OCTOBER 29, 2006 (STAR) By Aurea Calica — President Arroyo highlighted yesterday two of the Filipino people’s sources of pride by leading wreath-laying ceremonies at the monument here of national hero Jose Rizal and visiting a branch of a popular Philippine mall.

Celebrating Filipino success and heroism, Mrs. Arroyo said she was happy her countrymen could enjoy a taste of home here and in Xiamen, where an SM mall was built by the family of Filipino-Chinese business tycoon Henry Sy.

While the President and members of her delegation were not able to go "malling" as the President only had merienda and a brief meeting with Henry Sy Jr. and several others from the SM management, Philippine officials obviously had fun at the Rizal monument that they visited early on.

As if on cue, the members of the Philippine delegation and the media took out their cameras as soon as the solemn wreath-laying ceremony was over and started their pictorial frenzy.

"We’re like in Luneta," a cameraman quipped as everyone acted like typical tourists as they posed in front of the monument — red carpet still rolled out.

They had solo and group pictures in different parts of the park, so much so that the pictorial actually took more time than the event itself. Chinese and Philippine officials likewise took turns in having the "photo opportunity" with Mrs. Arroyo.

Sen. Lito Lapid, holding hands with his wife Marissa, along with Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap, congressmen and local government officials were seen gleefully posing for their own souvenir photographs.

Jinjiang is an hour’s ride away by land from Xiamen, which are both in Fujian province. Mrs. Arroyo was also scheduled to visit an SM branch in Xiamen on Friday evening, but the visit was cancelled due to security concerns.

Col. Romeo Prestoza, chief of the Presidential Security Group, said the Chinese authorities deemed it best not to push through with the event because it was crowded and could pose a security nightmare for them.

Prestoza said there was no more need for both governments to explain why an event had to be cancelled for unverified security concerns.

"That’s already understood. We do the same thing in the Philippines. You don’t argue over security," he stressed.

The SM branch here is a five-story building that was built last year.

In her speech before the Filipino community in Xiamen last Friday, Mrs. Arroyo said, "I could see the resilient spirit of the Filipino everywhere I go," and said she was happy that Filipino professionals got good jobs there.

"Aba may SM pa nga kayo rito eh (Wow, you even have an SM mall here). So when you go there it’s like being in the Philippines as well. There is even a Rizal shrine in nearby Jinjiang City," she said.

There are many monuments for Rizal built all over the world but the one here, the President said, was most significant because experts believed the greatest ancestor of the national hero, Ke Nan, had his origins here.

"The Chinese roots of our national hero underscore the racial and blood ties that Filipinos have with the Chinese especially from this area of southern China," she said.

In Fujian province, several of the Philippines’ taipans, who have roots there, have invested in prominent businesses and facilities.

"Both the Philippines and China, especially Fujian, should push to further deepen existing cooperation between the two countries," the President said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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