GMA, The Visit: So Far, So Good

by Cynthia de Castro/AJPress

LOS ANGELES – Before she left the Philippines, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo pointed out that her key priorities in visiting the US are to meet with Filipino-American and Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) communities to discuss their needs and concerns; with President Bush and government leaders to confer on vital issues; and with business leaders and investors to showcase Philippine economic and investment opportunities.

As the President rounds up the fi fth day of her 10-day visit, it’s “so far, so good”.

Arroyo’s series of meetings in Fresno last June 22 went well. Hundreds of Filipino health care professionals met her in several medical centers. Almost a thousand members of the Filipino American community in Fresno and central California attended Holy Mass with her at the Fresno International Convention Center (FICC) here.

“Our kababayans in America form a dynamic human bridge that joins the Philippines and the United States, and that connects our past with our future,” the Chief Executive said in her speech at the FICC. She paid tribute to the Filipino-American professionals and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the US for having attained the pinnacle of their professions and for contributing their share in the economic development of the Philippines “without losing your bonds of affection for your mother country or your inherent pride in your Filipino heritage.”

From Fresno, GMA and her party proceeded to Washington DC where she has a packed schedule. Last Monday, June 23, he conferred with Deputy State Secretary John Negroponte over a wide range of issues on USPhilippine bilateral relations. The President then met with officials of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to firm up the Philippines’ bid for MCC Compact status which would pave the way for increased US funding assistance for the country’s anti-poverty programs.

Later in the day, President Arroyo conferred the Order of the Golden Heart on US senators and congressmen who have been at the forefront of promoting in the US Congress Philippine interests including theinterest and welfare of Filipino-Americans.

Given the award, with the Rank of Grand Cross, were Senators Daniel Akaka, Richard Lugar, Harry Reid, Speaker Nancy Pelou, Representatives Bob Filner, Daniel Issa, and Michael Hondo.

‘’The order of the Golden Heart represents our nation’s humble way of recognizing those who help build life to the noble aspirations of the Filipino people. In behalf of the 85 million Filipinos and the families and friends who make up the four million members of the Philippine-American community, thank you for your continuing deep friendship. Thank you for your expression of support,’’ the Chief Executive further said. “The Golden Heart Award is given to those with a golden heart,’’ she added.

On June 24, President Arroyo met with President George W. Bush at the White House.

The two presidents covered several important issues during their talk: the welfare of the veterans, the war on terrorism, food and relief aid for the typhoon victims.

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From the White House, Arroyo visited the Pentagon for a meeting with Defense Secretary Robert Gates about the Philippines’ defense reform program. The President and Secretary Gates discussed, among others, counter-terrorism programs and the Philippine Defense Reform Program (PDRP) in a move to achieve not just domestic security but also regional environmental security.

A conference with US Agriculture Secretary Schaefer followed. The Chief Executive witnessed the sealing of an agreement between Philippine Department of Agriculture and the United States Agriculture Department that stand to boost the Philippines’ goal for food security in the next five years. Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap and US Agriculture Secretary Schaeffer signed the Framework Agreement of Cooperation on Agriculture and Related Fields, in behalf of their respective countries. The Agreement is expected to pave the way for fresh fruit sales from the Philippines to the US soon and also covers strengthened cooperation in support for irrigation infrastructure works and capacity building of agricultural extension personnel.

The President then attended a cocktail and dinner hosted by the US-Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) Business Council and the US Chamber of Commerce, where she urged American business leaders to take advantage of the extraordinary value for investments in the Philippines by investing in the country. In her address during cocktails, the President said that as an investment destination, the Philippines is a “good, longterm bet. We don’t sell hype, no quick bucks, no false gains. Just strong fundamentals, good economic stewardship and excellent returns on your investment. We are the smart, prudent place to place your money,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

The following day, June 25, Arroyo attended a meeting with the Philippine-US Friendship Caucus, a group composed of members of the US House of Representatives who have openly supported moves to strengthen relations between the Philippines and the United States.

A meeting with the likely Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was scheduled later in the day followed by a meeting with the Filipino community in Washington before the President flies off to New York.

The President’s trip to New York from June 26 to 28 will involve meetings with the Filipino community, a possible visit to the United Nations headquarters, and presentations to numerous investors and business leaders to promote more investment and job creation in the Philippines. Among the business leaders and investment groups that the President will be meeting are Bob Rubin of Citigroup, Libby’s Fruits, Target Sourcing, Rotec Technology and Apac Customer Services. She will also meet with the world’s richest man, Warren Buffett, head of the Berkshire Hathaway Corp. whose net worth is placed at $62 billion.

On June 28, Arroyo will go back to Washington where she will also possibly meet with Republican presidential candidate John McCain. The meetings with Senators Obama and Mc-Cain have been described simply as a “getting-to-know-you” type of meeting.

From Washington, the President goes back to San Francisco where she will take a commercial flight back to Manila on June 29. She is expected to land at the NAIA Terminal 3 around 5:25 a.m. on June 30 where she may inspect and personally check on the preparations for the opening of the terminal.


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