THE PHILIPPINES IS SAFE GMA   

Manila, March 8, 2003 -- "The Philippines remains safe."

President Arroyo made the statement yesterday after several countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada and France, issued travel advisories against the Philippines following the Tuesday bombing of the Davao City airport, which killed 23 persons and injured more than a hundred.

Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said the travel advisories were expected, and the important thing now is to make sure that "we return to normalcy."

Bunye said the findings on the Davao bombing were among issues discussed yesterday afternoon by the Cabinet and would be tackled again today by the Cabinet oversight committee on internal security. He said there is a possibility that the labeling of the MILF as a terrorist group would be discussed.

Bunye also said despite initial reports and evidence linking the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to the bombing, communication lines with the secessionist group, with which government is negotiating peace, remain open.

Arroyo, during the signing of the Anti-Money Laundering Legislation (Republic Act 91994) into law, expressed confidence Davao would overcome the recent tragedy, as it has in the past, because of the cooperation between residents and the local government unit.

She said such "cooperation and vigilance of the entire community and all local government units is required to keep the Philippines safe for both citizens and tourists."

Arroyo ordered the Armed Forces, the PNP, and the interior and tourism departments to draw up security measures to prevent terrorist attacks, and all government units down to the barangay level to organize and conduct neighborhood monitors for suspicious persons, actions and materials.

She also ordered the PNP to organize and deploy community-based reaction units and to work with the LGUs, institute a rewards system, and extend security vigilance in all public places.

She called on Congress to immediately pass an anti-terrorism act.

Speaker Jose de Venecia said the bill could be passed in April or May.

"There is need for that now because of the increased terrorist action in Mindanao and in other parts and this could perhaps escalate in the wake of the Iraqi crisis," he said.

Senate President Franklin Drilon said Senate is carefully studying the proposal to make sure it does not go against the Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said it was about time an anti-terror bill is passed. He said he was the original author of the bill, filed on July 2, 2001, which contained the "controversial" provisions like warrantless arrest and exemption from the Anti-Wiretapping Act. (By JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR, Malaya)


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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