May 12, 2006 (STAR) Malacañang condemned the attacks on left-wing activists Friday and said President Gloria Arroyo has already ordered the police to conduct an investigation.

In a statement, Press Secretary Ignacio R. Bunye said, "We condemn this brazen killing of militant members and we assure the public that this government will not tolerate any form of vigilantism that runs against human rights."

"The President has already ordered the Philippine National Police to conduct a thorough probe and to leave no stone unturned in determining the motive behind this crime and bring the culprits to justice," Bunye said.

"We call on the cooperation of the victims’ families and other witnesses to back up the investigation while we appeal to the public to refrain from speculations while we await the official report of the investigation," he declared.

The Palace urge came after two left-leaning activists were killed on the same day as the Philippine government won a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Elena Mendiola of the party-list group Bayan Muna in Isabela fell victim to two masked men on a motorcycle who fatally shot her and her husband Ricardo Balauag as they were about to leave a village in Echague town around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Mendiola, 54, and Balauag, 51, were regional coordinators of Bayan Muna in Cagayan Valley and Echague, respectively. This was the second attempt on Elena Mendiola's life.

GMA achieves many ‘firsts’ in Saudi visit By Paolo Romero The Philippine Star 05/12/2006

DAMMAM, Saudi Arabia — One of the many firsts President Arroyo achieved in her just-concluded state visit to this oil-rich kingdom is having all the sons of King Abdullah congregate in one place for a reunion.

Meanwhile, First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo was unable to take part in the President’s visit here because of cultural and protocol issues, which is why he only saw her off at Macau, where the First Couple attended a wedding last week.

"There’s nothing unusual about that," said a staff member of Mr. Arroyo’s office. "This is just because of some protocol matters because the (Saudi) King’s (Abdullah) wife was not present during the meeting with the President."

"There was no schedule with the spouses," the staff member said.

The four-day state visit of Mrs. Arroyo was the first by an Asian non-Muslim woman head of state after the death of King Fahd, King Abdullah’s father.

Mrs. Arroyo’s visit also marked the first time a visiting Philippine president was able to secure the release and return, en masse, of hundreds of jailed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) at the conclusion of a foreign trip.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye and Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas also said the mass pardon granted by King Abdullah was unprecedented in Saudi Arabia’s history.

Presidential Adviser Jesus Dureza described the trip as "amazing," citing the many firsts and achievements of Mrs. Arroyo toward the "three O’s" — oil, OFWs, and the Philippines’ bid for observer status in the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).

"First (was) the reception of the Royal Family," Dureza told reporters. "According to our hosts, it is the first time that the family got together."

He said there was some "dynamics," or differences, among the Saudi princes — including Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz, Prince Waleed Bin Al Talal, and Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz.

"But they were all together as early as the arrival (of Mrs. Arroyo) at the airport," Dureza added. "It’s unprecedented for them. They found it very unusual that there were some dynamics but they were together because of the President."

Dureza credited this unusual show of unity among the Saudi princes to "the (Saudi kingdom’s) recognition of the Filipino’s contribution to their economy and that she represents the Filipino people and maybe symbolizes part of their (economic) successes."

He said the President had private one-on-one meetings with the Saudi monarch and his sons.

"They were really charmed by the President," he said, adding that throughout the meetings with members of the Philippine delegation, Saudi officials regularly mentioned the significant role of OFWs in the kingdom’s development. There are more than one million OFWs employed in Saudi Arabia.

However, when asked by a reporter whether Mrs. Arroyo managed to unify the ruling family of Saudi Arabia despite the divisive politics plaguing the Philippines, Dureza said: "I think that’s very presumptuous. (Saudi Arabia is) a foreign land so charmed by the President and there are people in the Philippines who are doing it the other way."

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved