MALACANANG, January 15, 2004
(STAR) By Marichu Villanueva - The United States government owes an apology, not to President Arroyo, but to the 30 Filipino telecommunications executives who were served with court summons by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) while attending the Pacific Telecom Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said yesterday.

Speaking over government-run Radyo ng Bayan, Bunye said that the US government owes an explanation and even an apology to our business executives because the issue has already been resolved here.

"And the treatment they (FBI officials) inflicted upon our businessmen was not just and our government has already officially conveyed our dismay through our Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA)," Bunye said.

Mrs. Arroyo earlier demanded an explanation from the US government regarding the alleged harassment of Filipino telecommunications executives in Hawaii.

Bunye clarified the Presidentís demand was in no way interfering into the powers of the US Justice Department.

"We are not questioning the powers of the US Justice Department but we are disappointed at the manner and the timing of the serving of the summons in this particular case," Bunye said.

"There could have been more deference to the long standing goodwill and relations between the Philippines and the US. (And) the President feels strongly about the incident because our telecom executives were harassed and embarrassed in Hawaii in front of their foreign counterparts," Bunye pointed out.

"There was no point in treating them in this manner. The dignity of our people is important to the President," he said.

"It is up to them (US government) to find the way how to do this (formal apology) but all we are asking for is fair and equitable treatment; the same treatment we accord their citizens and businessmen," he added.

Bunye disclosed that Mrs. Arroyo has already discussed with Foreign Affairs Secretary Delia Albert the actions taken so far by the DFA in defense of the rights of the Filipino telecom executives.

"We raised the concern on treatment of Filipino executives who were attending a legitimate meeting in the US. The matter for which they were being questioned... has been settled here in the Philippines," Bunye insisted.

"The President was very concerned on the improper treatment of our Filipino executives. She wants a proper explanation from US authorities," Bunye disclosed.

Offhand, however, outgoing US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone expressed disbelief on the alleged "harassment" of the 30 Filipino telecom executives.

"Iíve not heard, Iíve not at this stage heard of any charges of harassment," Ricciardone said.

"(But) we need more information. People are nervous. They all want to know whatís going to happen and I do, too. And I think you have the right to deserve answers and we will be getting them. This is something in a judicial process now in the US," he said.

The investigation being conducted by the US DOJ was in relation to the rate dispute between the Philippine local carriers such as PLDT, Globe Telecom, Smart Communications, Digitel, Bayantel and Subic Telecom and US carriers such as AT&T.

Based on complaints filed by American carriers, the FCC ordered US carriers not to settle their dues with the Philippine carriers unless a price rollback for local termination rates is implemented.

However, after months of negotiations, interim agreements between local telecom companies and American carriers have been signed, paving the way for a near resolution of the issue.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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