SOLONS SAY Arroyo, Obama must tackle military, economy By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez INQUIRER.net First Posted 16:42:00 07/13/2009

MANILA, Philippines — President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo should make a pitch for increased military assistance and strengthened economic partnership with the United States when she meets with President Barack Obama, leaders of the House of Representative said on Monday.

At the same time, several lawmakers from the opposition said Arroyo should also discuss the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with Obama, saying this affected the country’s relations with the US.

The White House announced over the weekend that the two leaders would meet on July 30, their first meeting since Obama won in November last year and barely a year before Arroyo steps down after nine years in Malacañang.

“The economy and its recovery and the peace and regional security against terrorism, especially the Mindanao problem must be addressed,” Speaker Prospero Nograles said in a text message.

The House leader said the technology available to the Armed Forces of the Philippines should be beefed up to make it more responsive in detecting and pursuing terrorist and kidnap-for-ransom bandits.

Italian aid worker Eugenio Vagni was released over the weekend after six months in captivity.

Vagni and two fellow Red Cross workers—Swiss Andreas Notter and Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba—were abducted by the Abu Sayyaf on Jolo Island, in Sulu province on January 15. Lacaba and Notter were released on April 2 and April 8, respectively.

Quezon Representative Danilo Suarez said Arroyo should get an update on how Obama’s economic stimulus package was working, since the Philippine economy was affected by the US recession.

“Forty percent of the remittances of OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) come from the US, that’s why if their economy is weak, then we are affected, too,” he said.

Suarez added that he hopes the President would also ask for US assistance on the country’s academic upgrading program that aims to provide computer laboratories to public schools.

Quezon Representative Lorenzo Tañada III, Akbayan partylist Representative Risa Hontiveros and Gabriela partylist Representative Liza Maza said the VFA should be on top of the talking points.

All three lawmakers said the VFA should be abolished since it was a lopsided treaty. Maza said there were serious questions on jurisdiction of crimes, including those committed by US servicemen in the Philippines.

Tañada also said that Arroyo should get the US’s position on agriculture subsidies.

Hontiveros said that while she expected calls from various groups for Arroyo to raise the abrogation of the VFA with Obama, it was something that the outgoing President would not do.

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