RP TO IRAQI ENVOYS: SHUT UP OR WE CLOSE EMBASSY

Manila, March 24, 2003 -- The government is now acting on Washington's
request to expel all Iraqi diplomats and close the Iraqi Embassy as part of
efforts to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein.

At the same time, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has reportedly
issued a gag order on the seven Iraqi diplomats based in the country,
threatening to close the Iraqi Embassy once they issue a statement to the
media.

A diplomatic source said the department has already recommended the
expulsion of the Iraqi diplomats following the request of the US government
to expel some 600 Iraqi diplomats in 60 countries.

President Arroyo, however, only said that another Iraqi diplomat was being
investigated for alleged espionage, and that there are no plans as yet to
cut ties with Iraq.

Mrs. Arroyo said that Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople was investigating
the matter. She indicated that the official, whom she did not name, may be
asked to leave the country if the allegations are proven.

But Lauro Baja Jr., DFA senior undersecretary for policy, said the
department has already formulated a recommendation on the request for
expulsion of the Iraqi diplomats but that it would be finalized and
announced Monday by Malacaņang.

An emergency meeting was held Sunday in Malacaņang between officials of the
DFA and the National Security Council to decide on the fate of the Iraqi
diplomats in the Philippines.

"There is really just one diplomat, aside from the one that we've already
asked to leave. It is a diplomat with some evidence of espionage and I
asked Secretary Ople to take steps regarding him," the President said.

Asked if there are plans to cut ties with Iraq, she said: "No, not cutting
of diplomatic ties per se; it's individual by individual. So if there is
evidence against other diplomats or employees, then we also take action
against them."

Sen. Manuel Villar Jr., chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign
Relations, meanwhile, cautioned the Bureau of Immigration (BI) against
arresting foreign nationals just because of their nationality or race.
"They should be arrested only if they are caught violating the country's
laws," he said.

Villar was reacting to reports that BI authorities have initiated
deportation proceedings against at least 10 Iraqis and a Saudi suspected of
being symphatizers of Saddam. They were allegedly planning to attack US
establishments in the Philippines.

"A foreigner should be deported if he has done something illegal," said
Villar. "Those spearheading the war claim that they are only against Saddam
and not the Iraqis, so let us be fair in treating the people of Iraq."

Presidential Adviser for National Security Roilo Golez, however, dismissed
reports that Iraqis in the country are being unfairly treated.

"This has been a continuing campaign. It just so happened that among the
suspects are those from that country. They are not being singled out," he
said. (By ESTRELLA TORRES and MIA GONZALEZ, Today)


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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