[PHOTO AT LEFT - President Arroyo meets with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the Presidential Headquarters in Cairo, Egypt last Saturday. MANILA, Philippines]

MANILA, MAY 5, 2009 (STAR) President Arroyo was able to secure Egypt’s support for the Philippine bid to join the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), Malacañang said yesterday.

The Palace said Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had expressed his nation’s full support for the Philippine bid for observer status in the OIC during a one-on-one meeting with President Arroyo.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, who was with Mrs. Arroyo, said Egypt could wield its influence on the other OIC members to support the bid of the Philippines.

“Due to our good relations with them, Egypt fully supports not only the Philippines’ seeking a seat at the OIC but will also ask other OIC members such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Libya and Indonesia, among others, to support the Philippines’ bid,” he said.

Since 2003, the Philippines has tried but failed to get into the OIC, which recognizes the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) as the sole legitimate representative of Muslims in Mindanao.

Romulo said membership in the OIC, even as an observer, would provide the Philippines with even greater support from the OIC, particularly in efforts to attain lasting peace and development in Mindanao.

The OIC played a significant role in the signing of a peace agreement between the government and the MNLF, he added.

Romulo said Mrs. Arroyo and Mubarak discussed ways to enhance the 54-year relationship between the Philippines and Egypt.

“It was a good meeting, a happy meeting,” he said. “They remain our friends and they want to remain good friends with us.”

President Arroyo was able to meet Sheikh Nasser Kharafi, Saudi Arabia’s second richest man, during the less than 10 hours that she was in Egypt.

Kharafi, who heads the Kuwait-based M.A. Kharafi and Sons, told Mrs. Arroyo about his company’s interest in putting some $1.2 billion into the Diosdado Macapagal Airport at the Clark Freeport Zone.

The Kharafi Group has a passion to build airports, according to Clark International Airport Corporation president and chairman Nestor Mangio.

Mrs. Arroyo met Kharafi at the Marsa Alam International Airport, which was constructed by his company.

Mangio said the Kharafi Group also invested in the development of properties surrounding the airport, as well as the area’s water treatment system.

“Our long search for an investor for DMIA’s expansion is almost over,” he said.

However, Mangio said the Kharafi Group would have to take part in the bidding process as required by Philippine law.

“Our joint venture guidelines with BOT calls for a Swiss challenge so everyone can propose and anyone who offers a better bid than Kharafi will get the project,” he said.

Mrs. Arroyo also met with Dr. Hamza Al Kholi, a Saudi businessman of Egyptian origin, for possible investments in the Philippines and job opportunities for Filipinos in the Middle East.

Al Kholi is the president and chief executive officer of the Al Kholi Group, a holding company involved in general maintenance services for residential and commercial buildings, hotels, hospitals, factories, roads and playgrounds, real estate investments and development, facilities management and janitorial services, distribution of pharmaceuticals and fertilizers, grass and tree plantation, and catering services.

Deputy presidential spokeswoman Lorelei Fajardo said the Al Kholi Group is interested in a joint venture with the Philippine Postal Corporation for the interconnection of post offices nationwide.

“According to the Postmaster General (Hector) Villanueva, Al Kholi’s son-in-law would be visiting the Philippines soon to finalize the agreement on the remittance, business and value-added financial services,” she said.

Before heading to Syria for her state visit last Sunday, Mrs. Arroyo made a side trip to the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Sphinx.

‘Waste of time’

The United Opposition (UNO) said yesterday that President Arroyo’s trip to Egypt is another waste of taxpayers’ money.

UNO spokesman Adel Tamano said Mrs. Arroyo’s penchant for going abroad indicates her lack of sensitivity to the majority of the people mired in poverty.

Tamano said Mrs. Arroyo would do well if she stops her “senseless” trips abroad and instead addresses the rampant corruption in her administration and the worsening peace and order situation in the country.

“Aside from wasting government resources, the trip demonstrates GMA’s preference to attend international conferences instead of tackling problems at home,” Tamano said.

Tamano said attending conferences on interfaith dialogue in the Middle East would only create more problems.

“To address the worsening security in Mindanao by attending a Middle East conference on Interfaith Dialogue will only create more problems rather than promote peace, as the signing of the formal agreement on the issue of the ancestral domain did not materialize when her administration junked the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD) when the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional,” Tamano said. – Marvin Sy, Jose Rodel Clapano

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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