LIMA, PERU (via PLDT)—“You are the US’ best friend,” US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the leaders’ meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) here.
Ms Arroyo promptly returned the favor by thanking the United States for its military support for the Philippines in the fight against militants in Mindanao allied with Osama bin Laden.
“We broke the back of terrorism in southern Philippines because of our partnership,” the President said.
Rice retorted that the United States had a “very good partnership” with the Philippines and “we would like to continue to be your strong partner.”
Protocol and security measures were breached when US President George W. Bush and Ms Arroyo met here.
Bush apparently went out of his way to honor Ms Arroyo, Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said, recalling to reporters the events that transpired during the gala dinner and cultural performance at the Ministry of Defense complex, the site of the APEC summit which started on Saturday.
“Gloria!” Bush exclaimed upon seeing Ms Arroyo during the gala dinner hosted by Peruvian President Alan Garcia Perez.
Ms Arroyo was seated on the left side of the stage, while Bush was on the other end.
Surprised, Ms Arroyo stood up and the two approached each other in full view of the other 19 APEC leaders.
Dureza recalled that a photo opportunity with members of her delegation, composed of three Cabinet members and seven congressmen led by Deputy Speaker Amelita Villarosa, ensued, breaching protocol.
With Bush personally extending his hand to Ms Arroyo, the members of the US Secret Service agents were left scratching their heads.
Dureza could not say why Ms Arroyo or Bush did not schedule a formal meeting on the sidelines of the summit.
Last year, the two leaders—staunch allies in the US-led war on global terror—met one-on-one in a brief lounge chat as they arrived at the Sydney Opera House for the opening of the 2007 APEC leaders’ summit.
Ms Arroyo took advantage of that brief period, managing to get a commitment from Bush to support and sign into law a US congressional bill that would grant long-delayed pension benefits to 18,500 surviving Filipino veterans who fought with the US Armed Forces during World War II.
At that meeting, Bush fondly called Ms Arroyo “Gloria.”
The “pull-aside” made up for the disappointing cancellation of an expected bilateral meeting with Bush that was canceled at the US behest.
Just moments to spare
Ms Arroyo arrived here on Saturday with just moments to spare at the summit after her husband fell ill on her plane, forcing an emergency landing.
Her plane made an unscheduled stop in Osaka, Japan, after her husband, who underwent heart surgery last year, experienced stomach and back pain.
Ms Arroyo’s plane carried on to Peru where she arrived just in time to join the other leaders in two-day talks focused on the global economy, summit organizers said.
“It’s a shame that he can’t come to see Peru right now,” she said during a meeting with the summit’s host, President Alan Garcia, according to Peru’s Andina news agency.
Ms Arroyo, a devout Roman Catholic, was on Sunday to visit the convent of Rose of Lima, the first saint born in the Americas, who is also patroness of the Philippines.
At their bilateral meeting, Rice asked about the stalled peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, prompting Ms Arroyo to say that “something positive will happen in December.”
Ms Arroyo said the resumption of the stalled talks would depend on the ongoing consultations with affected communities in Mindanao.
Ms Arroyo was also praised by Rice for the reforms that helped cushion the impact of the global financial crisis on the Philippine economy.
“It’s good to know you’re doing the right policy in the Philippines to address the financial crisis,” Rice said at the meeting that started at 7:35 p.m. (early Sunday Manila time).
Rice also expressed appreciation for the Philippine position on Burma (Myanmar). “There’s only one doing this (in Asia),” she said.
Ms Arroyo has been vocal about her criticism on the way Burma’s military junta has been treating opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for the last 13 years.
She has repeatedly called on the junta to free Suu Kyi.
Common Spanish heritage
Ms Arroyo also held a bilateral meeting with the Peruvian president.
“We have so much in common. We can explore a lot of possibilities like more trade between our two countries,” Dureza quoted Garcia as telling Ms Arroyo.
Dureza said the meeting was very casual with the two leaders sharing commonalities and talking kinship in straight Spanish.
Aside from the common Spanish heritage, Garcia has a soft heart for the Philippines since he was a young boy, remembering his mother who kept on telling him that he was “the son of the President of the Philippine republic.”
Dureza said Peru’s leader soon found out and since remembered that his father was a namesake of the late Philippine President Carlos P. Garcia.