Thursday, November 16, 2006

"It's important for us to engage Europe", PGMA

"It's important for us to engage Europe," PGMA
By Vi Massart, Philippine Star chief European correspondent

13 September 2006
BRUSSELS, Belgium – In an interview with Philippine Star bureau in Brussels, the Philippine chief executive declared "It's very important for the Philippines to engage Europe as much as we have been engaging the United States, our ASEAN brothers and OIC countries and the north Asian countries of Japan, China and Korea."

Mrs Arroyo also stressed the importance of being "in touch with the European Union".

"After all, Europe is our third largest trading partner and second largest investor in the Philippines so they matter a lot and I'm proud to hear that I'm the first incumbent president to actually visit the European Union officially. So that's bringing the Philippines a step higher in our relationship with Europe so we have our trade relation with Europe, we have investment relations with Europe, we have our official development assistance from Europe, I hope this visit will give us a higher profile in their consciousness, like I mentioned about Denmark, coming and approaching us to do more in the area of energy. These are important achievements that we can make, not to mention our cultural exchanges."

She also reiterated that measures are being undertaken by the government with regards the streamlining of bureaucratic red tapes which European investors and potential partners have found daunting when doing business with the Philippines.

"We have recognized that and is why I have formed a task force headed by Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila to cut down red tape and with the very active participation and membership of the Export Development Council and the Phil Chamber of Commerce and Industry," Mrs Arroyo said.

"In fact, we're going to have a competitiveness summit at the end of this month and there are five areas which will be addressed at the summit," Mrs Arroyo added.

"One is making food plentiful and affordable to the workers so there would be no great pressure in the wages to keep the wages competitive, the other one is to reduce power costs, then the other one is infrastructure which, now we have money to spend on because of our tax reforms, we'll be able to spend 100 billion pesos a month more from government coffers not to mention our government corporations and private sector interest and local government because they are very dynamic," the President announced.

Arroyo added the fourth is making technology the foundation of the country's development saying, "We are strong in technology related fields, fifthth is red tape. That is recognized, there is a task force working on it and if and when they meet with me on September 28, I will tell them specifically add the cost and length of time of setting up business in the Philippines."

When asked about the spate of extra-judicial killings, Arroyo told the Star, "I'm glad you asked me the question about the human rights issue and extra judicial killings, that's a very grave concern. I want to begin by stating that as far as we are concerned we condemn, these killings, this mode of political retribution has a sad history in our country and in fact that history is a reminder because we are now about to enact into law administration measure compensating human rights victims."

"I believe that such a spate of killing has no room in our democracy or in our government so I have escalated response of the government," Arroyo said.

The President also said, "I've appointed a former Supreme Court Justice , Justice Melo to head a commission with the full powers of my office to investigate and cause the prosecution of cases to the full extent of the law. I told Justice Melo to pursue every path regardless of where it leads. I have also sought taken up this issue with Spain and Finland and with the help fof Spain and Finland, they will help us meet with members of international NGO communities to discuss the killings and the response of our goverment."

"That's why I sought this meeting through our friends in the European Union," she added.

Meanwhile, Inga Verheart, member of the Federal Parliament of Belgium, challenged Mrs Arroyo's government "to be transparent."

"We addressed questions to Mrs Arroyo's government about the treatment of members of Congress this year and we still have to hear from her government," the Belgian parliamentarian said to the Philippine Star.

Mrs Verheart, a Socialist and elected member of the Federal Parliament was referring to a question that was tabled in the Belgian Parliamentary debate in March this year, when she raised the issue of the House arrest iof Mr Crispin Beltran which she said was subsequently endorsed by the Federal of Parliament to the Department Foreign Affairs through the Philippine Embassy.

"We hear of these incidents of killings and we are saddened to hear that Mrs Arroyo does not believe it's worth her while to answer questions by members of the Belgian parliament concerning the situation in the Philippines." Mrs Verheart told the Star.

Mrs Verheart joined the protest rally held last Tuesday in front of the European Commission during the visit of Mrs Arroyo. Speaking before a crowd of fifty protesters in front of the European Commission building on Place Schuman, the Belgian parliamentarian denounced the spate of killings of journalists, activists and labor union leaders in the Philippines.

Later in the afternoon, a group of Filipino, Belgian and Dutch protesters were dispersed by the Brussels police during a mass at the St Michael Cathedral attended by the President and the Filipino community.

President Macapagal is scheduled to leave fthe Belgian capital for Cuba, the third leg of her 12-day trip after lunch time today.