Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Philippines: Arroyo Visit Reinvigorates 400-Year Ties With Spain
President Arroyo, escorted by Spanish King Juan Carlos I, troops the line of the Royal Honor Guards during the arrival honors and welcome ceremony for the President at the Palacio Real de el Pardo Front Courtyard
President Arroyo, escorted by Spanish King Juan Carlos I, troops the line of the Royal Honor Guards during the arrival honors and welcome ceremony for the President at the Palacio Real de el Pardo Front Courtyard

5:19 p.m. Manila - Philippine-Spanish relations have moved forward in the wake of a four-day state visit to Madrid by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

"Spain has always defended my government, and once again, we are seeking the support of the Spanish government and business community to help us realize our vision of a modern Philippines in 20 years," the President said during a meeting with the leaders of Spain's Senate at the Plaza
de la Marina Espanola.

Escorted through Madrid's traffic-heavy streets by a contingent of Palace guards, national security officers and members of the municipal police, the President met with Spain's congressional leaders after the welcome ceremonies for her at the Palacio Real de El Pardo. The President, who speaks fluent Spanish, said "Our four-day state visit here reaffirms the deep historical, cultural, economic and
political ties between the Philippines and Spain."

She informed the Spanish legislators that she had directed government colleges and universities in the Philippines to reintegrate the Spanish language in their curricula. President Arroyo expressed her appreciation for the assistance Spain has extended to her administration in the fight against terrorism, particularly in Mindanao.

She said that now is the best time for Spanish business leaders to invest in the Philippines, particularly in renewable energy development, tourism and agriculture. President Arroyo also informed the Spanish legislators that through the initiative of Sen. Edgardo Angara, a member of her official delegation, she has declared June 30 of every year as the Fil-Hispano Day as a tribute to the shared history, values and traditions of the two nations.

Spanish Senate President Senor Don Francisco Rojo presented to President Arroyo a Senate Medal and a copy of the Atlas of the Iberian Peninsula and Spanish Overseas Territories, while Senor Manuel Marin Gonzales, president of Spain's Chamber of Deputies, presented her a Congressional Medal and a copy of the Spanish Constitution of 1812.

Rojo said the Philippines is a country to which the Spanish people "feel so much sentiment."

He echoed the President's previous statement that economic prosperity can only be achieved in a peaceful and stable environment, citing Spain's own experience with terrorism.

The Spanish Senate leader also expressed gratitude to the Philippine Senate's ratification of the Treaty on the Exchange of Sentenced Prisoners (TESP) between the two countries.

From the Senate, the President proceeded to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Plaza de Lealtad to lay a wreath before her private lunch with their Majesties King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia at the Palacio de la Zarzuela, the official residence of the King and Queen.

Spain: "Bullish on RP investments"

"The business community in is bullish on the Philippines as some companies here have already signified their interests in investing in the country," according to Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila.

Favila, who is among those accompanying Arroyo in her four-day state visit to Spain, said he had talked with executives of two business groups here who are planning to invest in shipping, food and beverage industries in the Philippines. "It's still exploratory but they have signified their interests," Favila said.

The San Miguel Corp. in Spain said they are interested to develop with San Miguel Philippines its new non-alcoholic beer. Another venture, the CMA-CGM, the world's third largest container shipping line, is keen on pouring its money into the Batangas Port. The full development of Batangas Port is needed to carry out the President's super regions economic grouping, as it plays a critical role in the economic and social development of the forelands such as Mindoro. Also, it is the primary port in the area used in the transfer of goods such as agricultural produce that includes copra, cement and logs to the market. The Batangas Port is also an important link in the President's Nautical Highway project. Favila said more meetings are scheduled with Spanish business leaders in a move to lure more investments.

Royal Honors for Arroyo

President Arroyo had a taste of the pomp and pageantry of royalty during the arrival ceremony given in her honor by Spanish King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia on Monday at the sprawling courtyard of the Palacio Real del El Pardo.

The President, dressed in a red coat paired with beige pump shoes, and First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo were met by the King and Queen at the entrance to the Royal Palace.

Alighting from a vintage Rolls Royce, the President, the First Gentleman and the Royal Couple engaged in an animated conversation before trooping the line of the Palace guardsmen.

The band then played the national anthem of the Philippines, followed by the national anthem of Spain and the traditional 21-gun salute accorded to visiting heads of state.

After the introduction of her delegation to the King and Queen, the President and the First Gentleman were ushered to the Tribune of Honor where they viewed the parade of the Royal Honor Guards.

The welcome ceremony for the President and the First Gentleman, which lasted 40 minutes, followed the tradition of the royalties in honoring their guests, complete with guardsmen in elaborate costumes and horse-riding Palace guards.

The President arrived in Madrid Sunday afternoon for a four-day state visit to Spain upon the invitation of the King and Queen.

The President and the First Gentleman are staying at the Palacio Real de El Pardo, an old royal hunting lodge dating back to the period of the Hapsburgs and Franceso Sabatini in the 18th century.

Richly decorated with frescoes and tapestries, the Royal Palace is located in a 15-kilometer square wooded parkland known as the Monte de el Pardo, one of the largest natural areas north of Madrid.

King Juan Carlos: Praise for end of death penalty

President Arroyo on Monday night earned the praises of His Majesty King Juan Carlos I for the abolition of the death penalty in the Philippines last year.

"The Philippines returned on 24 June last year to the forefront of liberties and the defense of human rights with the abolition of the death penalty, a gesture which gave us great satisfaction," his
Majesty said in his speech at the gala dinner in honor of the President who is on a four-day state visit to Spain from Dec. 2 to 5.

His Majesty noted that the repeal of the capital punishment in the Philippines was one of the reasons the President would "deservedly" receive the University of Alcala de Henares Gold Medal Tuesday.

"The move was applauded by the international community and by Spain in particular, and for which you will tomorrow, and deservedly, receive the University of Alcala de Henares Gold Medal," he said.

At the same time, the King mentioned the estimated 50,000 Filipinos living and working in Spain. "May I address all our affection and gratitude to the large Philippine community living in Spain and contributing to our well-being," he said.

His Majesty said Spain was committed to help the Philippines achieve peace and progress.

"Your country has been and will continue to be a target of special attention by Spanish Cooperation in Asia…We wish to reiterate to you our willingness to actively back the peace processes you have begun," he said.

Quoting Filipino national hero Jose Rizal, who said that the Philippines was "the Pearl of the Orient Sea," His Majesty noted that his country's former colony was "privileged by nature."

He said the Philippines' "prudent and intelligent use" of its natural resources would guarantee sustainable development.

King Juan Carlos I toasted the President's "personal venture, and that of your husband, and the fraternal ties linking the Philippines and Spain."

In response, the President thanked King Juan Carlos I and his wife, Queen Sofia de Grecia, for the warm welcome she and her delegation received from the Spanish government and the Spanish people.

The President also spoke in fluent Spanish when she thanked the Spanish government for its continued support of her administration, which "represents constitutional order."

"My government has overcome the attempts of undemocratic [forces]. Ihope that Spain always continues to support my government," she added.

The President also said the relationship between the two countries was further enhanced by the presence of a large Filipino community in Spain.

"We are proud of their contributions to this country," she said.

Like King Juan Carlos I, the President quoted Rizal. "Espana esta allí, alli donde deja sentir su influencia bienhechora, y aunque desapareciese su bandera, quedaría su recuerdo, eterno, imperecedero. (Spain is there, there where she lets us feel her beneficent influence, and although her flag has disappeared, she would be left in our eternal memory)," she said, citing this quote from the Filipino Renaissance man whose works inspired the 1896 revolution against Spain.

The President also offered her condolences to the Spanish people for the death of a "guardia civil" (policeman) in the hands of the Basque separatist group ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna or Basque for "Basque Homeland and Freedom"). ETA has been banned as a terrorist organization by both the Spanish and French authorities as well as the European Union, the United States, and the United Nations.

The President also mentioned the Philippines’ ratification of the Treaty for the Transfer of Sentenced Persons and her directive ordering the promotion of the Spanish language throughout the country. She talked of the various opportunities for trade and investments in the
Philippines. The President toasted to Their Majesties' "health, well-being, and happiness."

The menu at the gala dinner included potato cream with mild olive oil, medley of vegetables with cured beef, hake (a kind of fish) in two wines with fried spinach leaf, and chocolate brownie to be washed down with aged dry sherry, Vina Mein 2006, Hacienda Monasterio 2001 Reserve, and Gran Juve y Camps Grand Reserve. Music at the gala dinner was provided by the Royal Guard, led by its
director, Music Colonel Francisco Grau Vegara. Their pieces included 1492, Filipinas y Espana, Gigantes y Cabezudos, Musicales en Madrid, Serenata Filipina, Pepita Jimenez, Los Ultimos de Filipinas, and Aida.
- Pacific News Center International

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