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Sec. Clinton in Manila: More Typhoon Aid, Counter-Terrorism Alliance

Inquirer.net, News Report, Jerry E. Esplanada and DJ Yap, Philippine Daily Inquirer Posted: Nov 12, 2009

MANILA, Philippines -- Bearing a $5-million Christmas gift, the lady in red learned to say, Mabuhay [meaning Long Live...].

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Thursday visited a flood-devastated school in Marikina City and pledged the new relief package on top of the $14 million in assistance provided in the wake of the back-to-back storms that struck the country recently.

Im so pleased to announce more than $5 million in new relief funds for the Philippines, Clinton said to cheers from students waving Filipino and American flags at Malanday National High School at the edge of Marikina River.

The new support will be to build new schools, construct classrooms, 300,000 books and desks for 15,000 students, as well as to repair water and sanitation systems, refurbish clinics and provide medical supplies and assistance, Clinton said.

I promise you that the United States of America will always be a friend to the people of the Philippines, said a beaming Clinton, in a red blazer and black pants.

The school, covered with mud just weeks ago, was festooned with banners and red, white and blue balloons.

Thank you for sharing your precious time with us, said one welcome message. Another thanked Clinton for bringing Christmas in November.

Book Fair

Clinton also opened a book fair that would distribute some 50,000 books donated by an American foundation through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to students.

School principal Wilfredo Jabal said the books and the school supplies, including 200 chairs, 20 electric fans and a copier, would be a great help to the school.

Floods had submerged the first two floors of the school building at the height of the drenching of Tropical Storm Ondoy (international codename: Ketsana). Computers and other equipment were destroyed but the biggest casualties were books, Jabal said.

Almost all the students lost their books because even their own homes were flooded, he said.

Alliance Against Terrorism

Clinton told the crowd that she learned a new phrase on her way to the school. Then she asked high school freshman Jona Balbada, 13, to join her at the podium and teach her how to say Mabuhay.

Everyone was affected by the storm, said Joed Enecillo, a high school senior, whose bungalow was submerged in muddy water. But now, were moving on. Were glad that Secretary Clinton herself came to give help.

Security was tight. Two bomb-sniffing dogs were deployed to check bags. A slight commotion ensued upon Clintons arrival when three persons carrying protest placards tried to rush forward. They were arrested by police.

Side By Side Vs. Terror

In a news conference in Malacaang following her arrival from Singapore and private talks with Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo, Clinton announced that Washington was prepared to work side by side with the military in fighting terrorism in Mindanao.

She skirted a question on the future of the American advisory force in Mindanao, but she stressed that Washington was committed to a strong partnership and alliance with the Philippines.

A small group of activists attempted to mount a protest at the US Embassy and later at Malacaang but were foiled by riot police. The protesters said that Clintons visit was aimed at prolonging the R.P.-U.S. Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and that her show of solidarity with typhoon victims was simply a ploy.

Clinton said the agreement was an important expression of our partnership. She said that US troops were ready to provide assistance when they are asked for and work side by side with the military of the Philippines.

R.P. Commitment to VFA

Ahead of Clintons visit, the Department of Foreign Affairs issued a statement reiterating its commitment to the accord, saying it was indispensable to the nations security.

Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo, in the news conference with Clinton, pointed out that under the VFA, U.S. forces were to assist, advise and train Filipino soldiers.

It is limited to that, Romulo stressed. As far as combat matters are concerned, thats purely by Filipinos.

Romulo also pointed to the socio-civic and humanitarian aspects of the VFA.

This came to the fore in the recent typhoons where the U.S. was able to deploy not only personnel, about 2,600, but also equipment, helicopters, boats, forklifts, bulldozers, all of these and immediately assist our people, Romulo said.

We Tripped and Fell

The Senate recently approved a nonbinding resolution calling on the government to renegotiate the VFA, which allowed about 600 U.S. troops to train and advise Filipino soldiers battling Al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf bandits.

Its very sad because she comes here, then we tripped and fell down in haste to welcome her, Sen. Joker Arroyo said in a news conference slamming Clinton. The problem with visiting Americans here is that they take a very patronizing, very condescending attitude towards us.

The French news agency Agence France-Presse quoted a senior U.S. State Department official as saying that most Filipinos supported military ties with the United States and was not overly concerned with calls for the withdrawal of the U.S. advisors.

You hear them periodically in the Philippines but I think the broad trend is to support deeper mil-to-mil (military-to-military) engagement between the two countries, the official said.

Peace in Mindanao

In the news conference, Clinton also said that Washington supports the ongoing efforts of the government of the Philippines to bring a comprehensive peace in war-torn Mindanao.

On the controversial population control moves in the Philippines, Clinton said that family planning was an important aspect of development.

Ive seen it around the world and I think empowering women to be able to make choices that are to the best interest of the children they already have and the family size they desire increases educational outcomes and income generation. It provides a stronger basis for human development, she noted.

Free Aung San Suu Kyi

On Burma (Myanmar), Clinton reiterated that Washington was not lifting sanctions on Burma. She called on the Burmese government to release Aung San Suu Kyi to enable her to participate in elections next year.

We believe her detention for so many years is baseless and not founded on concerns other than shes the leader of the political opposition, she said.

In the evening, Clinton had a 30-minute meeting with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who conferred on her the Order of Sikatuna. This was followed by a dinner.

Clintons trip to Manila is her second. She was here in 1996 during the Asia Pacific Economic Conference summit at the Subic Freeport in Zambales as U.S. first lady. She was then accompanying her husband, President Bill Clinton.

With reports from Michael Lim Ubac, TJ Burgonio and Jerome Aning

Photocredit: Roger Margallo, Inquirer.net

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