June 25, 2008 (STAR) Jose Katigbak STAR Washington bureau -  The United States has assured the Philippines of a continued supply of food to help stave off a shortage.

Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap told The STAR the US Department of Agriculture was prepared to extend millions of dollars in new credit guarantees under its GSM-102 program to the National Food Authority to purchase farm products.

Early this year the Philippines used all $75 million of its GSM credit guarantees to purchase 72,000 metric tons of US rice.

The GSM program helps ensure credit is available to finance commercial exports of US agricultural products while providing competitive credit terms to buyers.

It covers credit terms of up to three years.

Yap said details of the new credit guarantee would be announced after President Arroyo meets US Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer at her Willard Hotel suite on Tuesday.

“At the moment they (US government) don’t want to put a dollar figure to it,” he said. “They want to be the one to announce it but it looks very promising.”

Informed sources said the new credit guarantee was in the $200-million range and will likely be one of the more significant results to come out of Mrs. Arroyo’s 10-day working visit to the United States.

One of Mrs. Arroyo’s first official acts in Washington on Monday was to meet with John Danilovic, chief executive of the Millennium Challenge Corp., which recently selected the Philippines as a compact eligible country.

The selection qualifies the Philippines for large-scale grant MCC funding based on independent indicators that measure good governance, the country’s investments in its people and politics that encourage economic freedom.

At a short press conference after their 30-minute meeting, Mrs. Arroyo said the MCC’s selection of the Philippines was a validation of her government’s efforts to invest in the people, fight corruption and encourage economic freedom.

“Proposals were being prepared and we’re religiously looking at the checklist every time to make sure we comply with all the expectations of the MCC,” she said.

Danilovic said the MCC expected to receive next year a comprehensive set of proposals from the Philippines and after “due diligence” make its selection based on what projects would sustain economic development, reduce poverty and benefit people.

“We have compact proposals that range from $110 million to just under $700 million,” he said.

There was no set maximum amount for MCC funding, Danilovic said.

Yap said if it was up to him the first priority project should be to repair 300,000 hectares of unserviceable irrigated lands costing about $500 million.

“The aim is to increase production and keep prices stable thus ensuring food security for our people,” he said.

If more money were available his second priority would be to build storage capacity, Yap said.

Before meeting Danilovic, Mrs. Arroyo met with US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, who offered his government’s deepest sympathies for the ferry disaster off Romblon, as well as the death toll from typhoon “Frank.”

A State Department spokesman said the US has sent a Navy ship with search-and-rescue capability to the scene of the tragedy and gave the Philippine National Red Cross $100,000 for immediate support to the victims.

Negroponte offered to work with the Philippine government “on any additional needs,” the spokesman said.

Only 24 of 59 congressmen in US have travel authority to join GMA By Jess Diaz Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Only 24 of the 59 members of the House of Representatives traveling or meeting up with President Arroyo in Washington or New York have the appropriate “travel authority” (TA).

House sources said more than 70 congressmen asked for TA to be with the presidential entourage, but only 24 were given TAs.

The House has not released an official list of its members traveling with the President.

Of the 59, 41 in the “state visit” from June 21 to 30 were named yesterday by sources in the lower chamber.

This, as the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) criticized the “too extravagant and outrageous” US trip that has an entourage of 59 congressmen, a senator, and 10 Cabinet secretaries.

“In a time of severe economic crisis and calamity, government must take the lead in practicing austerity,” said Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes Jr.

Those with TAs signed by House Secretary General Marilyn Yap on instruction of Speaker Prospero Nograles are presidential son and Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo, Representatives Aurelio Gonzales Jr. of Pampanga, Junie Cua of Quirino, Marc Cagas of Davao del Sur, Yevgeny Emano of Misamis Oriental,

Antonio Lagdameo Jr. of Davao del Norte, Roger Mercado of Southern Leyte, Danilo Suarez of Quezon, William Irwin Tieng of the party-list group Buhay, Jose Zubiri III of Bukidnon, Rommel Amatong of Compostela Valley, Rex Gatchalian of Valenzuela City,

Nelson Dayanghirang of Davao Oriental, Rizalina Seachon-Lanete of Masbate, Rachel Arenas of Pangasinan, Monico Puentevella of Bacolod City, Herminia Ramiro of Misamis Occidental, Albert Garcia of Bataan, Joseph Gilbert Violago of Nueva Ecija;

Munir Arbison of Sulu, Narciso Santiago III of the party-list group Alliance for Rural Concerns, Bienvenido Abante of Manila, Teodulo Coquilla of Eastern Samar, and Andres Salvacion of Leyte.

Others traveling with Mrs. Arroyo are Deputy Speakers Raul del Mar and Amelita Villarosa, and Representatives Martin Romualdez and Trinidad Apostol of Leyte, Antonio Diaz of Zambales, Antonio Cuenco and Eduardo Gullas of Cebu City, Ana York Bondoc of Pampanga;

Amado Bagatsing of Manila, Nanette Daza and Mary Ann Susano of Quezon City, Elpidio Barzaga Jr. of Cavite, Marc Mendoza of Batangas, Mitzi Cajayon of Caloocan City, Rozzano Rufino Biazon of Muntinlupa City, and Conrado Estrella III of Pangasinan.

Another presidential congressman-son, Diosdado or Dato of Camarines Sur, is also said to be with his mother’s entourage.

Nograles earlier said he did not know who were joining the trip.

P100,000 monthly travel allowance

Some congressmen said it is not true that the “junketeers” were using their own funds.

They said House members get regular monthly allotment of about P100,000 each for local and foreign travels, whether they are traveling or not.

“It is most likely that these are the funds that they are using for this trip,” a source said.

The lawmakers were authorized to join the presidential entourage “on their own expense,” but that they would be entitled to “travel tax exemptions.”

The travel tax amounts to P810 for government personnel and P1,620 for private citizens.

Nograles, who is not among the 24, said it was possible the others were joining up with the President on their own.

Nograles himself flew to New York with his wife to visit their doctor-daughter and will meet up with the presidential party today or tomorrow.

Responding to criticism that his colleagues left when super typhoon “Frank” was already battering the country, Nograles said: “Well, the President’s trip was long scheduled. The storm called Frank had no scheduled arrival.”

He urged those in areas that have been hit or affected by the typhoon to immediately return to their districts to help their constituents.

Among those in typhoon affected areas are Romualdez, Apostol, and Salvacion of Leyte, Villarosa of Mindoro Oriental, Seachon-Lanete of Masbate, Diaz of Zambales, and Coquilla of Eastern Samar, where typhoon Frank made landfall.

Coquilla’s governor, Ben Evardone, and Iloilo Rep. Jeanette Garin, were supposed to join Mrs. Arroyo’s party, but they begged off at the last minute because of the typhoon.

Garin said House members traveling with the President have been classified into two groups.

“There is the accompanying delegation, whose members left a few days ahead of the presidential entourage, and there is the official delegation, whose members left with the President last Saturday.”

‘Classic colonial mentality’

Meanwhile, Bayan assailed President Arroyo for pushing through with her 10-day visit to the United States even as typhoon Frank battered many parts of the country, leaving scores of people dead and missing, and property and crops severely ravaged.

The group expressed outrage over what it termed as “Arroyo’s US junket” and described it “the height of insensitivity.”

“What we are seeing are Filipinos being squeezed by the value added tax (VAT), while government officials only hop on junkets.”

“You just feel outraged. Just how many of these congressmen actually plan to stay in the US to watch the Pacquiao fight on June 29? How many are planning to come home immediately to attend to their constituents?” he added.

But Malacañang defended the decision of Mrs. Arroyo to push through with her working visit to the US while the country was being hit by a typhoon since this was scheduled way before the arrival of the storm.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita emphasized that the President was on top of the situation even while she was out of the country as she regularly gets updates on the storm from the National Disaster Coordinating Council.

Ermita noted that the NDCC had held two teleconferences with the President already, and a third one is set for today.

“The visit of the President has been scheduled and when the President left, the situation as far as the typhoon is concerned, was still in its development stage. This is not the first time that we had a storm in the Philippines,” Ermita said.

Reyes however deplored the “classic colonial mentality” apparent with the US trip of President Arroyo and other government officials.

“There seems to be something with meeting American officials that makes Philippine officials giddy,” he said.

Philippine officials have made US relations a priority over national interests,” he lamented.

“Philippine officials probably want to be seen in Washington, hobnobbing with ranking American officials. This is classic colonial mentality, the kind that translates into foreign policies such as allowing American troops to intervene in our domestic affairs and allowing American corporations to plunder our country’s resources.”

Earlier, Bayan said the trip would not result in anything beneficial for the people. It also said that the trip would only boost unequal bilateral relations between the US and the Philippines.

Kidnapping part of talks

Bayan warned Malacañang against using the kidnapping of journalist Ces Drilon, her crew, and a university professor in Sulu to pursue and even expand the RP-US “anti-terror” cooperation.

The group said that increased RP-US military cooperation would mean greater military aid for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), which could mean more human rights violations in the country, especially against critics of the administration; and more US soldiers entering Philippine territory, which could all the more compromise the country’s sovereignty under the guise of fighting terrorism.

Malacañang has said that the Sulu kidnapping would be part of the agenda of Arroyo’s scheduled meeting with US President George Bush as the two leaders are reportedly set to talk about security concerns. – With Katherine Adraneda, Marvin Sy

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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