[PHOTO AT LEFT - leader Moammar Gadhafi welcomes President Arroyo in Tripoli in this handout photo from Malacañang. The two leaders discussed additional oil supply for the Philippines, the plight of Filipinos working in Libya and Manila’s application for observer status in the Organization of Islamic Conference.]

MANILA, JULY 18, 2006 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - President Arroyo has sought Libya’s help in key areas dubbed the six O’s — oil supply, overall progress of the peaceful settlement in Mindanao, more job opportunities for overseas Filipino workers, opportunities for trade and investment, observer status in the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Organizational Mechanism of Partnership (OMP).

Malacañang said it was the first time that a Philippine president made a state visit to Libya and Mrs. Arroyo saw the chance to discuss the six concerns of the Philippines with Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

During their talk, Gadhafi assured Mrs. Arroyo of oil supply for the Philippines should there be a shortage in the Middle East. The two countries also agreed to establish an OMP that will provide a venue for Cabinet secretaries to meet and discuss common concerns.

Mrs. Arroyo arrived at the Metiega airport in Tripoli at around 6 p.m. (12 midnight in Manila) and proceeded to the state banquet after the arrival honors.

National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, one of the officials accompanying the President, said the prospects of having improved economic relations with Libya are better now that the trade sanctions imposed by the United Nations have been lifted.

"The embargo on Libya has just been lifted so there will be a period of reconstruction here," Gonzales said.

Trade sanctions were imposed on Libya for allegedly supporting terrorist groups and for its reported plans to build weapons of mass destruction.

Mrs. Arroyo brought with her a group of businessmen who would study the prospects of exporting products to Libya and be part of the country’s growing construction industry.

The President expressed hope that Libya would hire more nurses and construction workers from the Philippines.

Malacañang said Mrs. Arroyo would also look into the conditions of Filipino workers there as she is scheduled to meet with members of the 8,000-strong Filipino community.

Based on the information given by the Philippine Embassy in Tripoli, Filipino workers, particularly those in the medical profession, have been complaining about delayed remittances of their salaries as well as poor accommodation.

A majority of the male overseas Filipino workers in Libya are employed in the oil sector while most female workers are in the medical and other service sectors.

The President’s meeting with the Filipino community will take place after her visit to the National Oil Co. of Libya. Established in 1970, the NOC undertakes the exploration and production operations of Libya’s vast oil resources through its own affiliated companies or in partnership with other companies under service contracts or investment agreements.

It is this kind of agreement which the President hopes to forge with Libya in the form of a joint exploration venture in the Philippines.

The Gadhafi Foundation had earlier expressed interest in a joint venture with the Philippine National Oil Co. (PNOC) in developing a 36,000-hectare palm oil plantation in North Cotabato’s Liguasan Marsh.

Prospects are also bright for Philippine exports to this Mediterranean country, particularly farm products.

Because its soil and climatic conditions are not conducive to agricultural production, Libya imports 75 percent of its food requirements.

The government’s economic team wants to tap prospects in this area in the course of the bilateral meetings.

Filipino businessmen accompanying the President are also optimistic about the prospects of Philippine garment exports to Libya, where 60 percent of the population belongs to the 15-64 age bracket.

Last year, Libya ranked as the 137th trading partner of the Philippines and its 151st export market in the Middle East bloc.

Philippine exports to Libya include gearboxes for motor vehicles, aerosols, aerial reflectors, parts and accessories of automatic data processing equipment and other semiconductor devices, fruit juices and preserves and tuna.

On the other hand, Libyan exports to the Philippines include ethylene, flat-rolled iron, mechanical shovels and dumpers.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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