MANILA Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, America’s staunchest Asian ally in the global war on terrorism, will arrive in the United States this week seeking military hardware for her fight against Muslim rebels holding two American hostages.
Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo, who has refused to negotiate with the hostage-takers, will cite a 50-year-old mutual defense treaty with the United States in requesting new equipment and weapons to battle the Abu Sayyaf, a group of Muslim rebels-turned-kidnappers in the southern Philippines.
U.S. anti-terrorism specialists have been in the Philippines for more than a month to advise the armed forces in their battle with the kidnappers, who are concentrated on two islands Basilan and Sulu in the predominantly Muslim southern stretches of the Philippine archipelago.
“The advisers were very impressed with the commanders, officers, soldiers, especially the marines, but not with our old and antiquated equipment,” the president told a military gathering over the weekend. “So it’s likely that this will be the thrust in my talks.”
Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo, who assumed power 10 months ago after street protests won the support of the military and toppled her predecessor, has not wavered from her support for the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism.
The diminutive, tough-talking president has gone as far as to endorse continued U.S.-led bombing in Afghanistan over the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“I understand the U.S. position to continue its attacks because we are not also stopping our attacks on the Abu Sayyaf during the Ramadan,” Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo said last week, after returning from a meeting of the leaders of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
She initially will raise the arms issue with Adm. Dennis Blair, commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, when they meet tomorrow, on the eve of her departure.
She attended Georgetown University with former President Bill Clinton and was likely to receive a warm welcome from his successor, President Bush.
Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo and Mr. Bush, both children of former presidents, will find they have many other things in common when they meet at the White House. Both faced the challenge of healing their nations after divisive battles that preceded their takeover of the reins of government.
She was installed as president in the aftermath of a popular uprising that chased corruption-tainted President Joseph Estrada from office. Mr. Bush’s own election followed a rancorous battle on the vote tally in Florida. Both of their predecessors were dogged by sex scandals.
Relations between the United States and the Philippines cooled in 1992 after the Philippines Senate ended Washington’s lease on two major bases north of Manila, ending nearly half a century of U.S. military presence.
But joint military exercises resumed in 1999, after the Philippines ratified a hotly debated Visiting Forces Agreement.