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.

1 comment:

Vi Massart, chief European correspondent said...

Unable to access blog, so linking following report/entry to this post:

"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 as 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 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.