JULY 19, 2006 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - The Philippines and Libya have signed a new trade agreement expected to enhance the economic relations between the two countries and bring about "greater peace and prosperity" for the two sides, Malacañang said yesterday.

Jestingly branding it as "Tripoli Agreement of 2006," President Arroyo hailed the chambers of commerce of the two countries in signing the memorandum of agreement which she said would further deepen ties between Libya and the Philippines.

Mrs. Arroyo also thanked Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi for supporting the peace initiatives in Mindanao.

"The Great Leader of Libya has supported the Philippines since 30 years ago in our peace process and in the course of my administration, in the war against terrorism since 2001," Mrs. Arroyo said.

"Now, let us move into a new stage of our relationship with the Libyan community as our new companion in our journey towards greater peace and prosperity between our two countries," she said to the applause of the Filipino and Libyan businessmen.

The President made the statement following the meeting between officials of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) and their counterparts in the Libyan Union Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (LUCCIA) at the Al-Kaber Hotel in Tripoli.

PCCI president Donald Dee led the Philippine delegation in signing the agreement with LUCCIA counterpart Mohammed Kanoun.

The agreement focused on investments in the sectors of construction, furniture and home decors, tourism and health services.

Under the agreement, the Philippines will organize a main construction company in Manila in partnership with Libya, with the PCCI spearheading the recruitment of workers the LUCCIA will need.

Instead of the Philippines sending nurses to Libya under the health services sector agreement, the government would train Libyan nurses in the country, since Filipino health workers are also in demand in other parts of the world, according to Dee.

Dee noted with interest the Libyans wanted Filipinos to remodel their hotels and offices.

Dee bared his plans to send two sets of Filipino furniture workers to service hotels and offices in Libya.

"Libya is opening up right now very rapidly. With accelerating economic and development activities, it also needs accelerating human resource recruitment in Manila," Mrs. Arroyo said in her speech.

That is why, she said, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) will set up a special desk to assess the Libyan recruitment on a government-to-government basis.

Libya, in turn, will assign a labor attaché to Manila within the month.

Aside from labor and human resources, Mrs. Arroyo said she is looking forward to improved trade between the two countries.

She said the Philippines could take advantage of its being the third largest exporter of bananas in the world to attract Libyan importers.

Mrs. Arroyo also endorsed the Filipino version of Halal food as well as its world class furniture and furnishings.

She invited Libyan businessmen to invest, not only in Mindanao, but also in other parts of the country like the Clark Special Economic Zone in Pampanga.

Noting the abundance of C-130 planes in Libya, she said the maintenance skill of Filipino workers would come in handy.

She told the Libyan businessmen that the Philippines is one of only two countries in Southeast Asia authorized by the United States to maintain and upgrade C-130 planes.

Mrs. Arroyo further stressed her gratitude for Libya’s full support in the peace process in Mindanao.

She expressed her thanks before members of the World Islamic Call Society led by secretary general Dr. Mohammed al-Shariff, at the WICS compound on the outskirts of Tripoli.

Libya hosted talks in 1976 between Manila and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which eventually signed a peace accord in 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 Mindanao in 2000.

Mrs. Arroyo said Gadhafi had been supporting the Philippines even before the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attack in the US which the Libyan leader immediately condemned.

"When the Abu Sayyaf hostaged a group of tourists in Dos Palmas in southern Philippines, I was able to talk on the phone to ask the help of Colonel Gadhafi because I wanted to fight the Abu Sayyaf rather than pay ransom and the Libyan leader helped me," she said.

Following the call, Mrs. Arroyo said Gadhafi immediately made a statement denouncing the criminal activities of the Abu Sayyaf.

With the Libyan leader’s support, along with the help of other members of the international community, the Philippines was able to neutralize the Abu Sayyaf, she added.

"Even as we thank Libya for helping us win the peace in Mindanao, we look at the world around us and see that peace is not yet with us in the whole world," Mrs. Arroyo said.

Mrs. Arroyo informed Gadhafi that the provisions of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement are being met, including giving qualified Muslims important roles or positions in the government.

She told Gadhafi that the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is headed by a Muslim even as former Muslim guerrillas have been integrated to the military.

Gadhafi validated Mrs. Arroyo’s statement, saying the Philippines is making great efforts in giving equal opportunities to all sectors, not only Muslims but even the Lumads and other minorities.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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