MANILA, OCTOBER 19, 2003  (STAR) By Paolo Romero and Marichu Villanueva  - Calling Philippine-US military alliance a "rock of stability in the Pacific," US President George W. Bush lauded yesterday both nations’ security cooperation and committed support against terrorism in the country and the rest of Southeast Asia.

"We stand for liberty and we stand together," Bush said in a 20-minute address before a joint session of the 12th Congress. It was only the second time that a foreign head of state spoke before Congress since US President Dwight Eisenhower in June 1960.

Bush said the Philippines has proven wrong the "skeptics of democracy" in Asia, and lauded Filipinos’ love for freedom and their willingness to fight for an ideal now under attack by terrorism.

He said the American people "respect your courageous stand and have gained an abiding respect for the character of the nation, and for the decency and courage of the Filipino people."

"The United States and the Philippines are warm friends. We cherish that friendship and we will keep it strong," he said.

"The Pacific is wide but it does not divide us," Bush added, noting that two million Americans trace their roots to the Philippines and that commerce between the countries has remained vibrant and strong.

"Our countries are joined by more than market, even more than alliance. This friendship is rooted in the deepest convictions we hold," Bush said.

Democracy and peace were among such convictions, and he lauded the Philippines’ "courageous and principled stand" in supporting the occupation of Iraq and the US-led global war on terror.

"We’re working for democracy. We serve the cause of peace," Bush said in what appeared to be a preview of what he will be saying in his visits to Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Australia in the next few days.

"The world needs the Philippines to continue as a light to Asia and beyond," he said.

"We know the enemy wants to spread fear and chaos. Our two nations have made our choice. We will defend ourselves, our civilization and the peace of the world. We will not be intimidated by the terrorists," he he said.

Bush arrived from Japan for a "lightning" eight-hour state visit — the first by a US president since the 1966 visit of Lyndon B. Johnson — onboard Air Force One which landed at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City at around 12:30 p.m.

Bush said the US will help the government in an ambitious five-year modernization plan for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and pour development aid to Mindanao once a peace agreement is forged with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

While the American leader mentioned that next year’s elections will show Philippine commitment to democracy, Bush avoided any remark that might be interpreted as an endorsement of President Arroyo’s candidacy next year.

The closest "endorsement" Mrs. Arroyo got was when Bush told American journalists who accompanied him from Japan that she has been "a great leader in the war against terror."

Stronger was Bush’s condemnation of military adventurism, an indirect reference to the July 27 Magdalo mutiny, and reminded Filipino soldiers to "fight for freedom, not contend for power."

"My government and yours are pursuing a common objective: We will bring Abu Sayyaf to justice," Bush told legislators who interrupted his speech with applause 18 times.

"And we will continue to work together, along with our friends in Southeast Asia, to dismantle the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist network and other groups that traffic in violence and chaos," he added.

Bush also called on the MILF to "reject terror and move forward with political negotiations."

"When a lasting peace is established, the United States is prepared to provide our development assistance to Mindanao," he said.

He said the two nations have completed a review of the Philippines’ security requirements and that the Arroyo administration has committed to a five-year plan to modernize and reform the military.

"I commend the President and your military for taking this bold action. My country will provide technical assistance, field expertise and funding. But success requires more than American assistance," said the US president.

"Members of this body must invest in the Philippine military to ensure that your forces have the resources needed to win the war on terror and protect the Philippine people," Bush said.

Warm Welcome

Bush’s speech was nearly two hours late because of large crowds — both supporters and protesters — gathered on his motorcade route.

The Associated Press reported that people had to be moved back to address the security concerns of the US Secret Service.

While traffic in Metro Manila was not as bad as expected, security measures were described by newswire reports as "extraordinary."

Security officials abandoned announced plans for Bush to land at Clark Field in Pampanga and announced plans to airlift the American from one location to another via the US presidential helicopter, Marine One.

About 4,000 protesters gathered outside the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City and seven congressmen walked out of the session hall at the start of Bush’s speech but the American leader gave no sign he noticed.

Instead, he made a point of thanking all those who "lined the streets" in welcome and told legislators that "it warmed our hearts."

After arriving around noon, Bush, accompanied by his wife Laura, laid a wreath at the Rizal Monument in Luneta after a brief stop at the US Embassy along Roxas Blvd. in Manila.

He then proceeded by motorcade to Malacañang Palace where he was given state honors by the President and First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo.

While Bush and Mrs. Arroyo held bilateral talks, Mrs. Bush read a story to some 200 selected public school children who presented a short skit to the American first lady.

Bilateral Talks

The bilateral talks between Bush and Mrs. Arroyo were focused on security issues and stressed the importance of information sharing in the global war against terror.

The two presidents agreed that their respective defense establishments will embark on a multi-year plan to implement the recommendations of the joint defense assessment.

Mrs. Arroyo welcomed the training, equipment and expertise that the US committed to extend to Philippine law enforcement agencies.

Bush, on the other hand, stressed US interest in seeing economic reforms in the Philippines, particularly in the fields of revenue collection, energy privatization and the protection of intellectual property rights.

The two presidents also welcomed the six-party talks in Beijing aimed at ensuring the nuclear disarmament of North Korea.

They also stressed their commitment to the reconstruction of Iraq and lauded a South Korean commitment to contribute $200 million over the next four years to help Iraq.

Tokyo has also committed some $1.5 billion in aid for the US-led reconstruction and stabilization of Iraq.

State Dinner

After his speech at the Batasang Pambansa, Bush rushed to the Palace Guest House and changed into a barong by designer Joe Salazar for the state banquet at Malacañang, which was also attended by American business executives who came to the country for the state dinner.

The President gifted the Bushes with an antique dresser and bestowed on the American president the rank of sultan in the Order of Sikatuna and Mrs. Bush the Order of Gabriela Silang.

During the state dinner, Mrs. Arroyo reiterated her thanks for Bush’s decision to push through with the state visit and said RP-US relations have "ripened into maturity."

The American leader, on the other hand, reiterated US "support for the great democracy you have become" and urged for support to "face determined enemies of freedom." — with Jose Rodel Clapano


Bron : newsflash.org

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