POSTSCRIPT / November 22, 2001 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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GMA ‘balikbayan’ box bulging with $4B-plus

WASHINGTON, DC. – Coming home on Sunday with pasalubong worth more than $4 billion and tons of goodwill for the country after a seven-day working visit to the United States, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has reason to be “satisfied.”

She left last week for the US with only $19 million in military assistance expected from the US and a hazy possibility of clinching a number of private sector investments.

She will be back toting $4.3 billion consisting of $2 billion in a security-economic package, $261 million in World Bank loans, and $2 billion in private sector projects.

Is she happy with this output? “You might say I’m satisfied,” she said, breaking into a laugh.

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ROYAL TREATMENT: President George W. Bush appears to have gone overboard in granting the Philippine leader all that she needed to accomplish her twin objectives of helping fight global terrorism and mitigating poverty back home as another aspect of the anti-terrorism campaign.

The special attention must have been so obvious that some members of the American press were saying that Mrs. Arroyo was being giving royal treatment.

Asked by reporters after his hour-long meeting with Mrs. Arroyo if he would allow American troops to go after Abu Sayyaf terrorists in the South, Bush said it was okay with him if the Philippine president asked for them.

With the question tossed to her, President Arroyo said in so many words that there was no need for US troops as the armed forces of the Philippines could handle the situation. But she took the chance to stress the AFP’s need for assistance.

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UNLOCKING THE ARMORY: The meeting in the Oval Office, capping their continuing consultation since the Shanghai summit, may have unlocked the US armory. President Arroyo came out of the White House with a bulging $2-billion military economic package that also addresses the economic roots of terrorism.

Defense and security assistance came up to $183 million, with $55 million earmarked for developing Mindanao where the Abu Sayyaf group is sowing terror and holding several kidnap victims, two of them Americans.

In addition to assistance for Mindanao, including $60 million for a railway, Bush pledged to seek $29 million from the US Congress in 2002 to support poverty alleviation, economic growth and measures to curb corruption.

Bush is also pushing legislation providing the Philippines over $1 billion in Generalized System of Preferences benefits. This will mean low, oftentimes zero percent, tariff for selected items. Quotas for Philippine textile and apparel would be raised by 27 percent.

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ALPHABET SOUP: The Cabinet team of President Arroyo had its hands full signing documents called Memorandums that they swear would translate to exciting benefits from America.

The air is rife with MOI, MOU, and MOA — which stand for Memorandum of Intent, Memorandum of Understanding, and Memorandum of Agreement — signed on the homestretch of her visit coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the signing of the RP-US mutual defense pact.

President Arroyo said earlier that we did not come here to borrow more money. Indeed, we did not borrow anything from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But jumble MOI, MOU and MOA a bit and you end up with IOU, which is normal in this world where there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Just to make sure we knew exactly what was in our alphabet soup, we asked presidential spokesman Rigoberto Tiglao to help us differentiate for the plain folk back home among MOI, MOU and MOA, or explain the degree of commitment of Intent, of Understanding, and of Agreement.

Sorry, but seeing him groping for words, we think it was not fair for us to have thrown him that one.

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LATEST MEMOS SIGNED: Here are some of the latest Memorandums signed here, not necessarily in their order of importance or degree of American commitment:

  1. MOI for $55-million assistance to Mindanao, signed by Finance Secretary Jose Isidro Camacho and USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios, in support of peace and development in that embattled island down South.
  2. MOI to improve the capacity of the Philippines to check money-laundering, signed by Camacho and US Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill.
  3. Another MOI signed by Camacho and Natsios, also on combating money-laundering with the use of USAID’s “policy development expertise” to keep track of suspicious transactions and build cases against violators.
  4. MOU signed by Agriculture Secretary Leonardo Q. Montemayor and US Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, to pursue activities involving scientific, technological and agribusiness cooperation.
  5. MOI signed by Energy Secretary Vincent S. Perez and USAID’s Natsios for promoting “fair and open competition in the electricity market,” including the transparent implementation of the new Power Industry Reform Law and the promotion of the use of clean and indigenous fuels such as renewable energy and natural gas.

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SOME EARLIER MEMOS: We reported earlier on other contracts signed, some of which were:

  1. MOU signed by the Development Bank of the Philippines, AIA Capital Corp. (BVI) Ltd, and Salomon Smith Barney Asia Pacific Ltd. to raise up to $200 million in bonds from overseas Filipinos for the capital market in the Philippines.
  2. MOA between the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority and Kellog, Brown & Root to put back into operation the ship repair facilities ripped out by the US Navy when it left Subic in 1991. Expected investment of $100 million promises 4,000 jobs for skilled workers.
  3. MOU approving Ford Motor’s proposal to allow trading of its vehicles at a preferential tariff of zero to five percent, thus enabling Ford to specialize and avoid duplication in the output of its plants in Thailand and the Philippines.
  4. MOU formalizing the plan of the Manila International Airport Authority and Futrex Inc. (together with its affiliate First Asia Transit Partners) for building and operating a road and rail system between NAIA terminals servicing international and domestic flights.

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WHY IS QUAYLE AROUND?: The press boys were wondering why former US Vice President Dan Quayle had been inserted into the cramped schedule of President Arroyo while incumbent Cabinet officials of Mr. Bush had to deal only with their opposite numbers.

We found the answer during the TV program Monday night with the Cabinet officials wrapping up things. Quayle, who is now working with an investment firm in Phoenix, Arizona, is following up a juicy deal with GMA!

Now the naughty ones are also asking if US permanent representative to the United Nations John Negroponte, who used to be American envoy to Manila, was also following up something when he called on GMA last Thursday.

We don’t blame the press since it has been noticed that many US diplomats who had been assigned to Manila and cultivated top-level contacts later came back pushing fat business deals for their clients.

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CERBERUS DEAL: Secretary Camacho, who has been “captain ball” of the Cabinet team, said that Quayle has been able to clinch an MOU for a firm called Cerberus.

Responding to questions, he said that Cerberus wants to buy wobbly housing mortgage portfolios, free them from entanglements, and raise fresh funds for more housing — in support, of course, of the administration’s mass housing program.

Aside from that, Cerberus reportedly wants to raise a $500-million recovery fund for shoring up distressed Philippine banks. It was not clear if it intends to buy control of targeted banks in the process of “rescuing” them.

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QUESTIONS UNANSWERED: With the failure of informed Palace officials to regularly brief the Manila press covering the “GMA sa USA” trip, there is a dearth of details regarding the parade of MOIs, MOUs, and MOAs.

As a result, there are many questions left unanswered and that are, therefore, susceptible to speculations.

By installing US Treasury and USAID systems and programs for tracking movements of bulk money in or from Philippine banks, are we not unduly opening up to foreign interests and compromising, or even surrendering, the integrity and security of our own banking system?

In the privatization of the National Power Corp., what is the business of the US government talking in an MOI of the need for “fair and open competition in the electricity market, including through the effective and transparent implementation” of our new Power Industry Reform Law? They don’t trust us to do things properly on our own?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 22, 2001)

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