(STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo is confident of the support of US President-elect Barack Obama, though they have not yet spoken to each other since his historic victory.

The President spoke for the first time yesterday on the issue, which had portrayed her as too eager to earn publicity points with Obama's victory.

Mrs. Arroyo tried to call up Obama shortly after he was declared the winner in the presidential race to congratulate him, but the two were not able to speak to each other.

Critics pointed to the fact that Obama had returned calls to at least nine world leaders who had called to congratulate him, but up to now has yet to return Mrs. Arroyo's call.

The President is in the US on a three-day trip to participate in an interfaith forum at the United Nations headquarters in New York organized by Saudi Arabia.

Palace officials said there are no arrangements for a meeting with Obama.

Mrs. Arroyo cited a letter she received from the President-elect last June after their telephone conversation.

At that time, she was in the US on an official visit but arrangements for a meeting of the two fell through. She, however, was able to have a meeting with defeated presidential candidate John McCain.

"Before the election, I received a letter from Sen. Obama, which reassured us of strong Filipino-US relations," the President said.

It was not clear why she made the remarks. If she was smarting from the criticism, she did not show it.

She said in his letter, Obama acknowledged "the long history and alliance that has bound our two countries together for decades."

"He recalled that we fought together against fascism in Second World War and stood up successfully against a common adversary during the Cold War, and today we find ourselves shoulder to shoulder in the common struggle against terrorism and extremism," Mrs. Arroyo said.

She said Obama enumerated several issues that are of mutual concern to the two countries, including climate change, food security, poverty reduction, the future of Association of Southeast Asian Nations, human rights in Burma, and defense reform.

She noted that it was Veterans' Day and recalled that Obama had expressed his support for the Filipino Veterans' Equity Bill.

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza earlier downplayed the failure to get her call through to Obama.

"Just because your call was not taken doesn't mean it diminishes your importance," Dureza told reporters before joining Mrs. Arroyo on the US trip.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro said he sees no change in the country's bilateral ties with the United States with the forthcoming assumption to power of Obama.

He said strategic concerns of both countries would remain unchanged whoever the superpower's leader is.

In an interview during the 69th anniversary of the Department of National Defense (DND) at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, Teodoro said there would be no significant change in mutual relations between the two countries in terms of the global campaign against terrorism because the deployment of US troops in the country is "very minimal."

"Any US president probably would even want to increase deployments here, not to reduce them," he said.

He added that the military's fight against the local terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group and the Jemaah Islamiyah in Mindanao would hardly be affected in case Obama decides to change the US military's presence in the country.

Teodoro stressed that although the "technical assistance" being provided by US troops to the Armed Forces of the Philippines is "very helpful," it is not crucial.

"To me the key to the fight against the Abu Sayyaf is the strengthening of the local government units, strengthening of our police forces, and strengthening of the communities." -With James Mananghaya

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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