Philippine diplomat
completes isle trip

The foreign secretary discusses
security with Admiral Fargo

The foreign secretary to the Philippines rounded out a month-long diplomatic trip yesterday, speaking to the Honolulu-based commander of U.S. Pacific Forces about her nation's security concerns.

Delia Domingo Albert also met yesterday with Gov. Linda Lingle and a number of Hawaii's Filipino lawmakers.

The foreign secretary plans to fly back to the Philippines today, almost a month after departing on a whirlwind tour that took her to Europe, Asia, Washington, D.C., and Hawaii.

Albert said she had a "very comprehensive" conversation yesterday with Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander in chief of the Pacific Command.

She said the two talked about America's role in the Philippines and her nation's homegrown threat -- the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group.

"We had a discussion on the ... overall security in the region," Albert said, "(and) ... our cooperation on counterterrorism actions."

The talk also centered on strengthening the joint agreement, called the Balikatan program, that sends U.S. military forces to the Philippines for war games.

This year's exercises ran from Feb. 23 to March 4 and included some 5,000 Filipino and American troops. Albert said villagers in which the exercises were centered received much-needed humanitarian aid as a component of the program.

Even before Fargo took on his current position in 2002, he had pinpointed the Philippines as a place for the United States to center more of its military training efforts.

Albert said she and Fargo discussed the possibility of expanding the Balikatan program, which has faced steady criticism in the Philippines.

In her short meeting with Lingle yesterday morning, Albert said she talked about the need for "proper celebration" in Honolulu for the 2006 centennial of the first Filipino migration to the United States.

Albert repeated the message in a speech to about 200 members of Hawaii's Filipino community last night.

Earlier this month, Albert met with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Albert also met with European, Asian and American leaders, including U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Albert said she embarked on her trip to share her country's national security goals and ensure the welfare of the 8 million Filipinos working outside of their home nation.

During her time in Geneva, she met with all 21 of the world's female foreign ministers and pushed for migrant workers' rights.


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