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RP, The Gambia agree on joint oil
 
    
By GENALYN D. KABILING
 
The Philippines and The Gambia yesterday agreed to embark on an oil
exploration project in the tiny West African nation to help lessen their
dependence on expensive imported crude products. The agreement tops the
three other accords forged to expand trade and economic relations
between the two nations. 
 
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Gambian President Yahyah A.J.J.
Jammeh decided to work together to ensure that both developing countries
are not adversely affected by the scourge of high oil prices during
their bilateral talks in the Palace. 
Also yesterday, Arroyo assured visiting Indonesian President Susilo
Bambang Yudhoyono that the Philippine government is now ready to speed
up negotiations over the delineation of maritime borders between the two
countries.
In a speech at the state luncheon for the visiting Gambian leader, the
President said that Gambia has offered the Philippine government to
jointly explore the recently discovered onshore and offshore oil
deposits in that country. 
Arroyo said the offer was a "very big gesture of friendship" that Jammeh
brought on his three-day state visit to Manila and bolstered her faith
that God or Allah has "perfect timing." 
"Yesterday, we were appalled to read about the unprecedented rise in the
price of oil to $59 per barrel. And I started my conversation with his
Excellency talking about how important it is for us to address that
issue because we are poor countries heavily dependent on imported oil.
And his Excellency, the President gave me a wonderful piece of good
news. Gambia has just discovered oil," she said. 
"And because the Philippines helped out Gambia in its earlier days
struggling as a nation, Gambia will help us out this time by giving a
bloc for the oil exploration of our Philippine oil exploration company,"
she added. 
Jammeh announced early last year the discovery of "very large
quantities" of oil off the coast of Gambia, promising a new wealth to
its impoverished people. 
The President said Jammeh’s visit to Manila was a "wonderful visit, a
Godsent visit" amid the government’s struggle to push for energy
conservation and energy independence to mitigate the impact of soaring
oil prices on consumer goods. 
She, however, did not provide more details about the RP-Gambia oil
exploration project. 
Mrs. Arroyo, meantime, appeared untroubled when she hosted Jammeh and
later Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for state visits
yesterday, which coincided with the opening of the congressional inquiry
into the controversial wiretaps. 
Before the state lunch, Arroyo met with Jammeh in a closed-door
bilateral meeting after he was accorded with full military arrival
honors in Malacañang. They also witnessed the signing of three
agreements aimed to bolster trade relations between the two countries. 
The two countries agreed to set up a bilateral consultative committee
between their respective foreign affairs departments. "The committee
shall be the framework for discussing all issues concerning the
bilateral relations between Gambia and the Philippines, as well as
regional and global issues of common interest to the two countries," a
Palace statement reads. 
The agreement substantiates the two countries’ commitment to the New
Asia-Africa strategic partnership signed in Jakarta last April. Manila
and Gambia previously forged agreements on scientific and technical
cooperation in 1996 and on cooperation in the field of health and
medicine in 1999. 
A private sector accord was also signed between the Philippine Chamber
of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) and the Gambia Chamber of Commerce and
Industry "to deepen and expand the level of economic cooperation and
bilateral trade and to maximize the complementation of each other’s
economies." 
The Gambia-based SK General Enterprise Limited and two Filipino
companies entered into an agreement for several infrastructure projects,
initially the construction of a 260kilometer road in Gambia. 
It hired Century Properties, Inc., a private Filipino
developer-contractor, for the project management and procurement of
construction materials and supplies for infrastructure projects in the
African nation. 
Both companies would contract with Concorde International Services for
the recruitment of Filipino construction manpower services. 
"As developing nations, we can support each other through cooperative
efforts and with the assistance of common friends and allies through
various tripartite or multilateral arrangements as we endeavor to
produce ways and means to improve the lives of our people," Arroyo said.

In her speech, Arroyo also thanked Gambia for its support for Manila’s
bid for an observer status in the Organization of Islamic Conference.
Gambia is the chairman of the committee in the OIC which handles the
proposed restructuring of the influential body. 
"Your support is valuable in our efforts to forge lasting peace with our
Muslim brothers in southern Philippines. With your support, the
Philippines looks forward to a future of being one among you in the
OIC," she said. 
The President said her government is committed to promote understanding
among various faiths and civilization here and abroad. 
Gambia, a small nation of 1.4 million people wedged into the heart of
Senegal, is one of the world’s poorest countries. Jammeh seized power in
a 1994 military coup, overthrowing Dawda Jawara, the only other
president the country has known since independence from Britain in 1965.

Later in the afternoon, Arroyo held bilateral talks with Indonesian
President Susilo Bambang Yudyohono and discussed ways to boost economic
and security relations between the two countries. She hosted a state
dinner for the Indonesian leader and his party at the Palace.
"The Philippines and Indonesia face more pressing challenges from being
archipelagoes, more so from being two archipelagoes adjacent to one
another and sharing a common maritime border," she said.
"We’ve seen in recent months how overlapping maritime claims can give
rise to misunderstanding among countries. I’m pleased to inform that the
Philippines is now ready to negotiate with Indonesia on delineating our
maritime border," she added.
The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), which has links with the al-Qaeda
international terrorist network, has kidnapped three Indonesian sailors
three months ago at Mataking island near the Sabah border. Two of the
three sailors have been released. 
"That we present a joint front against transnational crimes, such as
terrorism and piracy, is critical because lawless elements are able to
move with ease across our porous borders," the President said.
She also assured President Yudyohono that the Philippine authorities are
doing their best to secure the remaining Indonesian sailor who is widely
believed to have died while in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf bandits.
"We are doing everything within our means to secure the safe release of
the remaining captive. At the same time, we hope that we could take this
opportunity to look at other areas where we can work together to prevent
such incidents from happening again," she added. 
b

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