SENATE ALLIES CALL GMA TUTA NG KANO

Manila, Feb. 8, 2003 - Allies of President Arroyo in the Senate, led by the so-called House bloc, slammed the Chief Executive for her "canine" devotion to United States President George W. Bush, saying the national interest is being gravely compromised.

"The President's policy statements that hew closely to the Bush doctrine do not serve our national interest and we are wondering why Mrs. Arroyo is doing this because it prejudices us," a senator said.

They also said a resolution censuring her for her provocative statements that places the country and the Filipino nation in danger, will be forthcoming.

This position was firmed up after Mrs. Arroyo tried to pressure her allies in the Senate to back her up on her hawkish stand in the looming US war against Iraq and to also rush the amendments on the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA), insisting on their concurrence to the lowered threshold amount of half a million pesos to allow the scrutiny of bank accounts.

In a last-minute decision, Mrs. Arroyo quickly cancelled the scheduled National Security Council meeting and instead called for an emergency meeting with administration allies under the guise of discussing amendments to the AMLA.

This was bared yesterday to reporters by administration ally Sen. Joker Arroyo in a press conference where he virtually slammed the presidential arm-twisting in forcing through the relaxation of AMLA requirements to meet the demands of the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and meet the Feb. 12 deadline.

"What we were told, that's why I didn't go there (to the Palace for the emergency meeting), was that there were two issues that will be taken up the war on Iraq and the AMLA. You think it's (only) the AMLA but it boils down to terrorism, that we are being used as conduit money," he said.

Lawmakers perceive this relaxation of the bank threshold as contradictory to the existing provisions of the country's bank secrecy laws.

"Both the senators and congressmen are now wrestling with their conscience because we are being 'pressured' by the executive to amend further the AMLA. But if we amend it further, what we are doing in effect is that, we are doing that because the US is the principal proponent of the proposition that the Philippines is a conduit of terrorist money.

Mrs. Arroyo pointed out that this is the principal purpose of the AMLA, the money of the terrorists.

"The US does not do anything to remove that stigma on us (with) which (the American government) stamped us as a terrorists' haven. And in spite of that, President Arroyo is willing to support the Bush doctrine...how low can we get?" he said.

He added Mrs. Arroyo's "canine devotion" to the Bush doctrine has not benefited the country any.

"While the President would like us to cast our lot with the US in a show of hands in its fight against terrorism, the US does not do anything to help cleanse the stain of terrorism that the Americans themselves have stamped on us. This prejudices us," Senator Arroyo said.

He lamented that in the entire Asia, the Philippines is the only country that openly supports the Bush initiatives.

Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, Vietnam, Burma, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have adopted a policy of silence.

"Why is the Philippines so talkative? To repeat, what do we get in exchange for that?" he asked."Even the powerful countries like Japan are very quiet. They don't say anything, nothing at all on this sensitive issue. Why should we speak on (someone else's business)? Other countries are not talkative at all and no stamp of terrorist haven has been given to them," he pointed out.

He intimated that the support of Mrs. Arroyo allies for her war stance is not forthcoming.

"What does she expect us to do? First she makes a pronouncement...and after, she calls the NSC, then cancels it and asks for a caucus of the senators... then she expects us to support her. In other words she did not first consult us so that we can l share in the policy-making.

Senator Arroyo, who along with the so-called House bloc in the Senate Senators Manuel Villar, Francis Pangilinan, Ralph Recto and Noli de Castro snubbed the Palace meeting, claiming they were foretold about the agenda.

The senator insisted the AMLA is connected to the brewing tension in the Middle East as the United States is setting its sights on so-called terrorist money with the anti-money laundering measure as the arm. "In exchange for our support for the Bush doctrine that is what we get a statement that Americans should not come here. So they don't have faith in us, why should we have faith in them?...They have not lifted that advisory up to now," an obviously irate senator told reporters.

His reaction came amid reports on Mrs. Arroyo's pronouncements calling Hussein an undemocratic leader for refusing to heed the US' call to disarm his government of weapons of mass destruction.

Senator Arroyo also said the call of former Sen. Francisco Tatad for the upper chamber to come up with a non-binding resolution to denounce the reported name-calling of Hussein by Mrs. Arroyo is already in order.

It can be recalled that he, Recto, Villar, Pangilinan and De Castro recently filed a resolution enjoining their colleagues to express the sense of the upper chamber in the support being exhibited by Malacaņang to the US war against Iraq.

"I think the resolution introduced by the five of us will be taken up already by Villar because he's the chairman of the foreign relations committee," he said.

Recto threatened to dry up the money taps for the Iraq war by inserting a provision in the 2003 national budget prohibiting the spending of public funds on activities in support of the US war against Iraq.

Recto said this form of "budgetary tourniquet" would prevent the flow of government funds to activities that would bolster US military action against Iraq.

The move, Recto said, is being mulled by some senators to "handcuff the executive from undertaking action related to the Iraq crisis without the concurrence of the Congress."

The P804.2-billion proposed national budget is still pending in the Senate.

He said the ban will cover the sending of Philippine military manpower forces and material to Iraq or to other countries that will be used as staging areas for the invasion.

Support services rendered by the AFP to combat elements of the armed forces of other nations participating in the invasion while they transit here are also proposed to be covered by the ban.

However, the use of public funds for the evacuation and relocation of Filipinos in the Middle East will not be covered by the proposed ban, he said.

Sen. Rodolfo Biazon also took note of the US Secretary of State Colin Powell presentation which largely refers to "according to reports."

This means Powell was not by himself making conclusions but relied on much reference to mere reports, Biazon said. "If the technologically advanced countries like Germany, France and even Japan are saying this (evidence against Iraq) is not enough where they have sufficient facilities to probably verify the conclusions or semi-conclusions made by Powell, then I think we should go by that," he added.

Pangilinan echoed Biazon's observation saying the Powell report is based mainly on suspicion instead of actual facts.

"With over one million OFWs in the Middle East, it would be best for us to avoid war if we are to ensure their safety. The US insistence on war doesn't further our interests as a country," Pangilinan said.

He said Mrs. Arroyo's all-out support for the US can open the country to terrorist retaliation.

"Our view regarding the prospects of war should be different from that of the US. If it's US citizens scattered in various parts of the Middle East, I am certain their view of starting war in the region would be very different," Pangilinan said.

Sen. Robert Barbers, who along with Senate President Franklin Drilon, Majority Leader Loren Legarda, President Pro Tempore Juan Flavier, Senators Ramon Magsaysay Jr. and Jaworski attended the meeting, maintained that "Mrs. Arroyo did not ask for anything except that we meet the Feb. 12 deadline."

Barbers, however, admitted he was the last to come in and was not informed on what had been previously discussed.

But Senator Arroyo claims otherwise specially since there is what could be described also as standoff on the deliberations of the AMLA with most of the legislators not amenable to amend the law merely to comply with the demands of FATF.

"I think the President should re-think that policy. I hope the Senate will discuss this (AMLA) very matter very closely because it is disadvantageous to us," he added. (By Angie M. Rosales, Tribune)


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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