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Cong. Matugas, Sen. Lapid ask court OK to travel with Arroyo

Two lawmakers and a former official who have pending graft cases with the Sandiganbayan have asked the court for permission to travel because they are part of the entourage of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when she goes to Washington to meet President Barack Obama on July 30.

Administration Sen. Manuel “Lito” Lapid, who is among the group of legislators who will be joining the President, Friday asked the anti-graft court to allow him to leave for the US from July 29 to Aug. 15.

Lapid has a pending graft case with the 1st Division, filed against him in 1998 by the President’s sister, Cielo Macapagal-Salgado, for allegedly using government funds to buy a P140-million property when he was still Pampanga governor.

The Office of the Ombudsman withdrew the charges last year, but the case remains pending as Salgado filed a motion for reconsideration questioning the withdrawal.

Surigao del Norte Rep. Francisco Matugas, who also joined Ms Arroyo’s party during her 11-day official visit to Japan and Brazil last month, is also part of the delegation.

Matugas, who also has a pending graft case, also asked the court to allow him to travel.

Meeting with who’s who

Aside from Obama, Ms Arroyo will be meeting with US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates on July 31, a copy of the itinerary submitted to the court by former Public Estates Authority chair Ernest Frederick Villareal showed.

Villareal, who is facing graft charges over the allegedly overpriced P1.1-billion President Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard, has asked the court for leave to travel so he can join Ms Arroyo’s delegation.

But while hordes of officials, legislators and businessmen are scrambling to join Ms Arroyo on this trip, only a few will actually get to press the flesh of the popular US president.

Arroyo plus 5

Only Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo, Ambassador to Washington Willy Gaa, and possibly, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Speaker Prospero Nograles, will be joining Ms Arroyo at the meeting with Obama.

“Only the President plus five will meet President Obama at the White House,” Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said.

But he said this was not yet final, though “that is the ideal number.”

Ms Arroyo, the first Asian leader to meet with Obama, leaves next Wednesday for Washington via San Francisco.

“The President will push for increased market access for our goods and services, many of which come from Mindanao, including mangoes, tuna, milkfish, seaweeds, and possibly, technical assistance to Sulu and Tawi-Tawi sea farmers, bananas, etc.,” Remonde said.

US business leaders

Ms Arroyo will also meet with US business leaders on Thursday in Washington, where she will make a pitch for the Philippines as an “ideal location for increased US investments,” he said.

She will meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, members of the House ways and means committee and leaders of the Philippines-US Friendship Caucus, composed of lawmakers.

She will also attend a forum on the Coral Triangle hosted by the National Geographic.

She will hold a dialogue on the Millennium Challenge Account, take a call from Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs Eric Shinseki, meet with other senators, have dinner with the Filipino community on Friday.

New York, Chicago

On Saturday, Ms Arroyo and her delegation will leave for New York for a series of meetings with various US multinationals. From there she goes to Chicago to meet with US industrialists and the Filipino community.

The next day, she and her party will proceed to Guam for a meeting with state officials and the Filipino community. She will be back in Manila on Aug. 5.

Some 100 members of the Concerned Citizens Movement trooped to the US Embassy Friday to ask Obama to tell Ms Arroyo that his government does not support governments that do not comply with democracy and respect human rights.

Letter to Obama

The group, led by lawyer Harry Roque and former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, said the protest was aimed at making Obama aware of the Filipino people’s sentiments before his scheduled meeting with Ms Arroyo.

Roque said his group will be sending Obama a letter expressing these sentiments. He said Pelosi will be personally taking the letter to the White House. (With a report from Jeannette I. Andrade, inquirer.net)

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