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Bush Briefly Visits Asian Ally

The president's state visit to the Philippines is condensed amid fears of terrorism. Antiwar protesters turn out in streets and Congress.

October 19, 2003|Maura Reynolds | Times Staff Writer

MANILA, Philippines — Dodging protesters and invoking history, President Bush paid a festive but condensed state visit to the Philippines on Saturday aimed at shoring up President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her efforts to curb terrorism in the former U.S. protectorate.

But fear of a terrorist attack overshadowed events, forcing the president to rush through the schedule -- a formal arrival ceremony, wreath-laying at the national monument, an address to a joint session of the Philippine Congress and a state dinner -- in a mere eight hours.

"The Philippines and the United States has seen the enemy on our own soil," Bush said in his speech, which was nationally televised. "Our two nations have made our choice. We will defend ourselves, our civilization and the peace of the world. We will not be intimidated by terrorists."

The visit was designed to reciprocate Arroyo's state visit to Washington in May, the first by an Asian leader during Bush's presidency. It was also aimed at bolstering the country's efforts to combat terrorists.

The Bush administration describes Southeast Asia as the second most important front in the war on terrorism behind Iraq. At least two terrorist groups are active in the Philippines -- Jemaah Islamiah, which has been linked to the Al Qaeda network and blamed for the nightclub bombings in Bali a year ago, and Abu Sayyaf, which runs kidnapping gangs that have targeted Americans and other foreign visitors.

U.S. security officials were jumpy throughout the brief visit. Air Force One landed in Manila under escort by F-15 fighter jets. The president's motorcade to Congress was delayed more than an hour while the U.S. Secret Service and Philippine authorities worked to clear the route of protesters and spectators. And for security reasons, Bush did not spend the night in Manila.

Instead, the president and his wife, Laura, flew to Bangkok, Thailand, late Saturday, where they will make another state visit today. Bush will also meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao before attending the annual conference of Asian Pacific leaders that begins Monday.

The centerpiece of the Manila visit was the president's 19-minute speech to the joint session of Congress. A handful of legislators, identified in Philippine news reports as members of leftist political groups, did not stand when Bush entered the hall and walked out as soon as he began to speak. Others who remained wore badges decorated with a dove symbol and the slogan "Legislators Against War."

In his remarks, Bush recalled that the two countries have joined forces militarily in the past, to overthrow colonial rule by Spain and to defeat the Japanese in World War II. And he thanked the Philippines for being the first Asian nation to support the U.S. intervention in Iraq.

"America is proud of its part in the great story of the Filipino people," the president said, taking note of World War II veterans in the audience. "Together we rescued the islands from invasion and occupation. The names of Bataan, Corregidor, Leyte, Luzon evoke the memories of shared struggle and shared loss and shared victory."

Bush suggested that just as the United States helped the Philippines become a bustling if unruly democracy, it plans something similar for Iraq.

"Democracy always has skeptics," Bush said. "Some say the cultures of the Middle East will not sustain the institutions of democracy. These same doubts were once expressed about the culture of Asia. These doubts were proven wrong nearly six decades ago, when the Republic of the Philippines became the first democratic nation in Asia. Since then, liberty has reached nearly every shore of the Western Pacific."

The Philippines were ruled as a colony by Spain until 1898, when the United States defeated the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay. For the next 48 years, the Philippines were occupied by the United States, becoming a self-governing commonwealth in 1935 and an independent state in 1946.

"In this region of the world, and in every other, let no one doubt the power of democracy, because freedom is the desire of every human heart," Bush said.

The president received warm applause and a standing ovation from the legislators, one of whom described Bush's words as uplifting.

"He said what we needed to hear," said Leovigildo Banaag, a congressman from Mindanao island. "We needed a boost from Bush, and that's what we got."

Out on the streets of the rambling, ramshackle capital, many were less enamored.

About half a dozen different groups organized anti-American rallies to protest Bush's visit. The largest were by leftist political organizations, one of which gathered several thousand demonstrators along the motorcade route under a huge sign reading: "Ban Bush. Oust Gloria." Fresh graffiti along major thoroughfares read, "Bush and Arroyo -- No. 1 War Criminals."

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