, JULY 17, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - The Philippines is no longer the weakest link in the regional fight against terror with the implementation of the Human Security Act (HSA) last weekend, President Arroyo said yesterday.

“The Philippines has been a strong link in the war on terror. We have been able to (gain) a lot of headway,” Mrs. Arroyo told Reuters in an interview at Malacañang on Saturday.

“The lair of the terrorists gets smaller as our area of peace and understanding gets bigger,” she said.

Protests greeted the law’s implementation last Sunday, and communist rebels even threatened to intensify their offensive in response. Some quarters, particularly leftist groups, believe the Arroyo administration intends to use the law to harass its political opponents.

In her Reuters’ interview, Mrs. Arroyo boasted of the breakthroughs in her administration’s war on terror, particularly against the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf. She said she expected to chalk up more victories with the HSA in force.

The Philippines has long been considered the weakest link in the war against terror in the region due to its poorly equipped and corruption-prone military and police forces as well as its lax border controls.

Security experts also said the lack of an anti-terror law also makes it hard for the Philippines to coordinate with other nations on cross-border terror activities.

The President noted the administration has a “new paradigm for peace in Mindanao,” where private armies and loose firearms abound and where the government is battling two big rebel groups – the New People’s Army and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

“It is a combination of soft and hard power. We meld together interfaith dialogue and cultural awareness, economic development and infrastructure development in the former conflict areas and mutual security arrangements to isolate the terrorists – that’s where the hard power comes in. It’s been a good paradigm,” Mrs. Arroyo said. “It’s a paradigm we wish to share to the world.”

27 countries confirm attendance at Asean meetings in Manila By Pia Lee-Brago Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Twenty-seven countries have confirmed their attendance in the ministerial and security meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that will be held in Manila this month, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reported yesterday.

Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary for ASEAN Affairs Luis Cruz said the 27 countries will be represented at the 40th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM), the Post Ministerial Conferences (PMCs) and the 14th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) which will be held at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) from July 29 to Aug. 2.

Cruz said the foreign ministers are expected to discuss the status of ASEAN’s community-building efforts and assess the progress of the implementation of the three pillars of ASEAN on security community, economic community and socio-cultural community.

Cruz said during the AMM, the foreign ministers will adopt measures that will implement the landmark decisions of the 12th ASEAN, the 2nd East Asia Summit and other related summits that were held under the chairmanship of President Arroyo in Cebu last January.

As the current ASEAN chairman, the Philippines will lead discussions on the measures to follow up the directives that the ASEAN leaders firmed up at the Cebu Summit.

The AMM is an annual meeting of the ASEAN foreign ministers held every July and hosted on a rotation basis by member countries in alphabetical order, following the rotation of the ASEAN chairmanship.

The 10 ASEAN members are Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The PMCs are annual meetings between ASEAN foreign ministers and their counterparts from 10 dialogue partners – China, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia, New Zealand, India, Russia, Canada, the United States and the European Union.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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