Bill Gates in Los Banos, Laguna, Philippines

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MANILA, Philippines - (UPDATE 5:25P.M.) Sources in Los Baños, Laguna, say that billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates visited the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) on Wednesday morning.

Sought for comment, neither Microsoft Phillippines nor IRRI would confirm Gates' presence in the country. A check with sources in the aviation sector, however, confirmed that a private jet with registration number N887WM, and tied to Gates, was in the country, and had flown into Manila from Puerto Princesa, Palawan. The plane supposedly arrived in Palawan as early as April 4.

From the Puerto Princesa airport, Gates and his entourage reportedly boarded a turbo-prop Islander that flew them to an exclusive island-resort in Palawan. 

On Wednesday morning, Gates flew to Manila via an Islander plane. According to sources in Laguna, Gates flew by chopper Wednesday from Manila to Laguna, on what was billed as a "top secret" visit to one of the laboratories at IRRI.

Sources in UP Los Baños, in whose sprawling Makiling campus IRRI is located, said Gates was in IRRI for at least two hours and was likely consulting with IRRI on the latest developments in rice research.

Another source, however, said his plane, a US-registered aircraft (N887WM), later followed to Manila and was seen parked at the Asian Aerospace Hangar in the General Aviation Area of NAIA.  

Immigration sources confirmed he and his group arrived in the country last April 4 and were expected to fly out late next week.

Gates, co-founder of tech giant Microsoft Corp., last visited the Philippines in 1998. He has long surrendered the day-to-day operations of the company, and in the past decade has been more actively hands-on with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

The Gates Foundation supports anti-poverty programs, technology, and innovations worldwide, and in the past had invested as much as $20 million in research for the Golden Rice variety developed in IRRI. The genetically modified crop ostensibly holds out hope for cheaper, easier-to-propagate, and fortified rice that can be used to fight hunger and malnutrition in developing countries. Fortified with Vitamins A and B, Golden Rice can help curb child mortality and blindness, researchers have said.

Environmental groups have been critical of Golden Rice and other GMO crops, warning against supposed potential environmental impacts. Other scientists, however, have refuted such fears, and point out that the fact that it is developed by IRRI means that there will be no royalties or corporate control over the promising crop.

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