[PHOTO AT LEFT - President Arroyo and Spanish Senate president Javier Rojo Garcia stand in front of The Battle of Lepanto, a painting by Filipino hero Juan Luna, during her visit to the Senate at the Plaza de la Marima Española in Madrid.]

MADRID, DECEMBER 5, 2007 (STAR) Spain and the Philippines signed cooperation agreements last Monday at the start of President Arroyo’s three-day visit to Spain, including one covering the alternative fuel sector.

“We have reduced our dependence on imported oil, so this agreement on renewable energy is very important to us, especially since Spain is the leader in solar and wind energy,” said Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo.

Romulo also signed cooperation deals with his Spanish counterpart, Miguel Angel Moratinos, covering agriculture and fisheries, education, sports and culture.

In the education field, the two countries “agreed to assist each other in the teaching of the Spanish language,” Romulo said.

Meantime, Filipinos working as drivers in Spain were finally granted skilled worker status following the signing of an agreement on the exchange of driver’s license in Madrid.

The signing and its announcement were timed during President Arroyo’s visit to Madrid.

Prior to the signing of the agreement, Filipinos carrying professional driver’s licenses were treated only as unskilled workers, which meant lower salaries than those classified as skilled workers.

Philippine Ambassador to Spain Joseph Delano Bernardo announced the breakthrough during President Arroyo’s meeting with more than 1,000 members of the Filipino community in Spain at the La Salle Colegio Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas last Monday.

He pointed out that 21 days after the publication of the agreement in the Boletin Official de Estado, Filipino professional drivers could get their appointment to effect the exchange of their driver’s license.

Bernardo also announced the decision of the Grupo Los Nograles, the employer of Filipino caregivers in Spain, to hire 80 more Filipinos on top of the existing 120.

In her visit to Madrid, President Arroyo was given the symbolic key to the city, where a number of the Philippines’ great patriots, including national hero Jose Rizal, drew inspiration for their works.

Madrid Mayor Alberto Luis Gallardon presented the golden key to the city to Mrs. Arroyo during her visit to City Hall.

During her visit to the Alcala de Henares University in Madrid, the President was given a citation in a conferment ceremony of the Medalla de Oro.

After the ceremony, the President also met with Spanish President and Prime Minister Jose Luis-Rodriguez Zapatero at the Palacio Real de el Pardo, and later with opposition leader Mariano Rajoy.

With yesterday being the last day of her visit in Madrid, a dinner reception was hosted by King Carlos I and Queen Sofia.

The President heads to Vittoria, the capital of the Basque country today for the launching of the Year of Urdaneta and the inauguration of the special exhibit on the fifth centenary of Fray Andres de Urdaneta.

Mrs. Arroyo’s visit to the Basque country would only be for a few hours as she would be flying off to London on the same day for her state visit. – Marvin Sy, Paolo Romero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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