tendered in honor of Matsuura and delegates to the 31st UNESCO-International Theater Institute World Congress and Theater Olympics of the Nations in Malacañang Monday night, Mrs. Arroyo said the body’s activities represent an "important contribution to intercultural, inter-civilizational and interfaith dialogue to all mankind."

She also pointed out that Matsuura strongly backed the Philippine initiative in the UN for a "debt-for-culture" swap.

"I would like to thank Your Excellency because you heartedly endorsed the Philippine proposal to the UN for debt for culture, debt for environment, and debt for civilization," Mrs. Arroyo said.

The President presented the poverty alleviation proposal at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-United Nations (ASEAN-UN) meeting on Sept. 13, 2005. The scheme, which includes a "Debt-for-Culture Swap" program, was adopted by the ASEAN-UN group in its declaration.

Matsuura, according to a Palace statement, intends to make the Philippine initiative a flagship project of UNESCO. The program has four components.

The first of these components is poverty alleviation in the education for all policy through the KALAHI Cultural Caregiving Program for the Poorest of the Poor. This program seeks to provide free arts training to vulnerable groups for capacity-building and to build up cultural industries linked to eco-arts tourism and employment enhancement.

The second component involves support for endangered and intangible heritage sites and threatened indigenous cultural properties. This includes the conservation and preservation of UNESCO heritage sites such as the rice terraces of the Cordilleras, Tubbataha Reefs, the underground river of Palawan, and other cultural treasures, as well as intangible treasures like the Hudhud and Darangen epics, film classics and other threatened artifacts and artistic records of ephemeral performances.

The third component entails "interfaith and multi-cultural dialogue and communications through a human rights-based hexamedia approach to promote a culture of peace and sustainable development."

Simply put, it will entail a mass-based popularization program about respect for human rights and duties for good citizenship and good governance through television, radio, cinema, print and information technology, including the use of soap opera, comics and cartoons, the initiation of public-service broadcasting, youth participation and support for independent and film productions.

The fourth and last component seeks to preserve and develop cultural diversity "as a safety net against homogenization amidst globalization." This aims to develop curriculum modules with simultaneous media outreach programs, linking the youth to their ancestral roots in 110 Philippine ethnic communities, providing a cultural bank for transmission, protection and development of cultural wealth, spiritual traditions and values for Filipino children.

Mrs. Arroyo also commended the World Theater Congress (WTC) of the UNESCO-ITI for revolving its theme around the Millennium Development Goals, "which shape Philippine policy in our Medium Term Philippine Development Plan (MTPDP)."

She explained that under the MTPDP, her administration seeks to cut poverty incidence in the country by one-half through the implementation of a 10-point pro-poor, pro-growth and pro-peace program.

"Dialogue through theater is an opportunity not only to exercise democracy but also to focus on the global stage the creativity of the Filipino. Our creativity is among the qualities that have endeared the great Filipino worker in 140 countries all over the world," Mrs. Arroyo said.

The Philippines is the first Southeast Asian country to host the World Theater Congress in its 58-year history, which includes the UN Celebration for Cultural Diversity and Development Week and the Philippines Heritage Month. The theme for this year’s Congress is "Ancestral Roots to New Artistic Routes of Expression; Mobilizing Cultural Diversity to Achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals."

Executive director Cecille Guidote-Alvarez of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) said this year’s WTC is an expression of the campaign "against worldwide hunger and poverty, against illiteracy and discrimination."

"The Theater Olympics of the Nations is a testament to the yearning of artists from all cultures and civilizations to break the back of poverty and make our world a better place to live in," she said.

The ITI Theater Olympics of the Nations, a festival of plays by various drama institutions from different countries, will run from May 23 to 28.

Crucial support

De Venecia called Matsuura’s support for the debt-for-equity program "crucial and timely" because his support "recognizes the need for debt-saddled nations to find innovative ways to fund programs that will fight poverty, disease and ignorance, promote culture and science, and propel economic development."

The expression of support came as De Venecia presented the Congressional Medal of Achievement Tuesday at the historic Manila Hotel, where top Filipino and foreign educators from 90 countries attended the three-day Leaders Forum.

Senior House leaders joined De Venecia during the rites, among them Reps. Jaime Lopez of Manila, Antonio Cuenco of Cebu City and Ernesto Gidaya of the party-list Veterans Freedom Party.

In a statement, the Speaker said Matsuura is one of the highest UN officials to endorse the debt-for-equity project, following Secretary-General Kofi Annan who endorsed the project in September 2005.

De Venecia said Matsuura told him he would try to convince nations to each work out separate bilateral debt-swap arrangements, such as debt for education, debt for culture and debt for science.

Matsuura received De Venecia and his delegation at the UNESCO office in Paris in June last year, when De Venecia first unveiled details of the debt-for-equity proposal to him.

He said Italy and Spain are seriously considering debt-for-equity conversion programs with the Philippines. The presidents and governments of Ukraine, Bulgaria and Romania were the latest to endorse the debt-for-equity program. — With Delon Porcalla

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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