[PHOTO AT LEFT - President Arroyo welcomes Sayed Kassem El-Masry, adviser to the secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Conference, before her meeting with OIC representatives at Malacañang yesterday. – WILLY PEREZ]

MANILA, May 23, 2006 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - Malacañang expressed optimism that the Philippines would soon be able to achieve its bid for an observer seat in the influential Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) as a high-level delegation from the 57-nation body wrapped up its fact-finding mission in the country yesterday.

President Arroyo thanked the 16-man OIC delegation, which called on her at Malacañang, for their successful five-day mission to look into the status of the implementation of the 1996 peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MNLF) in connection with the country’s bid for an observer status.

"We look forward to achieving an observer status (in the OIC)," Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said. "We are always optimistic on this."

During the meeting with the OIC officials led by Egyptian Ambassador Sayed Al-Masry, Mrs. Arroyo reiterated the Philippines’ request and mentioned the progress in the implementation of the 1996 peace accord.

The OIC team was accompanied by Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process Jesus Dureza, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis, and Brig. Gen. Ben Dolorfino, deputy chief of the Armed Forces Southern Command.

For his part, Al-Masry also thanked the President and also reiterated the OIC’s call for the government to release former MNLF chairman Nur Misuari, who is detained on rebellion charges, but with due respect to the country’s judicial process.

On the Philippines’ bid for an observer status, Al-Masry stressed the need for a tripartite meeting of the government, the MNLF and the OIC in July in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to review the implementation of the agreement and decide on the request.

Dureza said Al-Masry gave assurance that the request would be reviewed favorably owing to the changes within the OIC, particularly on the classification of members to include non-government organizations and other countries.

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales said Mrs. Arroyo could not just order Misuari’s release since the courts have jurisdiction over him.

"It is already in the courts. He could always file (a motion) for bail or acquittal, but you cannot dictate on the court how to decide on the case," he said. — With James Mananghaya

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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