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by Genalyn D. Kabiling
26-June-2008 Manila Bulletin

WASHINGTON, DC (Via PLDT) — The Philippines and the United States forged on Tuesday an estimated $ 216.5-million food security agreement aimed at minimizing the effects of soaring world prices of consumer goods.

President Arroyo witnessed the signing of the cooperation pact on agriculture and related fields between the Philippine Department of Agriculture (DA) and the US Department of Agriculture on the second day of her visit to the US capital.

The signing of the agreement came a few hours after US President George W. Bush offered further rice sales and other food assistance to the Philippines in a meeting with President Arroyo at the White House.

The food security pact was signed by Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap and USDA Secretary Ed Schafer at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel here.

The RP-US accord includes sanitary and phytosanitary measures that will allow the sale of fresh fruits from the Philippines to the US in the near future.

Other areas of cooperation include biotechnology, especially in the development of disease-resistant rice varieties through a $ 1.5-million grant. Another $ 25 million was set aside for an accelerated dairy development program which plans to deploy 10,000 dairy animals in the next five years.

Also in the cooperation agreement are increased rice supply purchase agreements through Public Law 480 of at least $ 20 million and General Services Manager 102 Program of at least $ 70 million, a proposed surplus equipment program of $ 50 million, an extension service capacity- building program of $ 25 million, and an accelerated livestock genetic resource improvement program of $ 25 million.

"All these cooperation areas are in support of Philippine food security program,"€ the DA said.

In her remarks before two American business groups last Tuesday night, the President said she asked the United States to help ensure ample food supply in the Philippines during her meetings with Bush and Schafer.

"During our meetings with President Bush and Agriculture Secretary Schaefer, we called on the US, as the breadbasket of the world, to help ensure supply, invest in research, and continue to provide vital humanitarian supplies to the truly needy in our nation and others affected by this global phenomenon," she said.

Bush told President Arroyo that the Philippines can count on the United States for food assistance.

"I assured the President we’ll continue to help. We helped with rice in the past. And, you know, I’m proud of my country. We give a lot of food aid, and this is a time where America needs to step up, and we will, Madam President," the US leader said.

Mrs. Arroyo acknowledged there is a need for a "strong global leadership and coordination" to avert the high oil and food prices from becoming a perpetual problem.

She said the Philippine government has been working to address the challenges arising from the slowdown in the global economy combined with the rising cost of food and oil.

Also last Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila), the Chief Executive pushed for the passage of a bill raising benefits for Filipino World War II veterans during her meeting with Bush.

The President she made a "strong case" for the veterans’ equity bill pending in the House of Representatives on concerns about the source of the funds.

The US Senate passed the Veterans’ Benefits Enhancement Bill with an overwhelming 96-1 vote last April. It provides $ 250-$ 300 million over 10 years for the Filipino WW II veterans.

"I made a strong case for why the Philippine veterans of World War II deserve equity and I’ve asked for the understanding and support of the leaders of America," she said.

"This is consistent with one major aim of this trip — to help fight for passage of the Filipino Veterans’ Equity Bill that’s part of a larger bill pending in the US Congress," she added.

"So I’ve spoken with (US House) Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with Senate Majority Leader (Harry) Reid, and President Bush on the issue, not to mention, of course, the authors and sponsors to thank them for what they did," the President added.

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