MANILA - Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and US President Barack Obama finally met at the White House Thursday (early morning Friday), with the two leaders praising Philippine-US partnership in a range of issues.
Arroyo, the first Southeast Asian leader who was received by Obama in the White House, arrived at around 3 p.m. at the executive mansion, where pro- and anti-Arroyo groups held protests outside the White House gates.
The meeting, held at the Oval Office, lasted 45 minutes.
She was accompanied by Philippine Ambassador to the US Willy Gaa, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, House Speaker Prospero Nograles, presidential adviser on climate change Heherson Alvarez and Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita.
Speaking to members of the media, Obama hailed the relationship of the two allies, and mentioned the contributions of Filipinos to America.
"We are proud to have 4 million persons of Filipino ancestry contributing to our country each and every day in all walks of life. The fact that we have Filipino veterans who have walked side by side with American soldiers on behalf of freedom, all those things that have strengthened the relations of our two countries," he said.
Obama said they primarily discussed the fight against terrorism during their meeting.
"I am very pleased that President Arroyo has made such good progress on dealing with counterterrorism issues. She has initiated a peace process in Mindanao that we think has the potential to bring peace and stability to a part of the Philippines that has been wracked by unrest for too long," Obama said.
'Above its weight'
He also said they are "grateful" for the Philippines' "strong voice" in issues concerning the region, particularly in Southeast Asia.
"We are very grateful of the stong voice that the Philippines has provided in dealing with issues in Asia, ranging from the human rights violations that have too long existed in Burma, to the problems that we're seeing with respect to nuclear proliferation in North Korea," he said.
He also said that the Philippines will be the "coordinating country" in the US relationship with the ASEAN."
"So we're gonna be having a busy agenda together, working to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons, improving the multilateral partnerships in Asia that can create greater security and greater prosperity for all countries," he said.
"Although the Philippines is not the largest of countries, using a phrase in boxing, it punches above its weight in the international arena,"
Arroyo meanwhile thanked Obama for inviting her to the White House, and reiterated the Philippines' support to issues America is pursuing in the region.
"The US is essential to the economic, diplomatic, and national security of our country. We are very thankful for the US as an important ally in helping to professionalize our military, in making it more effective," Arroyo said.
"Just as important, we are thankful to the US for being such a good ally... working on 'soft power', helping us to build bridges, roads, schools, not only in Mindanao but across the nation. And this assistance by the US has gone a long way in helping us achieve what we have been able to achieve in the peace process in Mindanao in the Southern Philippines and also in our fight against terrorism," Arroyo said.
She also added that she has informed Obama on the progress of the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
She also said that the Philippines will stand behind the US in two crucial issues in the region: Burma and North Korea.
She also thanked the US's help in facing climate change, and the granting of benefits for Filipino World War II veterans.
Obama also praised Arroyo on her "outstanding" work.
"President Arroyo has done outstanding work on a range of issues. She mentioned the areas where the United States and the Philippines are of one accord, and as evidenced here today, she's somebody who knows the issues, she has experience leading the Philippines through some very difficult times," Obama said.
"She has expressed great friendship towards the United States, and aside from her great personal charm we are very appreciative of the concrete ways that her administration has pursued strengthening ties with the United States, so I'm very grateful for that," he added.
4th visit to White House
This is Mrs. Arroyo's 4th visit to the White House since she became President.
Her first visit was back in November 2001, following the terror attacks in the United States, and was received by then US President George W. Bush.
She again visited the Bush White House in May 2003 in a state visit, and also in 2008, upon Bush's invitation.
Prior to the meeting, Mrs. Arroyo met with several US lawmakers and government officials at the Willard Hotel.
Among them, according to Press Secretary Cerge Remonde, were Admiral Dennis Blair, director for National Intelligence; US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; and US Senator Sheila Jackson Lee.
She also met with the leaders of the RP-US Friendship Caucus.
Arroyo and her delegation arrived in Washington for the four-day working visit in the US last Wednesday (Thursday morning Manila time). The President and her party deplaned at the Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.
Aside from Washington, the President will also go to New York, Chicago, and Guam. She is also set for an interview with business news network CNBC. With reports from Rodney Jaleco and Ging Reyes, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau, in Washington, and Reuters