[PHOTO AT LEFT  -  Cebuís Sinulog Dancers perform as Southeast Asian leaders attending the 12th Asean summit arrive at the Benito Ebuen Air Force Base in Mactan yesterday. - Photo By Willy Perez]

MANILA, JANUARY 13, 2007 (STAR) The Philippines is privileged to take part in the quest of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for lasting peace and economic prosperity as it hosts the ongoing 12th ASEAN Summit in Cebu, President Arroyo said yesterday.

"We believe in the collective power of the leaders and peoples of this region to make a difference in world security and economic prosperity and we are privileged to take part in this quest through our hosting of the (ASEAN and East Asian) summits," she said as she welcomed the leaders of ASEANís 10 member states and its six dialogue partners: Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, South Korea and India.

Mrs. Arroyo said ASEAN leaders will work on a framework for the future of the region, a "future that will bring stability and peace and comfort to the disaster-stricken and the sick, a safer environment, cheaper and more abundant energy, food for the poor and most of all, friendships among peoples that will endure into this century."

She described the Cebu summits as the convergence of "all colors and creeds, peoples of diverse origins and social station," and the goal of ASEANís leaders is to create a borderless community.

With the Philippines located "at an equidistant point from the capitals of East Asia," the President said the country could be the crossroads of goodwill and change.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said the Philippines, as the current ASEAN chair and host of the summits, "captures a moment of glory as the hub and gateway of partnership and cooperation in ASEAN and the whole East Asian region."

"The future looks brighter for the region under the collective stewardship of committed leaders reaching out to each other in the spirit of friendship and common purpose," he said in a statement.

Bunye said ASEANís leaders are committed to "push forward in one heave of leadership to uplift the lives of the people and preserve their greater safety and security."

He said the ASEAN and East Asian summits provide another opportunity for "the world to witness the best of a sharing and caring community carving out a united response in addressing problems of poverty, terrorism, environmental degradation, trade and energy ó marking a vibrant market and a new phase of trade and development across borders." Economic boon Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo cited various economic benefits in the tourism industry brought about by Cebuís hosting the summits since the start of its preparations last year.

"We have placed Cebu on the map of international tourism, investment and trade. These gains are as permanent as the Cebu International Convention Center (CICC), which is a powerful symbol of strong, resilient, determined and hardworking spirit of all Cebuanos," he said.

Romulo said Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing described Cebu as a "unique corner of paradise" during the ministerial meeting between ASEAN and China.

"This is a significant and welcome comment, coming from the foreign minister of a country where one of the largest numbers of global tourists come from," Romulo said.

He noted that since early last year, there was a six percent increase in the number of flight arrivals at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport after local airline companies augmented operations in the region, and brought about a 14 percent increase in the number of passengers.

Romulo said visitor arrivals in the central Visayas from January to September last year reached 1.2 million, higher by 11 percent compared to the same period in 2005.

There was also an 18.5 percent growth in the number of foreign visitors, which comprise more than one-third of visitor arrivals, he said.

According to Romulo, the influx of domestic and foreign delegates for the twin summits is expected to raise P1.2 billion in additional sales for local businesses.

"Each tourist that arrives in Cebu provides opportunities for employment and fuels the regionís growth," he said.

The construction of infrastructure projects as part of the preparations for the summits, including the construction of the CICC, has provided a boost for the tourism industry and additional jobs for residents, Romulo said.

He added that Cebu was also able to attract the attention of the international business community, particularly in the areas of information and communication technology, electronics, fine furniture, agriculture and light industries.

National Organizing Committee secretary general Marciano Paynor Jr. said the government spent less than the amount allocated by other countries that previously hosted the ASEAN summits.

Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia said the national government contributed P1 billion, the construction of the CICC required a P500 million budget, and the local government units of Cebu province chipped in P500 million to cover the cost of hosting the summits.

"Certainly, itís worth it. You just canít imagine the goodwill and interest the summit will create for Cebu and the country," she said.

On the other hand, Australian Trade Minister Warren Truss said Canberra pledged to contribute up to $5 million to help reduce the economic and social disease burden of emerging infections that threaten the East Asian region, particularly avian influenza.

He said the funding will be provided through the Australian Assistance for International Development and will help ASEAN member countries enhance regional preparedness and their capacity to cope with emerging infectious diseases. ó Paolo Romero, Pia Lee-Brago

ASEAN weather boast leaves officials all wet 01/12 10:53:43 PM

CEBU (AFP) - The Philippines was hoping it wouldn't rain on their ASEAN summit's parade -- but official boasts about the sunshine turned out to be a damp squib.

Officials put out a press release Friday hailing President Gloria Arroyo, saying she brings good weather whenever she visits Cebu, the resort city where this year's gathering is being held. And then the rains began.

The downpour was even more poignant for Arroyo's government, which blamed bad weather -- and not warnings of a terror attack from several Western governments -- for postponing the summit last month.

Officials even gave local nuns eggs and groceries to ask them to pray for good weather for the summit.

"The sun always shines whenever President Gloria Arroyo visits Cebu," the press release said. It said the sunny skies on her arrival were a point of "unconcealed pride".

"It's all go for the summit weather-wise," the release said.

By nightfall, when prime ministers and sultans from across Southeast Asia were arriving for their opening dinner, the umbrellas were out in force.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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