JIM LEHRER: I talked with President Arroyo this afternoon at the Blair House in Washington. Madam President, welcome.
PRESIDENT GLORIA MACAPAGAL ARROYO: Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: What's the latest on the fighting on the island of Jolo?
PRESIDENT ARROYO: It's all under control. And I have asked my executive secretary to do a preventive suspension on the governor of the autonomous region and to explain in 48 hours what happened.
JIM LEHRER: The wire services are saying 55 people were killed, is that about right?
PRESIDENT ARROYO: Maybe both sides but more the other side.
JIM LEHRER: More the other side.
PRESIDENT ARROYO: I think we had four killed on our side.
JIM LEHRER: The attackers, they attacked these military bases; the attackers were described as being former Muslim extremists or rebels. How would you describe who these people are?
PRESIDENT ARROYO: Well, it depends on what the real facts are, but it is said that they belong to a faction, a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front, because in previous months there's been...There has been an upheaval in the Moro National Liberation Front and there was a change of leadership.
Now that we are about to conclude the implementation of the agreement with the MNLF, which was done in 1996, with the elections for the new government of the autonomous region counting on the November 26, I think that is part of the resistance, resistance to that conclusion, it's part of the resistance to the elections being held but it's going to be held anyway.
JIM LEHRER: They claim that the elections are a violation of that 1996 treaty. I mean that's what they've said today.
PRESIDENT ARROYO: Yes. That's what they claim but you see they themselves have already been unseated from the MNLF, and the elections being held on November 26 are the result of a congressional, of a congressional action. So it's not even my decision to postpone it or not. So it's only the supreme court -- in a democracy like the Philippines -- only the supreme court can say whether it's a violation of the law or not.
JIM LEHRER: It was suggested today in these wire stories that these folks did this today because they wanted to try to embarrass you while you were in the United States.
PRESIDENT ARROYO: Well, I think that if that's their intention, I think they've failed because I think... What I can say is we're having very good reception here. The reception has been very warm. The talks have been very good and substantive. And I think it's a very good opportunity to be here at this time. I was invited by President Bush to come to the United States on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the mutual defense treaty.
This treaty demonstrates the good friendship and strategic alliance between the U.S. and the Philippines. We've been together, we've been allies in... allies in defense and allies in the economy. In defense, we were with... The Philippines was with the U.S. in the Second World War, in the Korean War, in the Vietnam War, and now in the war against terrorism.
On the economy, the U.S. cumulatively is our most important investor, most important trading partner, most important sort of tourists and we have now a tie that will .. a link that will be here for many, many years to come and that is the big Philippine-American community in the United States, three million of them.
JIM LEHRER: Let's talk about the terrorism. You mentioned the war on terrorism. There's a group in your country, Abu-Sayyaf....
PRESIDENT ARROYO: Abu-Sayyaf, yes, yes. They are there in that area.
JIM LEHRER: Same area, right.
PRESIDENT ARROYO: That area, yes. That island and another island, two small islands in the southwestern part of the Philippines, that's their area.
JIM LEHRER: Now, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said today that the Abu-Sayyaf has connections or has interactions is the word he used with Osama Bin laden and other terrorist groups. Does that jibe with the information you have?
PRESIDENT ARROYO: Well, the information that we have is that at least until 1995 they did, because in 1995, our policemen uncovered evidence about this group that bombed the World Trade Center the first time around, and at that time through al-Qaida had its front organization in the Philippines.
Our policemen went to New York at that time to testify and assisted in the incarceration of the perpetrators of the original bombing. After that... after that the front organizations left the Philippines. I think they found the Philippines not a hospitable place for international terrorists.
JIM LEHRER: But Abu-Sayyaf is holding two American missionaries and a Filipino nurse as hostages right now, correct?
PRESIDENT ARROYO: Yes, yes, that's correct.
JIM LEHRER: What is being done to get those people back?
PRESIDENT ARROYO: Well, we're having them rescued because the policy of the Philippine government is number one, no ransom, no back room negotiations, number two bring the perpetrators swiftly to justice and then... And that's what we're doing because justice is the U.S. Government policy. We don't... We cannot condone... We cannot condone kidnappings by paying ransom because otherwise they'll be back again the next time around.
So we've been taking very good care that, in fact, they are out of harm's way whenever we do our offensive. So I think though that victory is imminent especially now, especially now that the world recognizes what terrorism is all about. You know I was at ground zero, and it was, to me, such a graphic illustration of what terrorism has done to our world.
From those two little islands in the southern part of the Philippines to the great island of Manhattan, we have seen what terrorism is doing to the world, and it is really important that we work together.
JIM LEHRER: Why is it that this Abu-Sayyaf has been able to function for such a long period and in such a violent way?
PRESIDENT ARROYO: Well, you see, now... Now that... Now that the world is fighting terrorism, I think you can understand now why. Even the search for Osama bin Laden is taking a long time, so that's really the nature of terrorism.
They can hide very easily but I think now that we're altogether in this war against terrorism, then... And with the U.S. technical assistance coming to the Philippines because they recognize that that's part of the war against terrorism, I think the problem will be over soon and now we can put our resources to where they really should belong and that is the fight against poverty.
JIM LEHRER: Is the United States providing you all the help you need to get to Abu-Sayyaf?
PRESIDENT ARROYO: They're providing us help. One of the reasons I'm here is to discuss what it is that I need. When I talk with President Bush tomorrow, you know we think very much alike so of course we're going to be discussing the partnership in the war against terrorism, what the Philippines is doing by unilaterally in our own southwestern corner, what the Philippines is doing bilaterally in making the air space available and our ground bases available for U.S. forces and U.S. troops... and U.S. planes and U.S. boats.
And what we're doing in the region. We work on the first draft, which became the declaration against terrorism. We're working with our neighbors Indonesia and Malaysia to fight terrorism in our own common seas.
JIM LEHRER: Secretary Rumsfeld also said today that there were some Americans already there. He called them an assessment team. You want more than that though, right?
PRESIDENT ARROYO: No.
JIM LEHRER: No?
PRESIDENT GLORIA MACAPAGAL ARROYO: No.
JIM LEHRER: You don't want U.S. military advisors?
PRESIDENT ARROYO: They are advisors, yes. They're advisors so, of course, we welcome advisors. You see, this is not a new thing to us because we were treaty partners. We have a mutual defense treaty. That's what we're celebrating now 50 years.
And under that mutual defense treaty the U.S. does give military advice, does give military treatment, does provide military equipment. So this is not new. And they are there and what's different is that this time it's about terrorism. It's not about the Cold War. It's not about other things that we've been partners in the past.
JIM LEHRER: To make sure I understand correctly here you do not want the United States to send armed troops in there to help your army get rid of these people?
PRESIDENT ARROYO: Well, I think our... I think that our armed forces are quite good in what they're doing. The assessment team, in fact, has all praises for our south commander, General Simato, who they said is aggressive, knows what he's doing, he's really as good as any General you can find anywhere in the world.
There are praises for our ground troops because they're very experienced in fighting terrorism. So what we really need would be really a technical assistance and equipment, materials, joint planning. So that's what we can do. That's been the pattern under the mutual defense treaty.
JIM LEHRER: In general, the war on terrorism after September 11, what is your feeling about the way the United States has gone about this most particularly in the bombing and military action in Afghanistan? Do you support what the U.S. has done so far?
PRESIDENT ARROYO: We've supported the U.S. every step of the way. The Philippines was the first government in Asia after September 11, in fact, the night of September 11, it was nighttime for us then. It was daytime here. We were the first government in Asia to come out and say that we're supporting the U.S. We enumerated all the ways by which we were ready to help the U.S. And we've been unwavering in that.
JIM LEHRER: Nothing has happened since then in terms of the conduct of the war itself to give you any pause or give your people any pause?
PRESIDENT ARROYO: Every step of the way because to us it's a moral choice. It's a strategic decision, a moral choice, and in both ways there is nothing that has made us waiver in our support.
JIM LEHRER: Am I correct that about 5 percent of your population is Muslim?
PRESIDENT ARROYO: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: Have they had any negative reactions to it?
PRESIDENT ARROYO: I am very grateful to our Muslim population. One of the things we've been doing is stepping up our inter-faith dialogue with the Muslim population. And I think that helped very much in their support for me. The political leaders in Muslim now have come out with a formal resolution supporting the Philippine position.
Even the religious leaders have had their own convention and have come out together with other religious leaders supporting the Philippine government position. Even the MILF, the secessionist rebels who, however, are now engaged in the cease-fire with the Philippine government, have formally come out to say that they are not tied up with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. I think I have been very fortunate. I've been very blessed to have the support of the Muslim people of the Philippines in supporting the U.S.
JIM LEHRER: Madam President, thank you very much.
PRESIDENT GLORIA MACAPAGAL ARROYO: Thank you.