CEBU  CITY,  July 17, 2004
By Marichu Villanueva  —  While negotiators are working to gain the safe release of Filipino hostage Angelo de la Cruz in Iraq and a news blackout on the negotiations remains in effect, President Arroyo is seeking the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Mrs. Arroyo yesterday sought the intercession of Our Lady of all Nations in securing the release of De la Cruz, a 46-year-old Filipino truck driver and father of eight.

Iraqi militants had kidnapped De la Cruz and threatened to behead him unless the Philippines withdraws its peacekeeping contingent by July 20.

Mrs. Arroyo made her "special intentions" prayers yesterday to Our Lady of All Nations at a Mass celebrated by newly installed Lipa City Archbishop Ramon Arguelles at the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Sebastian in Batangas before she flew to Cebu City yesterday.

The President repeated her prayers at the Carmelite convent in Lipa City, where she took part in the Carmelites’ celebration of the Feast of Mt. Carmel and joined the priests and nuns in a solemn prayer for the safety of De la Cruz.

The President said she first became a devotee of Our Lady of all Nations when her prayers were answered during the Dos Palmas kidnapping perpetrated by the Abu Sayyaf in May 2001.

A devout Catholic, Mrs. Arroyo made her latest set of prayers to Our Lady of All Nations as the Iraqi militants demanded that the Philippine government pull its entire 51-member humanitarian contingent out of Iraq before they release De la Cruz.

The militants extended their original 72-hour deadline for the pullout of Philippine peacekeepers after the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced the gradual withdrawal of the peacekeeping team from Iraq.

Upon the President’s "request," Arguelles led the prayers to Our Lady of All Nations for De la Cruz, who was abducted last week along with two other Bulgarian truck drivers while en route to Iraq to deliver fuel and other provisions from Saudi Arabia.

Mrs. Arroyo recalled having been witness to the power of prayer when one of the family members of the Dos Palmas kidnap victims gave her a booklet of prayers to Our Lady of All Nations.

"Shortly after that, the first (group) of Dos Palmas kidnap victims were released," the President said.

The President also earlier "consecrated" the Philippines to Our Lady of All Nations during a Mass celebrated for her in Cebu after her June 30 oath-taking.

As she prayed for divine intervention for De la Cruz, Mrs. Arroyo renewed her appeals to local and foreign journalists to be circumspect in their reportage of developments in the hostage crisis.

"Please, please — to preserve (De la Cruz’s) life and ensure the safety — we should have a news blackout," Mrs. Arroyo said.

Asked if De la Cruz was still safe as of yesterday, the President replied: "We should have a news blackout."

She refused to talk about her much criticized decision to pull out the Filipino humanitarian contingent with the "recall" order she issued to contingent commander Brig. Gen. Jovito Palparan and ten of his men. Palparan was ordered to fly back home after the Philippines initially rejected the demands of the Iraqi hostage-takers.

Mrs. Arroyo described Palparan as a "good warrior" whom she promoted last year to star-rank after he was wounded during a failed assassination attempt by communist rebels in Negros.

The President has issued strict orders that all government officials should observe a "news blackout" on developments in the hostage crisis since Friday because of the "sensitive" and "critical" nature of the negotiations for De la Cruz’s release.

She has also restricted the Palace from making further announcements after last Saturday’s false reports that De la Cruz had already been released.

She has sent a battery of Philippine government officials to the Middle East to help effect the safe release of De la Cruz.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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