Saturday, August 29, 2009

Stirling Moss

Fun with my friend, Stirling Moss
By Vi Massart
European Desk
29 August 2009

Stirling Moss, British car racing great, has been in the news lately.

I thought of reviving this blog to write something about him, but where to start?

Actually, I've been thinking of writing him a card these last 10 years but haven't gotten down to doing it.

Yes, Stirling and I were good friends decades ago -- or at least I think we were, even if we didn't often meet or see each other. In fact, we would mostly call or write each other cards in the 70s and in the early 80s and that was that. But Stirling is one of those friends who never forgot to send me a card on my birthday and at Christmas for years -- even if I didn't write back -- until I moved out of the Paris addresses that he knew then.

I was having a great time in Paris and  was travelling mostly on the Continent. London was just not in my circuit of fun. But when I did visit London, Stirling would always find the time to pick me up at the hotel, invite me to lunch or to a snack, drive me around, even go shopping with me and, generally, to just be a perfectly charming host. Come to think of it, he was with me when I bought my first Jackson5 LP in one of those stalls in Piccadily! I'd also accompanied him when he picked up rent from one of the tenants of a flat that he owned. Once, I mentionned to him that I wanted to buy a Yorkie and would like to go dog shopping. The thought of visiting kennels or dog shops probably didn't appeal to him because he asked a friend of his, Paul (the family name escapes me) who he said was another British motor sports champion, to do it with me.

There were incidents while we drove around in London that were rather amusing. Because his plate number was so recognisable -- SM1 or something like that, cars would overtake us, drivers and passengers would oggle and sometimes, would peer longer at us than necessary. Stirling, understably, got peeved and hurled unmentionnables. Thinking back, I was just a teen-ager then, so perhaps, the sight of a middle-aged British car racing champ in the company of a very young woman was sort of odd that some people became a bit rude.

Stirling isn't very tall; in fact, I towered over him when I wore heels, which was often, and it became a habit to hang my arm around his shoulders when we promenaded about in London. At the time, I hadn't really grasped the enormity of Stirling's British popularity. After all, the peak of his British car racing celebrity status occurred long before I was born, hence I really wasn't conscious of people's glares as he escorted me around. Anyway, he didn't seem to mind and never complained so I too didn't pay attention. In fact, I learned  most of what I know now about Stirling's motorsports life and about the British legend after he sent me a signed biography in paperback, "All But My Life" sometime in the early 70s, followed by a copy of "Stirling Moss, My Cars, My Career" which he sent me in 1989. All I knew until then was that he was a British motorsports champion but to me, he was first and foremost, a fun friend.

But what I remember vividly is how it amused me no end to see Stirling's impatience with bad drivers on the road. Sometimes, I just had to remind him to calm down or to take it easy and not to drive too fast. He thought many London drivers were awful and he would mutter under his breath if he felt a driver was bad. Today, when my husband, who happens to be English too, is irate, spewing expletives against a bad driver, I tell him that he's just "as bad as Stirling" behind the wheel.

There was a time when during a parade exercise of the Queens Guards near Buckingham Palace, Stirling stopped the car, jumped out, ordered me to come out and to pose for a picture by the roadside with the Queen's Guards on horseback slowly trotting behind. I obeyed and posed while he clicked away but the whole 'cavalry' suddenly stopped and the commander began yelling at the top of his voice. I was startled. I asked Stirling what the screaming was all about. He gave me a wide grin and said that the commander was barking orders at the Guardmen to stop staring at me -- I felt pleased as punch. I now suspect that Her Majesty's horsemen were actually watching him more than they were watching me.

There were a few other incidents, most of them funny; in a London restaurant for instance, or at a dance at his sister's country home that he had invited me to attend with him, or that time when I visited The Daily Telegraph editorial offices in the City which will be told in another post.

Stirling and I haven't seen nor spoken to each other for a number of years but despite a series of abrupt loss of contact (mainly my fault), I would like to think he hasn't completely forgotten about me because Stirling is not the kind of person who forgets friends. You see, almost 20 years ago, or a few years years after we last had a phone chat, I rang his Mayfair home in London out of the blue to ask if I could come over to see him. I was writing for a French newspaper and had decided to do an article on him. Stirling sounded genuinely pleased to hear from me while 'complaining' that the cards he had been sending me were all returned but agreed to do the interview without any hesitation. We talked excitedly on the phone like long lost friends, asking what each of us had been doing since we last were in touch and then quickly arranged a meeting for the following week in his Mayfair home that also served as his office. I was happy to learn that like me, he had married and that his boy was the same age as mine.

I've been on the move since, but typical Bohemian me just didn't stay in touch. That said, once in a while especially during Christmas season, I promised to write or give Stirling a call, yet somehow, never got around to doing it. Thankfully, he's been getting lots of press lately that it would be quite unforgiveable of me not to make that call or to send him that card that I've been wanting to write all these years, and there's no better time to do it than before 17 September which is his birthday.

Stirling will be turning 80 but press photos show that he's aged very well. I'm glad to see that he's still nicely "on the roll"...

Goodwood Revival: Stirling Moss's happy returns

Goodwood is ready to party with a racing icon, says Andrew Frankel

The surname Moss peppers the Goodwood record books from the opening page, littering them with entries for fastest lap, pole position and, at least 20 times, victory. Sir Stirling Moss’s relationship with Goodwood is extraordinary, eerie even. In 1948, the teenage Moss won his debut race on a proper circuit at the first race meeting ever held at Goodwood, and thereafter the two created motor-racing magic until, 14 years later, the track turned on the driver and nearly killed him. Four years after that, the circuit itself was shut, apparently for good.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Max Soliven passed away today

Paris, France -- A very close friend rang me early this morning to inform me that my best friend, veritably an older brother to me, has just passed away in Tokyo .
I'm still in shock and don't know what to write. I was just talking to him on the phone a week ago and we had promised to meet up either in Paris or in London where he was planning to spend the end of the year just like he did a couple of years ago.
Max Soliven was a friend through thick and thin, come hell or high water.
Max, my very dear friend, I shall miss you very much. Rest in peace.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

"It's important for us to engage Europe", PGMA

"It's important for us to engage Europe," PGMA
By Vi Massart, Philippine Star chief European correspondent

13 September 2006
BRUSSELS, Belgium – In an interview with Philippine Star bureau in Brussels, the Philippine chief executive declared "It's very important for the Philippines to engage Europe as much as we have been engaging the United States, our ASEAN brothers and OIC countries and the north Asian countries of Japan, China and Korea."

Mrs Arroyo also stressed the importance of being "in touch with the European Union".

"After all, Europe is our third largest trading partner and second largest investor in the Philippines so they matter a lot and I'm proud to hear that I'm the first incumbent president to actually visit the European Union officially. So that's bringing the Philippines a step higher in our relationship with Europe so we have our trade relation with Europe, we have investment relations with Europe, we have our official development assistance from Europe, I hope this visit will give us a higher profile in their consciousness, like I mentioned about Denmark, coming and approaching us to do more in the area of energy. These are important achievements that we can make, not to mention our cultural exchanges."

She also reiterated that measures are being undertaken by the government with regards the streamlining of bureaucratic red tapes which European investors and potential partners have found daunting when doing business with the Philippines.

"We have recognized that and is why I have formed a task force headed by Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila to cut down red tape and with the very active participation and membership of the Export Development Council and the Phil Chamber of Commerce and Industry," Mrs Arroyo said.

"In fact, we're going to have a competitiveness summit at the end of this month and there are five areas which will be addressed at the summit," Mrs Arroyo added.

"One is making food plentiful and affordable to the workers so there would be no great pressure in the wages to keep the wages competitive, the other one is to reduce power costs, then the other one is infrastructure which, now we have money to spend on because of our tax reforms, we'll be able to spend 100 billion pesos a month more from government coffers not to mention our government corporations and private sector interest and local government because they are very dynamic," the President announced.

Arroyo added the fourth is making technology the foundation of the country's development saying, "We are strong in technology related fields, fifthth is red tape. That is recognized, there is a task force working on it and if and when they meet with me on September 28, I will tell them specifically add the cost and length of time of setting up business in the Philippines."

When asked about the spate of extra-judicial killings, Arroyo told the Star, "I'm glad you asked me the question about the human rights issue and extra judicial killings, that's a very grave concern. I want to begin by stating that as far as we are concerned we condemn, these killings, this mode of political retribution has a sad history in our country and in fact that history is a reminder because we are now about to enact into law administration measure compensating human rights victims."

"I believe that such a spate of killing has no room in our democracy or in our government so I have escalated response of the government," Arroyo said.

The President also said, "I've appointed a former Supreme Court Justice , Justice Melo to head a commission with the full powers of my office to investigate and cause the prosecution of cases to the full extent of the law. I told Justice Melo to pursue every path regardless of where it leads. I have also sought taken up this issue with Spain and Finland and with the help fof Spain and Finland, they will help us meet with members of international NGO communities to discuss the killings and the response of our goverment."

"That's why I sought this meeting through our friends in the European Union," she added.

Meanwhile, Inga Verheart, member of the Federal Parliament of Belgium, challenged Mrs Arroyo's government "to be transparent."

"We addressed questions to Mrs Arroyo's government about the treatment of members of Congress this year and we still have to hear from her government," the Belgian parliamentarian said to the Philippine Star.

Mrs Verheart, a Socialist and elected member of the Federal Parliament was referring to a question that was tabled in the Belgian Parliamentary debate in March this year, when she raised the issue of the House arrest iof Mr Crispin Beltran which she said was subsequently endorsed by the Federal of Parliament to the Department Foreign Affairs through the Philippine Embassy.

"We hear of these incidents of killings and we are saddened to hear that Mrs Arroyo does not believe it's worth her while to answer questions by members of the Belgian parliament concerning the situation in the Philippines." Mrs Verheart told the Star.

Mrs Verheart joined the protest rally held last Tuesday in front of the European Commission during the visit of Mrs Arroyo. Speaking before a crowd of fifty protesters in front of the European Commission building on Place Schuman, the Belgian parliamentarian denounced the spate of killings of journalists, activists and labor union leaders in the Philippines.

Later in the afternoon, a group of Filipino, Belgian and Dutch protesters were dispersed by the Brussels police during a mass at the St Michael Cathedral attended by the President and the Filipino community.

President Macapagal is scheduled to leave fthe Belgian capital for Cuba, the third leg of her 12-day trip after lunch time today.

Friday, September 15, 2006


MANILA, February 12, 2004 (STAR)

BY THE WAY By Max V. Soliven - For weeks there’s been a buzz, from interesting sources as well as our usual "underground" contacts (Alikabok included), about a plan to assassinate one of the leading Presidential candidates.

I don’t want to sow alarmist talk, but one contender – the one at whom the conspiracy seems directed – has taken these "tips" seriously enough to take evasive action. One time he was scheduled to make an appearance, but his staff and handlers, aghast that his specific schedule had been aired on the radio and TV and in two newspapers, had to adopt "squid tactics". They spread the word that he wouldn’t be able to make that appointment, since he was stuck down south and had to meet some "very important people".

As it happened, he arrived right on the dot. His plane landed at the Manila airport, he changed right in the hangar, and beat the traffic to his promised rendezvous.

It would be easy to blame his rivals, including the Administration, for anything violent happening to this popular contender, but the indications are that the New People’s Army (the Communist NPA) is the malign group fielding the hit-men – or the Amazons. Joma, Louie, Ka Roger, can this be true? Who would be "blamed" if anything as bizarre as that happened? Not Jolly Roger, or "Peace Talking" Joma (waltzing with Government Peacenik Silvestre "Bebot" Bello in the snows of Oslo), or, heavens to Betsy, the former cleric Father Louie "The Dutchman" Jalandoni.

What if this dastardly deed provokes an explosion of fury and . . . yep, "revolution" by an angry masa and the disgusted, disheartened populace in general? Voila, the "People’s Army", dyed in the Red, gallops, fully armed, to the "rescue". Riding the tide of people’s uprising to power is a Leninist-Maoist (dare I say Jomaist?) specialty.

Beware the Ides of March, as the old soothsayer warned Julius Caesar – reminding him of that prophecy as Caesar strode, toga-a-tilt, confidently towards the Senate where the knives of Brutus, Cassius, and their confederates (noble Senators all) awaited him.

* * *

I recall that when Maj. General Victor Corpus, now Malacañang Civil Relations Chief in charge of the Palace "war room", came to see me in my home in 1976, just before he went in to "surrender" to one of his Philippine Military Academy classmates (he was ordered "arrested" instead and slapped into military prison), Corpus revealed that it had been Joma Sison who had ordered the Plaza Miranda bombing in 1970 – not the Marcos government.

Mind you, Corpus had fought alongside Joma as an NPA Commander for almost six years, following his raid on the PMA armory in Baguio in 1970, when he (1st Lt. Corpus) defected to the Communist rebels, bringing PMA Browning automatic rifles, machineguns, and other weapons with him. Corpus told me he was heartsick and disillusioned with the movement, and the "executions" ordered of high-ranking and loyal NPAs by their own leadership, including Joma himself.

When I met Corpus (before his "political prostitute" statement against a lady Senator) at the National Defense College of the Philippines "Roundtable Discussion", last January 27, I asked Vic – in the presence of Commodore Carlos L. Agustin, AFP (retired), President of the Defense College; Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Rodolfo Diaz, Commodore Mariano S. Sontillanosa, AFP (ret.); Rear Admiral Ariston V. de los Reyes, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, and dozens of officers and Defense College participants, whether he stood by his charge that Joma Sison had dispatched the cadre who attacked the Liberal Party’s miting de avance with hand-grenade.

General Corpus replied: "I do."

Corpus – mind you, still an NPA Commander at the time – had asserted that Joma believed an attack on the opposition rally – which resulted in some killed including our Manila Times cameraman, and others like Senator Jovito Salonga, Speaker Ramon Mitra Jr., Senator Sergio Osmeña Jr., Manila Mayoral candidate (subsequently Mayor) Ramon D. Bagatsing, grievously wounded, indeed, some like Jovy maimed for life and near to death – would be blamed on then President Ferdinand Marcos and the Government. Hence, Corpus disclosed, that bold attack. Fortunately, one of the grenades thrown that night proved a dud and failed to explode, otherwise the carnage would have been inestimable.

True enough, Marcos was blamed. And even then Senator Ninoy Aquino who hadn’t arrived at the Plaza Miranda entablado because he was attending a party as ninong (godfather) in the Jai Alai "Keg Room" on Taft Avenue.

After Corpus "came in from the cold", a heroic movie had been made about him – which, by the way, I tho-roughly enjoyed – starring "Daboy", Rudy Fernandez.

At that January 27th meeting in Camp Aguinaldo, after Victor reaffirmed his accusation – which I believe is true – I read aloud the unpublished transcript of a lengthy interview by our Chief European Correspondent and Paris Bureau Chief Vi Gomez Massart with Joma Sison in Utrecht last January 12.

SISON: "I formally deny that I had a hand in the bombing of Plaza Miranda!"

Joma told Massart: "That was done by Marcos. In 1994, the Manila Prosecutor’s Office made a resolution clearing me, that allegations against me were based on speculations. Ariel Armendral, a classmate of Senator Salonga’s son, fed him all these rumors and Senator Salonga ‘bought’ it". (Meaning, Senate President Salonga had believed these allegedly false rumors.)

Sison also cited "a 1998 Department of Justice certification that there are no more pending criminal cases against me."

C’mon, Joma.

In any event, it wasn’t Armendral who first told Jovy Salonga. It was Corpus. What happened was that when Victor came to my home and told me Sison had sent those hit-men to attack the Plaza Miranda rally, I telephoned Jovy and informed him he had, for years, been "wrongly" accusing Marcos. I had no love for Macoy, remember, but truth is truth. After all, I had been arrested along with Ninoy Aquino and hundreds of others and imprisoned in Fort Bonifacio and Camp Crame, when Marcos declared martial law.

I put Corpus on the line to explain Joma’s role to Salonga.

Jovy, when I got back the line, had said he was still a bit skeptical about the Sison angle, but he would inquire into the matter more closely.

A few days ago, former Senator Salonga rang me up on another matter. I told him of the Sison denial and the fact that in the course of his interview with Massart, Sison had even called him names. Jovy just laughed and quipped: "I still say it was Joma Sison. And you were the first to convince me!" Salonga had suffered most among the injured – with his two hands half-crippled and scores of metal shrapnel embedded in his body.

Could the NPAs have hatched a similar plot today – so widespread anger and even an uprising could be enkindled? What do you think?

Incidentally, Sison also denies he’s still Chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines. However, he jestingly told Massart that the CPP Chairman is "Armando Liwanag". If you’ll recall, "Armando Liwanag" was Joma’s nom de guerre (guerrilla code name).

"Are you formally denying that you are Armando Liwanag?" Our STAR correspondent asked him.

"Yes," replied Joma, "and we say so in court. I was long in prison (nine years) and have been out of the country too long." He uttered these words "grinning" as Massart recorded. Sison remarked he had been in jail from his capture in 1977 to his release by former President Corazon Aquino in 1986. He left the Philippines in 1986, after working in the University of the Philippines "for only six months".

He’s been in Holland most of his foreign "exile".

Last week, Massart – almost a phone pal by this time, it seems – rang up Sison again. This time Joma declared (February 6) that "Corpus is really crazy labeling Loren a political prostitute".

* * *

Today, seven members of the Commission on Elections are GMA appointees.

In the Supreme Court, with the designation of Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Minita Chico-Nazario, eight of the High Court’s Justices are GMA appointees. This is more than half of the Court’s membership. Out of the 15 Justices, only seven are not the incumbent President’s appointed.

Interesting. Abangan the High Court’s decision to come.

* * *

THE ROVING EYE . . . Driving around Manila, I notice the worst offender against the ban on sticking handbills on walls and hanging large posters from telephone and electric posts is the President’s K-4 party – with that huge portrait of La Presidenta herself dominating the posters and dikit-bills. Also, to our surprise, the handbills of candidate Senator Panfilo Lacson are on many walls. Who obeys the law these days? . . . I also drove past the US Embassy with my digital camera, but I saw the same PNP or military Humvee, armored, with its .50 caliber gun pointed at me and oncoming traffic right on Roxas boulevard, like a roadblock restricting us to one lane of the road. Why does the US Embassy need a police Tagaligtas armored car to guard it? Shouldn’t our cops be protecting the citizenry elsewhere? And why block a public highway like Roxas boulevard, one of the country’s most traffic congested thoroughfares? If we deign to "lend" them that armored Humvee and our SWAT cops in full battle-gear for their protection, let the Americans get it off our road and put the damn thing either in their driveway, or behind those black iron Embassy gates. Susmariosep. Don’t they know there’s a war on? A war against local crime, and against traffic congestion.

Reported by:
Sol Jose Vanzi
All rights reserved

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Rally greets GMA in Brussels

Human rights advocates hold a rally in the middle of the European neighborhood in Brussels, Belgium to call for decisive action against the political killings in the Philippines during President Arroyo’s visit to that country last Sept. 12. - Photo By ISABEL MASSART
Headline News
Lawmakers’ P21-B ‘pork’ restored
Happy days are here again for both senators and congressmen. The chairman of the House appropriations committee revealed yesterday that the congressional pork barrel fund — cut drastically two years ago — has been restored to P21.3 billion for all members of Congress. Full Story
Rally greets GMA in Brussels
By Vi Massart Chief Europe Correspondent
The Philippine Star 09/15/2006

BRUSSELS — A street rally protesting the spate of killings of left-leaning activists and journalists in the Philippines greeted President Arroyo upon her arrival in Belgium last Monday on the second leg of her European visit.

About 50 Filipino, Belgian, Dutch and German protesters denounced the killings and accused Mrs. Arroyo of doing little to stop them and bring the killers to justice.

Belgian socialist lawmaker Inga Verheart joined the rally, organized by Belgian non-government organization INTAL, outside the European Commission during Mrs. Arroyo’s talks with European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.

"We believe that if the spate of killings do not stop, the European Union should impose limited economic sanctions on the Philippines," rally organizer Wim de Ceukelaire said.

The protesters displayed a banner that said "Stop the killings in the Philippines."

Verheart, a member of the Federal Parliament of Belgium, challenged Mrs. Arroyo’s administration "to be transparent" in dealing with the killings.

"We addressed questions to Mrs. Arroyo’s government about the treatment of members of Congress this year and we still have to hear from her government," she told The STAR.

Verheart was referring to Mrs. Arroyo’s crackdown on left-leaning lawmakers, street protests and critical media organizations when she declared a weeklong declaration of national emergency in February to quell a reported coup attempt by renegade military officers in league with communist rebels and their civilian backers.

"We hear of these incidents of killings and we are saddened to hear that Mrs. Arroyo does not believe it’s worth her while to answer questions by members of the Belgian parliament concerning the situation in the Philippines," Verheart said.

The Arroyo administration has come under criticism from leftist and human rights groups following several disappearances of left-leaning activists that they blame on security forces.

Mrs. Arroyo has been criticized for the series of killings, for which she has been blamed for either condoning the attacks or not doing enough to stop them.

She denied that her administration has been cracking down on dissidents and had pledged to bring the killers to justice.

"I believe that such a spate of killings has no room in our democracy or in our government so I have escalated the response of the government," Mrs. Arroyo told The STAR.

She formed an independent commission last month to investigate the killings. Retired Supreme Court justice Jose Melo heads the panel.

A number of Filipino, Belgian and Dutch human rights activists staged a protest rally outside St. Michael Cathedral where Mrs. Arroyo attended Mass and was welcomed warmly by the local Filipino community later in the day but they were dispersed by police.

Mrs. Arroyo also had talks with Belgian Prime Minister Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt in his official residence but there were no street protests because the vicinity was a no-rally zone.

She then paid a visit to Belgian lawmakers and discussed her initiative to amend the Philippine Constitution and replace the country’s present form of government with a parliamentary system with a federal setup.

Mrs. Arroyo told The STAR that it was "very important for the Philippines to engage Europe" as much as Manila does with main ally the United States, China, Japan and other Asian neighbors.

"After all, Europe is our third largest trading partner and second largest investor in the Philippines. And I’m proud to hear that I’m the first incumbent president to actually visit the European Union officially," she said. "So that’s bringing the Philippines a step higher in our relationship with Europe."

After criticizing the administration of creating "a climate of impunity" that led to the deaths of hundreds of journalists and political activists since President Arroyo assumed office in 2001, Amnesty International agreed yesterday to help the government investigate and put an end to the alarming spate of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.

Mrs. Arroyo met Amnesty International secretary-general Irene Khan shortly after her arrival in London yesterday on the third leg of her trip. They spoke for nearly an hour about the spate of killings in the Philippines.

"Just this morning I asked for a meeting with AI and I’m very happy they will help us to find experienced investigators who will help the independent commission in its investigations," Mrs. Arroyo told a gathering of British and European businessmen in a forum organized by Asia House with Shell Corp. on business process outsourcing (BPO) at the Sheraton Park Lane Hotel.

"I’m saying all these in a BPO conference because a European businessman would look at the entire cultural environment in which he or she is doing business," she said.

"I would like to point out to you that not only are we familiar with Western business processes, we are also very much in synch with you as far as the universal values of democracy and therefore free enterprise are concerned."

Mrs. Arroyo reiterated her condemnation of the killings saying such violence has no place in a democratic society.

After sending monitors on the human rights situation in the Philippines, AI criticized the Arroyo administration for the continued killings.

It said the "methodology of attacks, including prior death threats and surveillance of persons reportedly linked to the security forces, the leftist profile of victims and the climate of impunity, which in practice, shields the perpetrators from retribution."

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo’s meeting with Amnesty International "reveals her deep concern for human rights and underscores the determination and political will to stop the legacy of this type of retribution once and for all."

"The President sought out AI out of respect for their work and their shared concern for human rights," Bunye said. "She listened intently to their comments and welcomes their recommendation," he said.

Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo also took the opportunity to brief Amnesty International on the abolition of the death penalty and the impending passage of a law compensating human rights victims of the Marcos dictatorship.

Earlier, the European Union commended the Arroyo administration for taking steps to put an end to the killings, including the creation of the Melo commission, but also called for greater transparency in the investigation process.

European Commission president Barroso said the EU would extend assistance to the Philippines on the issue, including grants to strengthen the judiciary.

Spain and Finland have also committed to help in putting together a team of experts to monitor the work of Philippine authorities. — With Paolo Romero

Monday, September 11, 2006

Arroyo Brussels visit to be marked by stop killings protest


President Gloria Macapagal leaves Helsinki and flies to Brussels for the next leg of her European working visit tonight.

The Filipino community will be on hand to welcome President Arroyo at a mass to be held at the St Michael Cathedral in Brussels. More than 500 Filipino expatriates and OFWs are expected to attend the mass celebration which. A choir composed of more than 50 singers had organized to sing for the occasion.

Ambassador Ortega, Philippine envoy to Belgium and the European Union met with some 50 Filipino community leaders in Brussels who have agreed to perform a certain task each for the welcome celebration. President Gloria Macapagal seems to be very popular among Filipino residents in Belgium, many of whom will be coming from as Antwerp and Louven to meet with President Arroyo.

Mrs Carina Lansang, one of the Filipino community leaders residing in Brussels said, she and members of her group are "quite excited to meet the President."

However, the President's trip will be marked by a demonstration organized by INTAL, a Belgian NGO under the banner of Stop the Killings in the Philippines, Belgium Chapter.

Mr Wim de Ceukelaire, coordinator of the protest said, the demonstration will be held in front of the European Parliament at mid-day while Mrs Arroyo is meeting with Belgium's Prime Minister Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt in his residence near Place Schuman, in Brussels .

"We are expecting Filipinos, Belgians, Duthc and Germans to attend the rally as well as members of the local Belgian media to protest the extra-judicial killings in the Philippines", said Mr de Ceukelaire.

Some 100 Filipinos, Belgians, Dutchs and Germans are expected to join the rally and will include Mrs Inga Verheart, member of the Federal Parliament of Belgium and Mr Eloi Glorieux, member of the Regional Parliament of Flanders. Mr de Ceukelaire said that their group invited local Belgian media to cover the protest as well as members of Philippine media travelling with the president.

According to the organizer of the rally, they will not demonstrate in front of the St Michael Cathedral where the mass-reception ceremony will be held in order not to put off Filipino OFWs or the Filipino community members who prefer to welcome the president warmly. They also cannot demonstrate in front of the residence of the Belgian Prime Minister while Mrs Arroyo is holding a meeting with Prime Minister Verhofstadt because the prime minister's residence is a no rally zone.

Their main objective is to call the attention of European parliamentarians to the spate of killings happening in the Philippines under the Arroyo government.

"We believe that if the spate of killings do not stop, the European Union should impose limited economic sanctions on the Philippines," Mr Wim de Ceukelaire said.

Pres Arroyo's call on Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt at mid-day, will be followed by a meeting with members of the Senate at the Belgian Parliament to discuss federalism, parliamentary mode of government.

Arroyo will meet with Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission later in the afternoon. Human rights and extra-judicial killings in the Philippines are issues expected to be raised during the meeting with Mr Barroso.