June 26, 2008 (STAR) By Paolo Romero  – The Philippines and the United States have forged a broad food security agreement that includes $216 million in grants and concessional loans to fund various programs such as developing sturdy rice seeds and repair of irrigation facilities.

This developed as President Arroyo called on the US, “as the breadbasket of the world,” to help ensure the flow of vital humanitarian supplies to the countries reeling from the blow of soaring fuel and food prices.

Mrs. Arroyo met US Agriculture Secretary Ed Schaefer at the Federal Suite at the Willard Hotel here at 1:30 p.m. (1:30 a.m. Manila time). After the meeting, she witnessed the signing of the Framework Agreement of Cooperation on Agriculture and Related Fields between Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap and Schafer.

The signing came after Yap informed the World Bank the Philippines wanted to avail of portions of the $1.2-billion loans and grants facility to aid the private sector and farmers to access affordable fertilizers.

Mrs. Arroyo on Tuesday met US President George W. Bush at the Oval Office in the White House. Bush assured her the US would continue to aid the Philippines in its rice problems.

“We helped with rice in the past. And, you know, I’m proud of my country. We give a lot of food aid, and this is a time where America needs to step up, and we will, Madam President,” Bush told Mrs. Arroyo.

The agreement signed by Yap and Schaefer covered sanitary and phytosanitary measures that will pave the way for fresh banana and mango exports from the Philippines worth $15 million in sales to increase in the succeeding years.

It also granted to the government $1.5 million for research and development of disease-resistant and adverse climate tolerant rice seeds.

The agreement will implement an accelerated dairy development program, which plans to infuse 10,000 dairy animals in the next five years worth $25 million.

The agreement also committed the forging of additional rice supply deals through the Public Law 480 of at least $20 million and General Services Manager 102 Program of at least $70 million.

It also will implement a $25-million support program for irrigation and infrastructure and surplus agriculture equipment.

The agreement also funded the capacity building of agricultural extension personnel through training and technical exchanges between the Philippines and the US with the help of academic institutions of the two countries amounting to $25 million.

In addition, the agreement granted $25 million for an accelerated livestock genetic resource program in the Philippines.

GMA pleads for passage of veterans’ bill in US Congress By Paolo Romero Thursday, June 26, 2008

WASHINGTON (via PLDT) – President Arroyo appealed to US President George W. Bush and key US legislators for the immediate passage of the veterans’ equity bill that would grant full benefits to Filipino World War II veterans.

Mrs. Arroyo met on Monday night US congressional leaders at the Crystal Ballroom at the Willard Hotel and thanked them for the efforts to pass the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill that was approved in the Senate but is meeting stiff opposition in the House of Representatives.

She also held talks with Bush at the Oval Office at the White House on Tuesday where they took up various issues of mutual concern, and she also urged him to help in the passage of the measure.

She told reporters over lunch Tuesday that she “made a strong case for why the Philippine veterans of WWII deserve equity and I’ve asked for the understanding and support of the leaders of America.

“This is consistent with one major aim of this trip, to help fight for passage of the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill. That’s part of a larger bill pending in Congress so I’ve spoken with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, President Bush on the issue not to mention the authors and sponsors to thank them for what they did,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

She conferred on them the Order of the Golden Heart for being at the forefront of promoting in the US Congress Philippine interests, including the interest and welfare of the veterans.

Given the award, with the Rank of Grand Cross, were Senators Daniel Akaka, Reid, Pelosi, and Representatives Bob Filner, and Darell Issa.

Due to prior commitments, Reid was given the award earlier at the presidential suite at the hotel.

“The Order of the Golden Heart represents our nation’s humble way of recognizing those who help build life to the noble aspirations of the Filipino people,” the President said.

“The Golden Heart Award is given to those with a golden heart,” she said.

She said: “In behalf of the 85 million Filipinos and the families and friends who make up the four million members of the Philippine-American community, thank you for your continuing deep friendship. Thank you for your expression of support.”

She noted that RP-US relations will “always be close as well as special.”

She said the latest BBC survey on the global perceptions towards the US revealed that the Philippines is the most supportive nation to the US.

She said the RP-US Friendship Caucus is a living example of the two nations’ close bilateral ties.

US lawmakers sympathetic to the plight of Filipino veterans earlier said they will push for the passage of an amended bill in the House before the November presidential and congressional elections here.

Under the new House initiative, no law would be passed unless there is actual funding for it. One way to fund it is through “offset” where an allocation would be diverted for the new appropriation, US lawmakers explained.

Issa noted that a vast majority of House members are supportive of granting benefits to Filipino veterans but are averse to the “offset.”

“So we will propose alternate offsets,” Issa told reporters. “I think we can convince those who don’t like the first bill to support the second bill.

“We will use oil revenues because oil revenues to the US treasury have been rising along with others. As you know we have 41 million acres of federal lands that yield oil so there are plenty of revenues that can be taken from the increases,” he said.

He said he hopes that the House would be able to vote on the amendments by July.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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