- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Text of the interview with Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo by Arnaud de Borchgrave, editor at large with The Washington Times. He is also editor at large of United Press International.

Question: Globalization has swelled populations of urban slums, facilitated transnational terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and has not reversed the discrepancies between rich and poor. Where have we gone wrong?

Answer: Here, the developed countries of the First World must shoulder most of the blame. Globalization meant that the developing countries of what was once the Third World had to liberalize while the developed countries clung to the status quo and stacked the deck against us by maintaining their agricultural subsidies. So our agricultural products could not find markets in the wealthy countries, while they were able to expand their markets in our countries. Globalization, which began in earnest after the Cold War, has been largely a one-way street.

Q: In your inaugural speech in January 2001, you said the challenge is to win the war on poverty, which required new politics. What is the recipe?

A: My target for winning that war is 2010. Of course, that doesn’t mean eliminating poverty completely, but it does mean draining the swamps and giving the poor hope where there is little today.

Q: About 40 percent your people are living below the local poverty line.

A: It’s not that high. But if we can reduce it by half, we will be well on the way to winning.

Q: Al Qaeda has launched a massive online recruitment drive for volunteers to wage war against the U.S. What’s your own take on al Qaeda and its Filipino allies, such as the Abu Sayyaf terrorists?

A: Southeast Asia as a whole is now a single theater of operations for al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist groups. It is both a regional and transnational terrorist movement and therefore the response has to be regional and transnational. Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines are acting as one in our response and we have now been joined by Cambodia, Thailand and Brunei in a common counterterrorist enterprise where we share information and intelligence. That has led to a number of important arrests in one another’s countries. With intelligence pooling, we have even caught big terrorist fish like Hambali of Jemaah Islamiyah. We have managed to degrade Abu Sayyaf from a few thousand to between 300 and 500.

Q: The U.S. is now in the role of world policeman. This has entailed two wars in two years. Is American invincibility and a strategy of pre-emption the way you see things?

A: What happened in the past two years is different from what I see in the future. Increasingly, you will see the U.N. playing its proper role, and I believe we will multilateralize again in our approach to the major issues and crises of our time. Hopefully, the Philippines will soon become a member of the U.N. Security Council, where we will play the role of a consensus builder for a greater role of the U.N. in both peacekeeping and peacemaking.

Q: Earlier this year, you described the setup of the Security Council as “patently undemocratic, grossly outmoded or mostly impotent.” Do you have any specific ideas on U.N. reform?

A: What I want to do is support [U.N. Secretary-General] Kofi Annan and his study group rather than pre-empt him. And I believe he will come up with wise recommendations to make the U.N. responsive to the challenges of the 21st century that were not there when the U.N. was created almost 60 years ago.

Q: Kofi Annan says pre-emption is the lawless use of force, because if the legitimacy of the U.N. is discounted and force is used unilaterally, the world will become ever more dangerous.

A: And that is why the Philippines as a non-NATO ally of the U.S. and as a member of the coalition of the willing favors fundamental U.N. reform.

Q: We see a new struggle of global dimensions between advocates and practitioners of global capitalism and grass-roots social activists. How do assess this post-Marxist phenomenon?

A: I see that the world needs to fight poverty as the highest of all priorities because it breeds division and conflict and terrorism. If we are to win against terrorism and leftist agitators, President Bush has to win the war against poverty as well. They are inseparable. We have now achieved a better than a 4 percent growth rate, the highest since the Asian crisis of 1997. Transnational security also requires structural changes between developed and developing countries.

Q: You see a correlation between poverty and despair and terrorism?

A: It is a very strong link. This is what breeds terrorism. Look at our own experience in the Philippines and Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

Q: We seem to be witnessing the emergence of a global network of indigenous groups whose strategy against globalism is to win local elections, which, in turn, compels devolution of political power to local governments who then form coalitions across national borders.

A: The Philippines has been addressing these changes by devoting 40 percent of its revenue to local governments that already have autonomy in health, social welfare, tourism, agriculture. So devolution is well advanced and here to stay.

Q: The Igorot tribe from the northern Philippines and the Branca tribe from Costa Rica gather in Geneva; is transnationalism a growing force in the world that globalists are only dimly aware of?

A: The world is full of contradictions and divisions, and this is indeed an important one. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to wage a global war on poverty to make our people understand that globalization has at least some blessings for them. Terrorism finds its spawning grounds in grinding poverty, which, in turn, is linked to the agricultural subsidies of the wealthy countries whose impact is to shut us out of their markets.

Q: Where do you see China in the years ahead?

A:We don’t see China as a threat, but as an opportunity. We have a beautiful surplus in our trade with China. We have got what China doesn’t grow, but eats. Thus, China alone has doubled the meager income of our farmers. It is, of course, true that labor costs are lower in China than in the countries of Southeast Asia and that production entities tend to shift over to China. That’s why it’s vital for us to focus on niche products, such as our fruits.

Q:The Philippines spends only 1.5 percent of its GDP on defense, or less than $1 billion per year. But with Abu Sayyaf, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the New People’s Army, aren’t you are fighting three insurgencies?

A: Of course we need to spend more. And I am currently speeding up procurement of certain hardware. We are committed to modernizing and allocating the required resources.

Q: With 20/20 hindsight, was it such a great idea to get rid of U.S. bases?

A: Instead of judging what happened in the past, we move forward. Today we have a new partnership with the U.S. that is based on mutual interests and equality in the fight against terrorism and poverty.

Q: Will you say this to Mr. Bush, who clearly does not believe in the link between the two?

A: That’s a friendly debate between us, but there is no denying that poverty provides the breeding grounds for the recruitment of terrorists.

Q: Last December you pledged not to run in the next presidential campaign in May 2004. You recently changed your mind. What do you hope to achieve, and how?

A: At first I thought I could devote myself to the fundamental reforms that are urgently needed, unencumbered by the burdens and distractions of presidential campaign politicking. But it didn’t happen. And I now realize that my two years of experience as president must be put at the service of a full term of six years, to both enact and execute profound changes that are urgently required to achieve a strong, vibrant and clean democracy.

Q: When you see Mr. Bush on Saturday, what do you plan to tell him that was not covered during your state visit to Washington last May or in your recent meeting at the U.N. in New York?

A: It’s actually a continuation of the conversations we’ve had since 9/11 about our partnership in the war on terrorism. But it’s critical that there be a better understanding of how closely related this was is to the war on poverty.

Q: What does your crystal ball foresee for the 21st century?

A: Ten years ago we couldn’t foresee what information technology would do to transform the way we relate to each other, the way we do things, even the way we think. My horizon is 10 years out. We have both fears and hopes — fears about transnational terrorism and what it will bring next with weapons of mass destruction, and hopes that we will be able to eradicate poverty or at least bring it down to tolerable levels, the sine qua non for eradicating terrorism.

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