- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

MANILA — President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will stress the importance of tackling Third World poverty if the United States hopes to prevail in its war against terrorism when she entertains President Bush in Manila next week .

The Bush administration has repeatedly questioned the correlation between the two scourges, noting that most terrorists — including Osama bin Laden himself — come from middle class or well-to-do families.

But Mrs. Arroyo said in an interview at her presidential palace this week that it is “critical” for Mr. Bush to understand “how closely related the war on terrorism is to the war on poverty.”

Suggesting that she and Mr. Bush have engaged in “a friendly debate” about such a link, she said she would raise the matter again during the president’s eight-hour visit to Manila on Saturday. “There is no denying that poverty provides the breeding grounds for the recruitment of terrorists.”

Mrs. Arroyo was interviewed on the eve of her departure to this week’s Organization of Islamic Conference summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Following her weekend meeting in Manila with Mr. Bush, both will travel to a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) nations next week in Bangkok.

The Philippine president, whose mainly Christian country includes 8 million Muslims, returned to the theme of poverty and terrorism several times during the interview.

“I see that the world needs to fight poverty as the highest of all priorities because it breeds division and conflict and terrorism,” she said. “If we are to win against terrorism and leftist agitators, President Bush has to win the war against poverty as well. They are inseparable. That is our highest priority.”

Mrs. Arroyo laid the blame for poverty in the developing world at the doorstep of the United States and the European Union, particularly criticizing agricultural subsidies which she said deny poor countries access to First World agricultural markets.

“Transnational security also requires structural changes between developed and developing countries” because the wealthy ones have “stacked the deck against us.”

Mrs. Arroyo said the U.S. policy of pre-emption that led to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would give way to a more multilateral manner of conducting the world’s business. “What happened in the past two years is different from what I see in the future,” she said. “Increasingly, you will see the [United Nations] playing its proper role, and I believe we will multilateralize again in our approach to the major issues 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.”

Mrs. Arroyo takes pride in the Philippines being a staunch non-NATO ally of the United States and an enthusiastic member of the “coalition of the willing.”

Earlier this year she described the setup of the U.N. Security Council as “patently undemocratic, grossly outmoded or grossly impotent.” Asked whether she holds specific ideas for its reform, the 5-foot-tall, 55-year-old president said she preferred to await the result of deliberations by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and a study group he has established.

“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,” she said.

The five principal victorious powers of World War II — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — hold the Security Council’s only permanent seats, which include the power of veto.

India, Brazil and South Africa, among others, have been lobbying for additional permanent seats. Germany and Japan, the defeated powers of World War II and now the world’s second- and third-largest economies, are also permanent members in waiting.

Mrs. Arroyo said that U.S. military assistance and real-time intelligence exchanges with her country’s Southeast Asian neighbors had contributed to a number of significant successes in the war on terrorism.

The al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf terrorist group, based in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, has been degraded “from a few thousand to between 300 and 500” fighters, she said.

Just this week, Philippine police and soldiers caught an Indonesian terrorist explosives expert who had escaped from a police prison in July. Fathur Rahman al-Ghozi of the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist organization, which is also part of al Qaeda, was killed in a shootout with the police.

But the president conceded that the Philippine archipelago — with some 7,000 islands and 22,370 miles of largely unpatrolled coastline — is easily accessible to terrorists seeking to plan attacks or to lie low until assigned a new mission.

The chiefs of Philippine intelligence services, asked what threat most worried them, unanimously identified the New People’s Army (NPA), the oldest Marxist-led guerrilla organization in the world.

Founded during World War II to fight the Japanese occupation, the NPA went on fighting an independent, U.S.-oriented Philippines. First of Stalinist allegiance, it became Maoist in the mid-1960s. Today, it fields about 11,000 men and women and operates in the principal Philippine islands.

Armed mostly with captured M-16s, the NPA conducts one or two hit-and-run guerrilla attacks a week. Hardly a day goes by without a firefight somewhere between NPA guerrillas and the police or military.

Arnaud de Borchgrave, editor at large of The Washington Times, is editor at large of United Press International as well.

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