MANILA, MARCH 3, 2008 (STAR) Arrangements are being made for possible visits of President Arroyo to Doha, Qatar and Dakar, Senegal in Western Africa in the middle of the month in the effort to improve ties with and secure investments from the two countries, officials said yesterday.

Trade Secretary Peter Favila said the trip to Qatar will be a state visit. He said Mrs. Arroyo and the Qatar Emir, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, were supposed to meet at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Zurich, Switzerland but it did not push through due to scheduling problems.

Favila said the Emir instead extended an invitation for Mrs. Arroyo to make a visit this month.

Favila could not give details of the trip except that “our respective officials are making arrangements.”

“Nothing is finalized yet,” he said.

Malacañang officials, however, said Mrs. Arroyo is likely to secure investments from Qatar, including tourism and other infrastructure projects, as well as try to wrap up energy deals. The officials, however, could not state the purpose of her visit to Dakar. – Paolo Romero

Arroyo won’t get distracted – Bunye By Marvin Sy Sunday, March 2, 2008

President Arroyo won’t get distracted by mass actions calling for her ouster, Malacañang said after the interfaith rally held in Makati City last Friday.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said “it is obvious that the President does not allow herself to be distracted by the mass actions” spearheaded by anti-administration groups.

He noted that the schedule of the President last Friday was just like any other day, although she was aware that her critics were congregating in Makati City.

The President put up a brave face while going about inaugurations and groundbreaking ceremonies, but she spent over three hours inside the tightly guarded Camp Crame in Quezon City to monitor what was going on in Makati.

Malacañang said the President “dropped by” the headquarters of the Philippine National Police (PNP) to check out the events on five television screens.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita stressed that there was nothing unusual as “the President had probably done this on three occasions already in the past.”

He said Mrs. Arroyo asked for a briefing of what was happening.

Some Cabinet men, including Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr., Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno, Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, and Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. were present at Camp Crame.

Ermita admitted that the Chief Executive could have just monitored the events at Malacañang but she decided that rather than getting the security officials like Esperon and PNP chief Director General Avelino Razon Jr. out of their offices to brief her, she might as well go to where they were.

After a few hours monitoring the Makati rally and meeting with her Cabinet members, the President went back to Malacañang where she was met by congressmen, mayors, and governors who expressed their support for her.

Bunye said the Chief Executive was happy the rally ended as agreed between the organizers and the police.

“We didn’t see any changes, it was like a normal day for her. At the end of the day, we saw her last night and she was thankful that the rally was peaceful and the rallyists abided by the agreement. Overall, all’s well that ends well,” Bunye said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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