June 30, 2008 (STAR) By Paolo Romero  – President Arroyo and Republican presidential candidate John McCain met here Sunday with the US senator recalling his family’s “long relationship” with the Philippines starting with his grandfather during World War II.

Mrs. Arroyo and McCain met for about 20 minutes at the Willard Hotel here at around noon. The President flew in from New York City for the meeting and later proceeded to San Francisco for a flight back to Manila.

McCain, meanwhile, had a public engagement at the Willard a few hours earlier and returned for his meeting with her.

Mrs. Arroyo had earlier tried unsuccessfully to set up a meeting with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Obama, however, called her up on Friday, and cited during their brief conversation the strong relationship between the two countries.

McCain told Filipino journalists that he was “very grateful for the opportunity of this meeting” during a photo opportunity after their talks.

“We have many mutual interests, including our cooperation in the issue of Mindanao and the progress being made in all fronts, which is the way we effectively address the challenges of radical Islamic extremism,” he said.

In a separate statement to American journalists covering his campaign, he said, he was happy to meet Mrs. Arroyo “whose leadership we value enormously and we have a close alliance for many, many years.”

“Again, we have a long relationship and a warm one. And my family personally has a long relationship with the great nation of the Philippines and I’m grateful for the opportunity to not only renew our friendship, but to affirm it and I look forward to visiting again, which I had not done in some years,” McCain said.

He said: “An important and valuable ally and friend is here with us today and I am grateful and proud of the leadership that is displayed in the relationship between our two countries.”

Among those present during the meeting were Interior and Local Governments Secretary Ronaldo Puno, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye and Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila.

Bunye said McCain visited the Philippines 10 years ago and expressed intention to return to the country.

Mrs. Arroyo noted the significant role and support the US has played in Philippine affairs especially in times of conflict and peacemaking.

She also said Filipinos are closely watching political developments in the US, particularly the presidential election campaign.

Bunye said McCain “went down memory lane” and told Mrs. Arroyo that his grandfather, Adm. John McCain Sr., as a young officer served in a Navy vessel patrolling Philippine waters in 1906.

But Bunye might have gotten his facts wrong, as McCain’s grandfather had just graduated from the US Naval Academy (USNA) in 1906 and it was the senator’s father, Adm. John McCain Jr., who was patrolling Philippine waters in a submarine.

McCain Sr. in 1944 was appointed as commander of a carrier group where he participated in various campaigns in the region, including the famous Battle of the Philippine Sea.

McCain Jr. also graduated from the USNA and led a submarine patrol in 1944 in waters off Tawi-Tawi where he attacked Japanese carriers.

The senator’s father served as Commander-in-Chief of the Honolulu-based US Pacific Command during the Vietnam War. During this time, his son was held in Hanoi as a prisoner of war for over five years.

Bunye said the two also talked about food security as well as the US-assisted counter-terrorism campaign in Mindanao.

He said Mrs. Arroyo told him that US soldiers in Mindanao were “well-loved” by Filipinos because of their humanitarian work and achievements in weakening Al-Qaida-linked terror groups in Southern Philippines, including the Abu Sayyaf.

Meantime, President Arroyo arrives at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal III at dawn today after her 10-day working visit to the United States.

Mrs. Arroyo and First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and some members of the presidential delegation took a Philippine Airlines commercial flight (PR 105) from San Francisco, California and are expected to arrive at 5:50 a.m. at the NAIA-3.

Upon arrival, she will inspect the facilities of NAIA-3 and proceed to the Villamor Air Base where she will send off relief goods for victims of typhoon Frank.

The President would then proceed to Baler, Aurora where she will sign the Personal Equity and Retirement Account Bill and to Clarkfield Pampanga for the Regional Disaster Coordinating Council meeting for Region 3.

Tomorrow, she will go to Iloilo to preside over the joint Cabinet and National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) meeting to discuss the ongoing rehabilitation and relief efforts in typhoon-damaged areas of Panay Island.

GMA arrives today

Officials said NAIA-3 is all set for the arrival of Philippine Airlines flight PR 105 from California, carrying 450 passengers including President Arroyo and her delegation.

Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza said he expects no more glitches from the facility, unlike what happened during the earlier dry runs conducted at the terminal.

According to Mendoza, all of the major airlines serving domestic destinations are raring to use the terminal, including Philippine Airlines’ new low-cost brand PAL Express.

The NAIA-3 would initially be used for domestic flights but would eventually be opened up to international carriers.

“We’re ready. Everything’s prepared,” said former presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor, who was tapped by the President to head a task force for the opening of the NAIA-3.

Defensor added that it would take at least two to three weeks more from the President’s arrival before operations for domestic flights could formally start.

Another six months would be needed to prepare the facility for international flights.

In a coordination meeting of all the agencies involved in the operation of the NAIA-3, airport officials led by Manila International Airport Authority assistant manager for security Angel Atutubo assured the group that the air-conditioning system, x-ray machines, security arrangements, paging system, ramp, closed circuit television cameras and other requirements for the President’s arrival and inaugural opening of the terminal have all been sorted out. – With Marvin Sy, Rainier Allan Ronda, Ding Cervantes

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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