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Philippines Clears Up Political Confusion About Presence of US Troops


In the Philippines, political confusion took center stage at the highest level over the presence of U.S. troops. Philippine President Gloria Arroyo announced her vice president had resigned as foreign secretary, but then retracted that, after Teofisto Guingona refused to step down.

After a day of confusion, it appears Vice President Teofisto Guingona will keep his post as foreign affairs secretary. The news came after he met with President Gloria Arroyo at Malacanang Palace late Thursday.

Earlier in the day, President Arroyo's office issued a written statement saying Mr. Guingona had resigned due to an honest disagreement over the joint counter-terrorism exercises with the U.S. military, now in their sixth month.

But within minutes, Mr. Guingona told reporters he had done no such thing. "I reiterate my position that I have not resigned, and I am not resigning," Mr. Guingona said.

Initially the presidential palace in Manila stood by its announcement. But Ms. Arroyo's spokesman, Silvestre Afable, was forced to take the blame, claiming the resignation announcement was issued in error.

"This afternoon, you know, I released that to the press. I got this letter from the office of the executive secretary, and I thought it was for release. It was a mistake on my part. It was really meant to be torn up," she said.

It has been common knowledge that Mr. Guingona had opposed allowing a thousand U.S. troops to train Philippine soldiers fighting guerrillas in the south. Considered a nationalist, the vice president has been consistent in his position since he voted as a senator in 1991 to end U.S. military-leased bases in the Philippines.

The U.S. troops arrived in February to train and equip the Philippine military fighting Abu Sayyaf Muslim rebels. Washington said the Abu Sayyaf has links to the al-Qaida terrorist network.

The joint exercises, dubbed Balikatan, were due to end July 31. But U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Wednesday American Special Forces are likely to continue the training, after the bulk of U.S. soldiers are pulled out.