Manila, Feb. 6, 2003 -- President Arroyo yesterday exposed the entire nation and tens of thousands of overseas Filipino workers in Iraq and the Middle East to a greater danger as she declared that her tirades aired Tuesday were directed solely at Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, whom she indirectly branded as an undemocratic president who is not fit to lead the Iraqi people who she claimed "yearn for peace and democracy."

At the same time, Malacaņang was said to have ordered the Philippine National Police yesterday to pull out its security forces that stood guard over the Iraqi Embassy which is in gross violation of the Vienna Convention provisos.

The reason reportedly given by the PNP in withdrawing police protection through the security personnel detailed to the Iraqi Embassy in Makati City was that there was active participation of Iraqi diplomats in mass mass demonstrations against the US-led war on Iraq, diplomatic sources disclosed yesterday.

The PNP does not move on its own, and its chief, Gen. Hermogenes Ebdane, gets his orders directly from the President.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople, upon learning of the unilateral withdrawal of the security detail, ordered the restoration of security at the Iraqi Embassy following an appeal from Baghdad's Charge d'Affaires to Manila Samir Bolus.

Apparently, Manila took offense at the action of Iraqi diplomats, who publicly denounced the planned US military action against Iraq, along with a group led by Vice President Teofisto Guingona, in a prayer rally.

Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the host country must provide adequate security for diplomats and embassies.

But sources dispelled speculations that the reported "pullout" of security was related to the Iraqi envoy's attendance in protest actions against the planned US military action on Iraq.

They said the security might have "left" because these policemen are "not being fed and are not provided with living quarters" by the Iraqi Embassy.

The PNP security personnel assigned at the Iraqi Embassy in Dasmariņas Village, Makati City, have been cut down to only one policeman.

Other embassies of Islamic countries, which were classified to be "vulnerable to attacks," were given a minimum of five PNP personnel to guard the diplomatic missions' premises.

Bolus appealed to the DFA for additional security for their embassy.

Mrs. Arroyo last Tuesday threatened Saddam, saying Iraq will pay dearly if it fails to settle peacefully its standoff with the United States. She blamed Iraq for "rapidly losing the opportunity" to meet the demands of the US.

There is no intention on her part to retract any of her statements against the Iraqi president and had the presidential spokesman stress her position against Saddam Hussein.

Through her spokesman Ignacio Bunye, Mrs. Arroyo said although some sectors were criticizing her decision to come out with what seems to be an ultimatum against Saddam, she pointed out that it was important for the government to" take a proactive position" to be able to protect the welfare of the OFWs in the Middle East who might be placed in danger because of Iraq's alleged custody of weapons of mass destruction.

The Palace said the strong statement was necessary in making a stand that takes the side of the international coalition.

"There are those who may think that this position may be unnecessarily dragging the country into conflict or danger, but there has to be time to take a proactive position to protect the interests of our OFWs and to stand side by side with the international coalition for peace and democracy. Both are important to our national interests," Bunye said, adding, "War is just a last option, we are still supportive of the UN resolution. What we are asking is for Saddam to cooperate. Saddam must comply with the rules of universal civility to avoid war and maintain stability."

He clarified that the strong Arroyo-issued statement was "directed against Saddam Hussein, not at the Iraqi people who yearn for peace and democracy."

The Iraqi envoy spoke before a forum with students of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines in Manila along with Guingona where he belied the US accusations that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.

Such pronouncements from the Iraqi envoy ran counter to Mrs. Arroyo's call on Iraq "to do what is right' to avoid war.

Bolus, in the same forum, also claimed that Iraq has nothing to do with terrorism as he appealed to other countries to oppose the impending US strike on Iraq.

In an interfaith rally last Jan. 29 led by Guingona, Bolus also designated Iraq's first secretary Abdul Karim Shwaik to participate in the gathering.

The sources noted the actions of Bolus "pushed the envelope of good taste."

They said Bolus should have aired his sentiments before the DFA, not in a public arena that is intended for locals.

"He may oppose the government's position but it should be done in the proper way. His acts are contestable. He should not misbehave in our country. It is quite offensive to local sensibilities," the sources noted. (By Michaela P. del Callar and Sherwin C. Olaes, Tribune)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved