July 31, 2009
Following her meeting with US President Barack Obama, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Friday said the Philippines has been named the coordinator between the US and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
An elated President Arroyo said Obama named the Philippines "country coordinator" for US-Asean relations because the US president "appreciates" the two countries’ agreement on many issues involving the Asean region."
It’s (RP as country coordinator) something that the US recognizes as important for them. And from what I can see, and I think what you can see, President Obama appreciates that role because there are many things we agree on," Mrs. Arroyo said in interviews by radio stations in Manila.
"For instance we agree on Burma, we agree on North Korea, we agree on counter-terrorism regional cooperation, we agree on greater economic integration between America and Asean," she said.
The Philippines and the US are one in supporting the release of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and have both condemned recent nuclear tests by North Korea, she said.
The Asean, founded in 1967, includes Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.
Military, economic assistance
Apart from naming the Philippines the US’ liaison to the Asean, Obama assured that the US will continue to work with the Philippines in fighting terrorism, particularly through intelligence sharing and other forms of cooperation, Mrs. Arroyo said."The US will continue to work with us in intelligence-sharing and other forms of cooperation against counter-terrorism," she said.
Mrs. Arroyo said they also talked about economic matters during the meeting. According to her, she brought up the Save-Our-Industries Act pending in the US Congress, which she said may give the Philippines a bigger market for its products like textiles.
She said the Philippines will also work on specific industries that can benefit from the country's relations with the US: bananas production, garments, and seaweed."Therefore it’s win-win for both sides. That’s the way to get the world out of the economic recession by having more trade rather than having less trade," she said.
"We discussed peace and security issues, we discussed how to strengthen regional cooperation on anti-terrorism. We discussed how to advance the peace process in Mindanao. We discussed how the military helped us in what I mentioned earlier upgrading the professionalism and effectivity of our soldiers, advancing soft power. And these have helped to have a new paradigm for peace in Mindanao. "Also we discussed we must work together especially in more economic engagements with each other that is the way to bring back the global economy to full recovery.
In short if there’s any agreement we made it’s to continue cooperation in all of these areas," she added.Mrs. Arroyo said she relayed to Obama the Philippines’ gratitude for supporting Third World countries and including the benefits for Filipino World War II veterans in the US economic bailout package.
She said she also expressed gratitude for the US House of Representatives’ passage of the American Clean Energy Security Act as it shows the US’ commitment to helping mitigate climate change, which is expected to greatly affect the Philippines, an archipelago made up of more than 7,000 islands.
"The purpose of the meeting was straightforward, to cement the relationship of our country with the new US president because the US is essential to our economic, diplomatic and national security," Mrs. Arroyo said.
Mrs. Arroyo was all praises for the US president, whom she described as "cordial, warm, welcoming" and "very impressive.""Alam na alam niya ang relasyon ng Pilipino at saka ng mga Amerikano (He knows the relations of Filipinos and Americans very well)," she said.
As heads of state who meet usually exchange gifts, Mrs. Arroyo said she gave the Obamas pearls from the Philippines’ south seas.
"Para kay Pangulo may perlas na cufflinks at kay First Lady [Michelle Obama] naman, perlas na brooch (For President Obama, cufflinks with pearls, while we gave a brooch with pearls to the First Lady)," she said.But Mrs. Arroyo could not say when Obama would visit the Philippines."I suppose he will visit the Philippines sooner or later. The President is a very busy person and there’s a lot of demand on his time," she said.
Presidential photographer Jerry Carual, one of two photographers allowed to cover the meeting, told government-run dzRB radio the meeting was "very casual."
Carual said Obama shook hands with each member of Mrs. Arroyo’s delegation.With Mrs. Arroyo at the meeting were Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, presidential assistant for global warming and climate change Heherson Alvarez, and House Speaker Prospero Nograles.
In an interview early Friday with GMA News’ Arnold Clavio on Unang Hirit, presidential adviser for political affairs Gabriel Claudio said the meeting between Mrs. Arroyo and Obama surpassed all expectations and was a milestone in the relationship between the two countries."This is a very great achievement not only for the President but for the entire country," Claudio said.
Obama even praised Mrs. Arroyo during their 45-minute one-on-one meeting, particularly her accomplishments in bucking the economic crisis, the peace process in Mindanao and the fight against terror, Claudio added. The Palace official stressed that the administration’s critics were proven wrong when they said that Obama would reprimand Mrs. Arroyo in the meeting.
"Pasensya na if I sound like I’m gloating, pero talagang nakakakilig ang naganap na pagpupulong ng dalawang Pangulo (I’m sorry if I sound like I’m gloating, but it’s really thrilling what happened in the meeting between the two Presidents)," Claudio said.
But militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said the meeting was fruitless and merely a reaffirmation of an existing "unequal ties."
The US-given position of "country coordinator" also just "glorified" a rather embarrassing status for the Philippines, the group said. "The term ‘coordinating country’ for US relationship with the Asean makes the Philippines America’s glorified errand boy in the region. We’re considered the US surrogate in Southeast Asia," said Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes, Jr. in a statement."
That is not a very flattering designation. It speaks of how the US still considers the Philippines its colonial outpost in Asia. The US expects us to parrot its position within the Asean," Reyes said.