[PHOTO AT LEFT - President Arroyo watches former US President Bill Clinton speak during the third annual Clinton Global Initiative at the Sheraton Hotel in New York city. - Photo By AP]

NEW YORK, SEPTEMBER 28, 2007 (STAR) NEW YORK – President Arroyo shared the limelight with former US President Bill Clinton, former US Vice President Al Gore and four other leading world figures at the opening Wednesday morning of the three-day session of the 2007 meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) at the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers.

The only woman member of the six-man panel discussion on climate change with Clinton acting as moderator, the President discussed her government’s efforts to tap the Philippines’ vast geothermal resources to ease the country’s dependence on imported, ozone-depleting fuel and preserve the environment.

Aside from Mrs. Arroyo and Gore, the other panelists on the stage overlooking the jampacked crowd at the CGI session hall were Afghanistan President Hamid Karsai, Wal-Mart president and chief executive officer (CEO) H. Lee Scott, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and World Bank President Robert Zoellick.

At least 16 heads of state – past and present – and hundreds of supporters and advocates of the movement to stem the “global weather climate crisis” made up the audience at the CGI session hall.

Several others set to speak during the different sessions of the CGI are leading cinema, media, political and business personalities from different parts of the world, among them Angelina Jolie, co-chair of the Jolie-Pitt Foundation, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, Norway Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, Netherlands Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez.

In his introduction of President Arroyo, Clinton said she was his classmate at Georgetown University in 1968 and repeatedly referred to her efforts to develop clean energy for the Philippines, win the peace in Mindanao and fight poverty.

Saying the prospects of developing her country’s geothermal resources are not only bright but also profitable, the President said that in the past two weeks alone, build-operate-transfer (BOT) operators of two geothermal projects have turned over to the government their facilities following the expiration of their BOT franchise.

Asked about her government’s strategy to end the conflict in Mindanao, Mrs. Arroyo said she hoped a permanent settlement of the decades-old strife would soon be achieved.

The government’s new paradigm of “soft-hard” approach to the conflict in southern Philippines has been making a remarkable headway in improving the peace and order situation in the area.

The soft approach policy involves the development of the area as part of the government’s efforts to fight poverty, the construction of roads and bridges and other infrastructure facilities, improving healthcare services, and mass access to education, among other human resources programs, she said.

The President added that the hard approach refers to the use of the military to preserve peace and order and counter other anti-government activities.

Organized by the former US President in 2005, the CGI is a “non-partisan catalyst for action, bringing together a community of global leaders to devise and implement innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges.”

Its membership base is highly diverse covering a full spectrum of religious, ideological, ethnic and geographical backgrounds and includes current and former heads of state, leading scholars, representatives of non-government organizations and top business leaders.

Jolie criticizes Iraq war spending

Hollywood star Angelina Jolie called for the world to get its “priorities in order” Wednesday, saying that the amount of money spent in Iraq in just a few hours could educate thousands of children.

“To put things into perspective and maybe help to understand why we maybe need to adjust the way we’re doing things in the world, the conflict in Iraq has displaced over four million people,”

Jolie told reporters in New York.She said an appeal by UNICEF, the UN’s fund for children, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to address the educational needs of many of those children was dwarfed by the cost of US military spending in Iraq.

“The entire appeal equals about eight hours of current spending in Iraq. So just a few hours would send 150,000 children to school,” she said. “Nothing wins more hearts and minds and nothing gives more freedom than education and nothing is a better deterrent for conflict than an educated child,” she added, urging the world to get its “priorities in order.”

Jolie, an Oscar-winning actress who is also a UN goodwill ambassador, was unveiling an almost $150-million program to help educate one million children in conflict, refugee and emergency situations.

Meanwhile, the head of one of the world’s biggest information technology firms said the Philippines is the best location for investors looking for profitable business havens in Southeast Asia.

Kenneth Tuchman, chairman and chief executive officer of TeleTech, one of the world’s top business processing outsourcing (BPO) firms, gave this assessment Wednesday as he described his company’s Philippine operations as its “biggest success story.”

Tuchman had a good word for Philippine business conditions in remarks at a luncheon he hosted in honor of President Arroyo and her economic team at the Waldorf Astoria Towers in New York.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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