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Philippine Lawmakers Welcome Bush Pledge of Support

In the Philippines, lawmakers are welcoming President Bush's pledge of U.S. security and military assistance, made during a speech to the Philippine Congress.

President Bush promised to support the government's efforts to achieve peace and development in the southern Philippines. U.S. and Philippine troops have been carrying out counter-terrorism exercises in the violence-wracked region for months because of the presence of local militant and terror groups, including the Abu Sayyaf, which the Philippines and United States have branded a terrorist organization.

Mr. Bush reiterated his call for the country's largest Muslim insurgency group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or MILF, on the island of Mindanao, to abandon terrorism and return to negotiations with the government.

Senator Loren Legarda welcomed Mr. Bush's remarks, saying "What is important is that he lent unequivocal support to Mindanao. It is now a clear policy that the U.S. will support development efforts in Mindanao."

MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu said he, too, welcomes the U.S. commitment to the peace process, but denies his group is engaged in terrorism.

The United States has pledged millions of dollars for reconstruction and development in Mindanao, but officials warn that the money is tied to progress in the peace talks.

Congressman Apolinario Lozada said aid should not come with pre-conditions. "How I wish the president said that whether or not we sign the peace process, we are going to flood Mindanao with development assistance," he said.

Mr. Bush also promised five years worth of aid to the government's military modernization.

He praised the strength of U.S.-Philippine relations and Philippine leaders, calling the Philippines a "light to all in Asia and beyond."

Some lawmakers, like opposition Senator Gregorio Honasan, however, were skeptical. "Nice to hear. All we can do is wait until his promises are given substance," he said.

A few lawmakers wore black anti-war pins at the event to show their opposition to the occupation in Iraq.

Chanting "Mr. Bush go away, and take with you President Arroyo," thousands of activists protested loudly as President Bush delivered his speech. They burned effigies of Mr. Bush and U.S. flags. Thousands of riot police cordoned off the congressional compound and roads leading to the venue.