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Philippine President Seeks US Commitment on Peace, Economy

  • Heda Bayron

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo and President Obama will hold their first meeting in Washington Thursday, July 30. One of the staunchest supporters in Asia of the U.S.-led war on terrorism, Mrs. Arroyo seeks a continued commitment from Washington on peace and economic assistance. But political analysts say the 2010 elections and Mrs. Arroyo's political plans will loom large when the two leaders meet.

President Arroyo will be the first Southeast Asian leader to meet with President Obama in the White House.

Mrs. Arroyo says on top of the agenda will be peace and security, and development assistance particularly, in the conflict-ridden southern Philippines.

Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States has plowed millions of dollars into the rehabilitation of conflict areas in the Philippines. Much of the money has been aimed at Muslim communities in the south, helping education, telecommunications and livelihood projects.

The U.S. military also maintains hundreds of soldiers in the southern Philippines on rotation as part of joint counterterrorism exercises.

The visit comes as Mrs. Arroyo has less than a year left in office. Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute of Political and Economic Reforms in Manila, says another significant issue at the Washington meeting will be the 2010 election and Mrs. Arroyo's political plans.

The Constitution bars Mrs. Arroyo from seeking another term, and she says she no desire to extend her time in office. But there is considerable speculation about the motives of her allies in Congress, who are taking steps to amend the Constitution and change the government from a presidential to a parliamentary system.

"There is a political struggle going on regarding the question of whether or not she would really leave the office ... It would be very much in their [U.S.] interest to ensure that Philippine democracy is stable and that it plays a role model in this part of the world and that they can do their business here without any destabilizing factor," said Casiple.

The U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney said in June that the U.S. is "closely monitoring" the progress of the proposed constitutional amendments.

Mrs. Arroyo says her trip is also meant to pursue more U.S. investment in the Philippines, despite the global economic downturn. Two American companies, the computer chip maker Intel and tire company Goodyear, have shut down plants in the Philippines this year.

The Philippines was a U.S. colony for nearly half of the 20th century. The U.S. military maintained bases in the country until 1992.