June 28, 2008 (STAR) NEW YORK (via PLDT) – The much-awaited face-to-face meeting between US Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and President Arroyo did not push through but the senator managed a telephone call where he expressed support for various Philippine initiatives.

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said the call came at around 3 p.m. (3 a.m. Manila time) in between Mrs. Arroyo’s public engagements at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel here and lasted “for a few minutes.”

The meeting between Mrs. Arroyo and Obama was reset at least twice since she arrived here last week owing to conflicting schedules. Her schedule also slightly changed to accommodate a possible meeting.

“I think it was in the assessment of Sen. Obama’s camp that a phone call was to be made instead of the President flying in and out of Washington,” Dureza told reporters. “There will be no more person-to-person meeting.”

He said Mrs. Arroyo was both thrilled and relieved over the call since it would spare her from shuttling back to Washington D.C. as planned.

Reports said Obama’s wife, Michelle, was at the Waldorf for a public engagement the same day the call took place.

Obama was in Washington D.C. tying up loose ends to unify his campaign with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

“She was pleased with the telephone call and I’d like to assure you that she was in very high spirits after (the call),” Dureza said.

He did not say what Mrs. Arroyo told the US senator but said Obama reiterated his welcome statement for her arrival in the US.

“Of course the actual exchange is something that cannot be disclosed unless by Obama or the President herself,” Dureza said.

In his statement, Obama said the phone conversation with President Arroyo was an opportunity to strengthen the two countries’ “historic alliance, and to discuss a host of issues of mutual interest.”

He also expressed sympathy to the victims and families of typhoon “Frank.”

“I urge the US government to provide emergency support to alleviate the suffering caused by this catastrophic natural disaster,” he said.

“The bond between the United States and the Philippines is strong and enduring. The Philippines has been an important ally of the United States through World War II, the Cold War, and now the fight against terrorism and extremism,” Obama said.

The 1954 Mutual Defense Treaty formed a cornerstone of US policy in Southeast Asia during the Cold War, and the Philippines continues to be one of only two US treaty allies in Southeast Asia today, he said.

After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the Philippines has worked closely with the US to root out al-Qaeda and its affiliates in the region, he said.

“Annual joint military exercises, named ‘Balikatan,’ or ‘Shoulder-to-Shoulder,’ have been a model of cooperation, and form the core of US-Philippine military-to-military activities to support the Philippines with its ongoing defense reform efforts. I support these continuing programs, including upgrading and enhancing the military’s equipment and training,” Obama said.

“The agenda for President Arroyo’s visit is full. Together, we must address many challenges going forward, including the future of ASEAN, the continuing tragedy in Burma, implementation of recently-authorized Millennium Challenge Account assistance, and alleviation of the effects of the global food crisis on the Philippines. We should deal with these challenges with confidence in the foundation of our common interests and the shared values on which our relationship is based,” he said.

He also joined Mrs. Arroyo’s call for the US House of Representatives to immediately pass the proposed Filipino Veterans’ Equity Act.

“This legislation would offer Filipino veterans the benefits they rightfully deserve for their heroic service during World War II. Filipino and American troops fought bravely together under some of the most trying conditions suffered by any forces during that conflict. Filipinos displayed great courage alongside American soldiers at Bataan and Corregidor, only to be denied their just benefits by our government,” he said.

‘Positive influence’

He said Filipinos have an enormous positive impact on the American culture and economy.

“The most important part of our bilateral relationship is the deep and abiding people-to-people bond that our two nations share. I grew up in Hawaii, where Filipinos have had an enormous positive impact on the culture and the economy. Across the United States, generations of Filipino immigrants have enriched our society and contributed to building a more vibrant United States of America,” Obama said.

He added: “The continuing bond they have with the land of their heritage resonates in the strong families and communities they have woven into the fabric of American society. As dedicated citizens, Filipino Americans – four million strong – embody our nation’s highest ideals.”

“The Philippines has a proud legacy as Asia’s first democracy, a legacy that should be honored and cherished but never taken for granted by the American people. I have great hope for the Philippines and admiration for its people,” Obama said. – Paolo Romero

France donates 70,000 euros to ‘Frank’ victims By Mayen Jaymalin Saturday, June 28, 2008

The French government sent 70,000 euros ($110,000) in cash donation to the Philippines for the victims of typhoon “Frank.”

French Ambassador Gérard Chesnel officially delivered the financial assistance to Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC).

Chesnel also handed over a letter from French President Nicolas Sarkozy addressed to President Arroyo, expressing sympathy and condolences to the Filipino people.

“It is with deep sorrow that I learned of the heavy consequences brought about by typhoon Fengshen (Frank) in the Philippines, particularly the tragic sinking of the ship MV Princess of the Stars,” Sarkozy said.

The French foreign ministry sent the letter to Mrs. Arroyo through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), expressing the readiness of the French government and the European Union to provide assistance to those affected by the typhoon.

Australia also provided A$500,000, or P20 million, in humanitarian assistance to the Philippines.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd sent a letter to Mrs. Arroyo conveying the sympathy of the Australian government and its people for the tragic loss of life and property caused by typhoon Frank.

Rudd said, “The thoughts of all Australians, and particularly our Filipino community, are with you and all those affected by this terrible disaster.”

Rudd underlined the sentiments with the initial financial contribution from the Australian government as humanitarian assistance for the victims of the typhoon.

“The funds will be made available to the Philippine National Red Cross to assist with relief operations, including setting up shelters, emergency support for drinking water and other non-food, clothing and related emergency items,” Australian Ambassador Rod Smith said yesterday after a meeting with Gordon.

Smith said Australian officials would coordinate the relief efforts with the PNRC and the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC).

An Australian embassy official has been sent to Western Visayas to undertake an assessment of further needs, Smith said.

Australia has been a generous donor of the Philippines since 2006, providing almost A$2.5 million in humanitarian and emergency assistance.

Recognizing the Philippines is vulnerable to natural disasters, Australia, through its international development agency (AusAID), is working with the PNRC, the United Nations Development Program and the NDCC to strengthen community-based disaster management and hazards mapping.

Japan also turned over P8-million emergency assistance to the Philippine government for the typhoon victims.

Minister Hidenobu Sobashima, chargè d’affaires of the Embassy of Japan, turned over the emergency relief assistance for the typhoon victims to Secretary Esperanza Cabral of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

The assistance, worth 20 million yen or approximately P8 million, is for relief and rehabilitation of Iloilo, Antique, Capiz and Aklan, the provinces hardest hit by the typhoon.

The Japanese donation includes sleeping pads, generators, water tanks and plastic sheets.

Officials said the emergency assistance is in line with the Japanese government’s commitment to assist the Philippines’ disaster management efforts. – With Pia Lee-Brago, Roel Pareño

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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