GIVE US A BREAK ON AL-GHOZI, PALACE URGES CRITICS

Manila, July 21, 2003 By Mayen Jaymalin (Star) Malacañang called for a moratorium yesterday on criticisms against the government and the Philippine National Police and instead focus on the recapture of convicted Indonesian bomber Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi.

"I think it’s time for us to concentrate more on working towards the recapture of Al-Ghozi rather than wrecking one another," Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said.

Bunye aired the appeal after former senator Juan Ponce Enrile called on the government to return the A$5 million assistance made by the Australian government, which expressed dismay over the escape of Al-Ghozi last Monday.

"We should ignore all those criticisms. What’s important now is for all of us to work together so we could bring back Al-Ghozi in jail," Bunye said.

Al-Ghozi, along with two suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits, Abdul Mukim Edris and Omar Opik Lasal, sprang out of his detention cell from the PNP headquarters in Camp Crame last Monday.

The jailbreak sparked an international uproar much to the embarrassment of the Philippine government, raising questions on Mrs. Arroyo’s campaign against terrorism.

The escape also sparked a region-wide manhunt for Al-Ghozi, who earlier confessed to his role in a wave of deadly Rizal Day bombings in Metro Manila in December 2000 as well as to securing explosives in a plot to bomb Western embassies in Singapore. He was earlier sentenced to 17 years in jail in the Philippines for possessing explosives.

Described as one of Southeast Asia’s top terrorists, Al-Ghozi’s escape has prompted a region-wide security alert for fear of a fresh attack similar to the bombings on the Indonesian resort island of Bali last October that left 202 dead.

President Arroyo initially offered a P5 million reward for any information leading to Al-Ghozi’s capture, which amount she doubled to P10 million on Saturday.

Bunye reiterated the call of Mrs. Arroyo for the public to cooperate in efforts to recapture the Indonesian fugitive and his two cohorts.

Concerning the mounting calls for Interior and Local Government Secretary Jose Lina and PNP chief Director General Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. to resign, Bunye said results of an ongoing investigation will be awaited before appropriate sanctions can be imposed.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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