Arroyo cites US help in RP’s fight against terrorism

- Paolo Romero -
President Arroyo cited yesterday the continued assistance given by the United States to help the country fight terrorism, particularly in the southern Philippines.

In her speech at the 47th anniversary of Lanao del Norte, the President said the Philippines and the US are now "enjoying more mature and deeper relations under her administration based on common beliefs, the common fight against terrorism and joint efforts to improve the economy and uplift the lives of the poor."

"We are strong allies in the fight against terrorism," Mrs. Arroyo said as the US celebrated its 230th Independence Day anniversary. "We both believe in democracy and our commitment to uphold human rights and the freedom of every Filipino."

She said the Philippines’ relationship with the US has "borne fruit, including our victories against terrorism… which have been also due to the performance of our soldiers and a big factor is the equipment from America."

Mrs. Arroyo said US assistance in fighting terrorism was also in the form of development assistance in various projects in Mindanao.

"We have a good partnership in our projects to fight poverty here," she said.

Joint counter-terrorism training between Philippine and US forces have intensified since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the US. The two governments have recently forged a new security pact to address terrorism, piracy, drug trafficking and natural calamities, including disease outbreaks.

Mrs. Arroyo also inaugurated the P31-million, two-storey Kapatagan Municipal Hall as part of the commemorative ceremonies marking the 57th anniversary of this town.

The President, who visited this agricultural town for the first time, was given a tour of the new municipal building.

The construction of the municipal hall started in March 2005 through the assistance of the Department of the Interior and Local Government-Basic Mindanao Urban Sector Services Project.

The project was financed with a loan from the Asian Development Bank and the local government’s counterpart fund.

Kapatagan is a 4th-class municipality with a population of almost 50,000. Agriculture is the main source of income of its residents.

Mrs. Arroyo commended the officials of Lanao del Norte for the lower poverty incidence it posted this year. She noted that in 1992, the poverty level in the province was pegged at 67 percent and it has gone down to 47 percent after 14 years.

She said this figure must be reduced by at least one percentage point every year.

Mrs. Arroyo said the P1.5-billion Metro Iligan Infrastructure Project will further improve the lives of the people in Lanao del Norte and ensure the decrease in poverty incidence.

She instructed Presidential Management Staff Secretary Arthur Yap to help the remaining barangays in Lanao del Norte without electricity as she underscored the need to complete the electrification of all barangays in the province.

Mrs. Arroyo also noted the provincial government’s achievement in terms of health insurance coverage, with 49,000 poor families being given health insurance.

The President said the next project is the construction of a secondary hospital to benefit more poor families.

"What is important is the availability of food, medicines and other low-priced goods," she said as she asked the people of Lanao del Norte "to unite and cooperate for progress."

Mrs. Arroyo also said that Mindanao would be developed as the center for agribusiness investments. She added that this will be mapped out next week at the 4th cluster of the Mega Regions Joint Cabinet and Regional Development Council meeting in Davao City.

"Let us use this celebration to win the war against poverty and terrorism," she said.
JI still a threat
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Task Force on Anti-Terrorism chairman Benjamin Defensor said yesterday that the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) remains the biggest terrorist threat in the region but it is not as strong as it used to be.

Defensor said in a chance interview that he agreed with the assessment of Australian and Philippine security experts during a meeting in Manila last week that the JI is still the biggest threat.

However, Defensor said the threat posed by JI diminished because the Muslim world has contradicted their justification for their terrorist activities.

"From my perspective, it is not as strong as it used to be because when they started this movement on terrorism they were misusing and abusing Islam but the Muslim world has written and contradicted what they said. They also said that Islam has nothing to do with terrorism so that greatly affected the rhetoric and statement by the al-Qaeda that it is for their religion," he said.

He added that the APEC Anti-Terrorism Task Force required all 21 member-countries to report what they are doing about terrorism and help come up with a counter-terrorism action plan.

The task force will compile these reports and come out with a regional strategy for terrorism and priorities and see how the capacities of member countries to fight terrorism can be developed.

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