- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 19, 2003

MANILA — Thousands of cheering children waving American flags yesterday greeted the arrival of President Bush, who thanked President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for providing troops in Iraq and pledged to help the nation battle al Qaeda-linked militant extremist groups.

In a speech to a joint session of the National Congress — the first by a U.S. president since 1960 — Mr. Bush vowed to continue the U.S.-led war on international terrorism and urged all nations to uphold their responsibilities.

“The terrorists will continue their missions of murder and suicide until they are stopped. And we will stop them,” he said. “Murder has no home in any religious faith and these terrorists must find no home in the Philippines. … We will not be intimidated by terrorists.”

Today in Bangkok, where Mr. Bush traveled for an annual meeting of Pacific Rim leaders, the president is expected to announce closer U.S. military ties with Thailand, one of America’s strongest allies in the war against terror.

A senior administration official said Mr. Bush would announce an upgrading of U.S. military ties with Thailand, designating it a “major non-NATO ally.” That status — also recently conferred on the Philippines — would allow the United States to provide more advanced military equipment.

The president was met in Manila by tens of thousands of supporters lining the streets to catch a glimpse of the motorcade. Several hundred protesters also lined the route, carrying signs that read: “Bush lies” and “Bush No. 1 terrorist.”

His motorcade to the National Congress was delayed by nearly an hour as White House officials assessed “safety issues” posed by the protesters, Press Secretary Scott McClellan said. But another Bush administration official said the thousands of supporters — who had converged along the motorcade’s path — also caused the delays.

At one point, Bush officials considered scrapping the motorcade for helicopters, but the road route was cleared and the president traveled without incident, albeit at high speed, passing thousands of people within feet of the presidential limousine. About 3,000 protesters gathered near the House of Representatives building and a small number of them burned U.S. flags as the motorcade passed.

Security was a concern even before the president arrived for an eight-hour layover visit. Air Force One was escorted by a pair of U.S. fighters that flew so close the pilots’ faces were clearly visible from the presidential aircraft.

Addressing the National Congress, Mr. Bush said both the United States and the Philippines had suffered the brutality of terrorism.

“The terrorists will continue their missions of murder and suicide until they’re stopped, and we will stop them,” Mr. Bush told Philippine lawmakers.

He singled out two groups in particular, the brutal Abu Sayyaf Muslim extremist group, known for kidnappings and murder, and Jemaah Islamiyah, a terror network fighting to establish a pan-Islamic state in Southeast Asia.

“It’s serious because there are no rules when it comes to a crowd like Abu Sayyaf — they kidnap, they kill, they maim,” Mr. Bush told reporters.

In his speech, he said: “There can be no compromise with terror. Philippine security forces have the right and the duty to protect local communities and to defeat terrorism in every form. In the war on terror, U.S.-Philippines military alliance is a rock of stability in the Pacific.”

Mrs. Arroyo told Mr. Bush in a state-dinner toast at Malacanang Palace: “We know the relief brought by knowing we have faithful partners against terror.” She lauded the president for his courage to lead a war against international terrorists, despite opposition from other foreign leaders.

“We must close ranks and stand firm against terrorist threats, however grave,” she said.

Mrs. Arroyo has been a staunch supporter of the president’s anti-terror campaign. For his part, Mr. Bush promised the United States would help modernize the nation’s army to confront terrorists.

The United States will supply 20 refurbished and already promised Huey military helicopters along with advisers and technical assistance, the kind of help — along with joint military exercises — that the United States has already been providing, a senior administration official said. The Philippine government was expected to come up with “hundreds of millions” of dollars, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity, with the United States pitching in an as-yet-undetermined amount of cash.

The United States already has been working to modernize the 113,000-member Philippine military and has sent advisers to help the military battle terrorist activity in the south.

But, Mr. Bush added, “success requires more than American assistance” and told the lawmakers that they, too, must chip in. The Philippine government has had mixed success in fighting terrorism and corruption.

The first U.S. president to address the Philippine Congress since Dwight Eisenhower, Mr. Bush said, “The Pacific is wide but it does not divide us. More than 2 million American citizens trace their ancestry to these islands.”

Some Filipino lawmakers do not support Mrs. Arroyo’s allegiance to the United States. Five legislators from fringe leftist parties walked out of Mr. Bush’s speech. One of them held up a sign reading, “No War,” but left quietly under escort. Another sported an embroidered message on her shirt: “No to U.S. war.”

“The Philippines are sharply divided on this issue,” Liza Maza, a member of the group People First, said before the president’s speech. “Many Filipinos oppose the war. We don’t want to be a launching pad for this war that is being led by President Bush.”

But Prospero Nograles, a member of the same party as Mrs. Arroyo, said: “The majority of the legislators are really supportive of the president and his position.”

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