JULY 17, 2006 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo said she will try to secure from Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi a "friendship price" for the Philippines in its oil imports from his country and invite investment for energy exploration in the country.

In her message before her departure for Libya, Mrs. Arroyo also revealed her mission to discuss with Gadhafi the welfare of Filipino workers in Libya as well as to strengthen the two countries’ resolve to fight terror and poverty.

"In a world of increasing resource constraints, we aim to secure Libya’s assurance for oil supply at a ‘friendship price,’ especially in the event of market disruptions," Mrs. Arroyo said on her departure from Brunei yesterday where she attended the 60th birthday celebration of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.

"We shall also seek energy cooperation ventures within the Philippines," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo said the recent developments made Libya "a dynamic and promising bilateral partner for economic growth, through increased trade and investment between our two countries."

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said the effort to secure a steady oil supply from Libya is Mrs. Arroyo’s priority in her meeting with the Libyan leader.

Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo will exert the similar effort she made in securing the commitment from Saudi Arabia of steady oil supply in the event of disruption during her state visit to the oil-rich kingdom last May.

"President Arroyo and her entire team are closely monitoring the situation, and her current trip to Libya assumes all the more great relevance in our bid to ensure steady supplies and prices of imported crude oil," Bunye said.

Mrs. Arroyo said she will personally thank Gadhafi for his help in trying to resolve a decades-long Muslim separatist rebellion in the southern Philippines.

She noted Libya was the first country that put a stake in the peace process in Mindanao when it hosted the peace talks leading to the Tripoli Agreement of 1976.

Libya hosted talks in 1976 between Manila and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) which eventually signed a peace accord in Septembe 1996. Libya also brokered talks in 2001 with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that paved the way for ongoing formal negotiations.

Libya also helped negotiate the release of Western tourists seized by the Abu Sayyaf from the Malaysian island resort of Sipadan and brought to the southern Philippines in 2000.

"Colonel Gadhafi and I share the same vision of a peaceful and prosperous world, and I look forward to meeting him personally at a time when we resolved to join hands in fighting terror and poverty not only in the Philippines but in our regional neighborhood," Mrs. Arroyo said.

She said Libya "wields a deep influence in the social and religious life of Muslim Mindanao; and we see it as a liberating force to remove our people from the clutches of destitution and conflict."

"I aim to make our relations with Libya a key element in peace and development in Mindanao as we forge ahead with the mega regions that will carry the Philippines to first world status in 20 years," the President said.

Mrs. Arroyo pointed out Libya is a keen supporter of the Philippine bid for observer status in the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), for which the country has been grateful.

"We need to seek a presence for the Philippines in the corridors of decision making in the Islamic world, as we forge peace, interfaith solidarity and harmony in Mindanao and across our Muslim dominated South and Southwestern frontiers," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo noted she is the first Philippine chief executive to embark on a state visit to Libya.

With Libya hosting about 8,000 Filipino workers, the one-day state visit aims to work with the Libyan government to increase its level of protection and to ensure their well-being.

Prior to departing for Tripoli, Mrs. Arroyo was scheduled to hold a breakfast meeting today with three other leaders of the ASEAN at the Li Gong Restaurant of the Empire Hotel and Country Club in Jerudong District in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei’s capital.

The meeting came ahead of the 39th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Kuala Lumpur next week.

The ASEAN is expected to sign various cooperation agreements, including the framework accord on visa exemption that would enable nationals of member states to move freely within the region sans the visa requirement.

Sultan Bolkiah and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam were to host the 7:45 a.m. breakfast meeting to be attended by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Less politics in SONA — Palace The Philippine Star 07/17/2006

President Arroyo will speak more about economics and less politics when she delivers her State of the Nation Address (SONA) before a joint session of Congress on July 24, Malacañang said yesterday.

Presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor said Mrs. Arroyo’s SONA would be "reflective of the normalizing situation in the country, where you see much diminished threats and increasing economic and political stability."

"I think we would be seeing more of the country’s economic prospects and what we all must do as a nation after achieving solid gains in our economic reforms," he said in a telephone interview. "The SONA, I think, would touch more on economic issues than on political issues."

However, Defensor said Mrs. Arroyo will press for political reforms, particularly the need to amend the Constitution to shift the form of government to a unicameral parliamentary system, lift restrictive economic provisions and to implement judicial and electoral reforms.

Defensor did not say whether Mrs. Arroyo would reiterate her call to Congress to convene itself into a constituent assembly or push for a people’s initiative to propose amendments to the Constitution.

Another top Palace official said Mrs. Arroyo could also appeal for less politicking and rally the people for national unity.

"She’s expected to deal at length with strategies for national development, growth and competitiveness, subtly urging focus on harnessing the country’s economic potentials rather than being consumed by wasteful and destructive politics," the official said.

Last month, Cabinet Secretary Ricardo Saludo said Mrs. Arroyo has begun drafting the blueprint of an ambitious economic plan, dividing the country into four "supra-regions," where details of the strategy would be announced in her SONA.

Saludo said the blueprint would be finalized after Mrs. Arroyo presides over several joint Cabinet-Regional Development Council meetings with local officials from "North Luzon, Metro Luzon, Central Philippines, and Mindanao."

"The SONA vision should come from the perspective of regional development councils as my partners in governance," he quoted Mrs. Arroyo as saying in a recent Cabinet meeting, where she first announced her plan to create four regional groupings.

The economic blueprint would form a major part of Mrs. Arroyo’s SONA to reflect "the increased confidence in the country, generated by our fiscal reforms, in the growing stability and progress in our country at this time," Saludo said. — Paolo Romero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved