May 29, 2006 (STAR) President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo personally welcomed back to the country today 67 Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and a baby who fled Timor-Leste or East Timor in the wake of the bloody fighting between Timorese rebels and government troops.

The President met the returning OFWs at the tarmac of the Villamor Air Base as they disembarked from a Philippine Air Force (PAF) C-130 plane at around 2 p.m.

The President congratulated the plane’s crew of four officers and six enlisted men for bringing their countrymen home safely.

The C-130 crew was led by mission commander Lt. Col. Romeo de la Cruz, Maj. Jonathan Caballes (pilot), and Captains Kim Agatep and Rowena Ayudan (co-pilots).

Upon disembarkation, the OFWs, most of whom worked as construction workers in East Timor, were ushered into the base’s waiting area where snacks were served.

The President personally handed out the goodies consisting of fruit juices, noodles and sandwiches in Styrofoam packs. She also had an informal interaction with the returning OFWs.

The President even carried in her arms little Rowena Alvarado, the only baby in the group, to enable her mother, Rosalie, to grab a sandwich.

Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA) head Marianito Roque said his agency will assist the returning OFWs in every way to get to their respective provinces.

The OWWA will also help them find employment here should they decide to stay in the Philippines.

The latest burst of violence in Timor-Leste killed nine United Nations (UN) police officers, as the UN peacekeepers were evacuating civilians from the police headquarters in Dili Thursday.

Among those injured was C/Insp. Edgar Layon of the Philippine National Police (PNP), a member of the UN peacekeeping force in East Timor.

Young Filipinos urged to participate actively in vital national decisions

Noting that more than 20 million young Filipinos will join the electorate in the next five years, Press Secretary and Presidential Spokesman Ignacio R. Bunye said it’s about time they participate actively in national decisions and have their voices heard on issues vital to the life of the nation and their future.

In his regular weekly column, The View From the Palace, Bunye said the "youth wants to be empowered to participate in national decisions and the time has come to take action on this either through legislation or constitutional change."

He stressed that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has made it clear that "her initiative to change the Constitution is being pushed with the youth’s welfare in mind."

He said that with such a huge number of young Filipinos becoming eligible voters in the next five years, the government must ensure that they have a voice in the future course of the country.

Bunye lamented that the voice of the youth had been drowned out by the political noise over constitutional change.

But he added that this may not be "surprising at all considering that most of them are preoccupied with spending the last few weeks of the summer vacation before classes start."

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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