MANILA,  July 24, 2004
By Marichu Villanueva  -  Divine "intercession" – not divine intervention – was behind the "defining decision" that led President Arroyo to negotiate for the safe release of kidnapped Filipino truck driver Angelo de la Cruz despite criticism from members of the US-led coalition that invaded Iraq.

The President brought along De la Cruz, his wife Arsenia and their eight children to the grotto of Our Lady of Rosales in Pangasinan a day after he flew back home after two weeks of captivity in Baghdad.

"I have sought Our Lady’s intercession many times, and once again she interceded. This time, she interceded for a defining decision in my presidency and in my life as a Filipino," Mrs. Arroyo said.

A devout Catholic, Mrs. Arroyo flew to Pangasinan to join De la Cruz and his family for a "private" thanksgiving Mass at the Marian shrine.

But Catholics weren’t the only religious group that celebrated De la Cruz’s return.

Before her flight to Pangasinan, Mrs. Arroyo was prayed over by 24 lay ministers led by Bishop Efraim Tendero, secretary-general of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, during a luncheon reception she hosted for them in Malacañang.

The lay ministers thanked the President for her decision to pull out the 43-man Philippine humanitarian in Iraq as demanded by the insurgents that kidnapped De la Cruz.

Mrs. Arroyo disclosed that she and Bishop Tendero had exchanged text messages with each other during the hostage crisis.

In a statement he issued in behalf of his Christian group, Tendero lauded Mrs. Arroyo for making the tough decision to save the life of an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) "over and above" other considerations.

"The President has turned to God for wisdom and God has given her the wisdom to do what is right. That explains why the President had found the courage to stand by her decision even if some countries criticized her decision as cowardly and as one that has weakened the coalition of the willing," he said.

He praised her "Christian act of valuing one human life" over "the interests of commerce" and "the agenda of diplomats."

"The death of Angelo could have diminished all of us Filipinos. Human life is non-negotiable," he said.

Tendero likened the decision to sacrifice the country’s international standing for the life of one person to the biblical "Parable of the Lost Sheep."

"To the shepherd, the life of one sheep is as important as the 99 (other sheep)," he said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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