Manila, March 22, 2003 -- Malacaņang yesterday said it will not allow the
United States to dictate what the Philippines should do with Iraqi
diplomats here.

"We are not going to be stampeded into acquiescing into any request of a
friendly foreign state. We have to study this in the light of our own
interests," Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople said in Malacaņang.

Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said: "We will make our own
determination on how to handle the Iraqi functionaries in accordance with
accepted diplomatic practices but always taking into consideration our
national interest."

The two officials made the statement after the US government asked the
Philippines to cut its diplomatic ties with Iraq, expel Iraqi diplomats and
close its embassy in Manila.

President Arroyo, in a separate interview, said the DFA would respond to
the US request.

She said the more important thing is "what is our role in the coalition (of
the willing), what should we do with our OFWs, against the domestic
terrorists, and for price stability."

Ople said Iraq has had no ambassador to the Philippines for the past two years.

He said Iraqi Ambassador-designate Faisal Hussein has not yet presented his
credentials to President Arroyo to make his appointment official although
he presented his credentials to Ople early this month.

"There is a queue in Malacaņang of new ambassadors waiting to be allowed to
come here to present their credentials," Ople said.

He said the delay in the presentation in Malacaņang had nothing to do with
the war in Iraq but "may mga nauna sa kanya na dumating. By diplomatic
practice, iyun ang may priority. First come, first served kumbaga," Ople said.

Arroyo, in an interview with Cable News Network (CNN), said it is within
the country's national interest to support the coalition because "we
believe that we can prevent weapons of mass destruction from getting into
the hands of terrorists who seek to sow mayhem in our southern Philippines."

She said the Philippines could support the US by allowing overflights and
refueling in the country for American warplanes.

Arroyo said the Philippines could also provide post-war assistance to Iraq.

"(Filipino) combat troops will not be involved in the present conflict. So
we have already defined that our role will be in the post-conflict, in
reconstruction, in humanitarian assistance, in peacekeeping and during the
conflict in the possible use of air space and refueling facilities," Arroyo

PNP chief Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. accused the Iraqi government of using local
militant groups to stage rallies against the US.

Ebdane said police have documents to prove that the Iraqi government even
sought the help of communist rebels.

He was referring to documents recovered by police after last week's
encounter with New People's Army rebels in San Rafael, Bulacan.

"We have already brought this matter to the Department of Foreign Affairs
and it will be the DFA which will call the attention of the Iraqi Embassy
here in Manila," Ebdane said.

"We are prepared for the worst case scenario especially that the
Philippines is one of the countries that supported the disarming of Iraq of
its weapons of mass destruction," he said.

Deportation proceedings are underway against 10 suspected Iraqi terrorists
and a Saudi Arabian national who were arrested in the past several days.

Immigration Commissioner Andrea Domingo said the suspects, led by a certain
Karim Jassim Bidawi, an Iraqi who was implicated in the 1989 kidnapping of
a member of the Kuwaiti royal family, were presented to the media
yesterday. (Malaya)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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