June 26, 2006 (Office of the Press Secretary, MalacaŮang) President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo arrived here Sunday evening (Italian time) to a warm welcome on the first leg of a week-long European mission to boost trade, labor, tourism and diplomatic ties.

The Chief Executive arrived at the Ciampino Airport at 6 p.m. (12 midnight, Manila time) on board a chartered Philippine Airlines (PAL) A340 Airbus, accompanied by First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, a lean delegation of Cabinet members and other government local executives and a business group.

After going down the ramp of the plane, the President was welcomed by Philippine Ambassador to the Holy See Leonida Vera and Philippine Ambassador to the Republic of Italy Philippe Lhuillier, together with representatives of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a high ranking official of the Vatican representing the Pope.

From the Ciampino Airport, the President and her official delegation were immediately whisked to the St. Regis Hotel where they are billeted.

Two hours after her arrival, the President attended a private dinner hosted in her honor by Ambassadors Vera and Lhuillier.

The Presidentís visit to Rome will be highlighted by a private audience with His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI at the Apostolic Palace at St. Peterís Square in the Vatican Monday morning (June 26).

She is also scheduled to meet with Cardinal Secretary of State His Eminence Angelo Sodano, President Giorgio Napolitano of Italy and Prime Minister Romano Prodi.

The President will also visit the Basilica Crypt of Pope John Paul II. The late Holy Pontiffís burial place is where Pope John XXIII lay before he was moved to a chapel in 2001 after his beatification. Pope John Paul II lies in a cypress wood coffin, which was put into a sealed zinc coffin and covered by an oak casket.

From Italy, the President and her official delegation will fly to Madrid The Presidentís visit to Spain upon the official invitation of His Royal Highness King Juan Carlos I will be another milestone in the countryís deepening relations with Spain.

It will be recalled that ties between the Philippines and Spain have been very cordial since the establishment of diplomatic relations on Sept. 27, 1947.

In 2005, Spain was the Philippinesí 32nd trading partner, accounting for 0.18 percent ($154,800,000) of the total Philippine trade with the world of $86 billion; ranked 26th as export market accounting for 0.09 percent ($36,900,000) of the total Philippine exports to the world of $41billion; 34th as an import source accounting for 0.02 percent ($900,000) of the total Philippine imports from the world of $45 billion.

The visit of the President to Spain is aimed at enhancing Philippine-Spain cultural, diplomatic and economic relations.

Shortly after her arrival in Spain, the President will visit the Congreso de los Diputados (Congress of Deputies and Senate of Spain) and the Ayuntamiento de Madrid.

During her visit, the President will offer a wreath at the Rizal Monument at the Avenida de las Islas Filipinas in Madrid. The monument, which is a replica of the Rizal Monument in Manilaís Rizal Park (formerly Luneta), was built in 1996 in commemoration of the death centenary of Rizal.

She will also have a luncheon meeting with the officers and members of the Confederacion Espanola de Organizaciones Empresariales (CEOE).

Topping the agenda of the Presidentís official visit to Spain is her meeting with His Majesty King Juan Carlos I of Spain. She will also have a Four-Eyes meeting with Spanish President Jose Luis-Rodriguez Zapatero.

After her Four-Eyes meeting with the Spanish president, President Arroyo will attend the Expanded Bilateral meeting together with her official delegation and their Spanish counterparts.

President Arroyo will likewise attend the dinner hosted in her honor by President Zapatero.

While in Spain, the President will receive several callers and visitors who will pay separate courtesy calls on her. They are former Spanish President Jose Maria Aznar, the Union of Fenosa/Soluziona, Partido Popular president Mariano Rajoy, and Ruiz Mateos, who expressed his desire to invest in the Philippines.

She will also meet with the Filipino community in Spain. There are about 40,000 Filipino overseas workers (OFWs) in Spain. Of the said figure, 26,400 are females and the remaining 13,600 are males.

The Presidentís official visit to Spain will be capped by a luncheon meeting with their Majesties King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia.

She will also lead the Filipino-Hispano Friendship Day Reception before she returns to Manila.

PGMA to present 'Gift of Life' to Pope Benedict XVI

ROME (via PLDT) -- When President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo meets Pope Benedict XVI today, she will bring him a gift "wrapped in the high moral imperatives to walk away from capital punishment" -- the Philippine law abolishing the death penalty.

The newly-signed Republic Act (R.A.) 9346 repealed RA 7659 of 1994 restoring the death penalty for certain heinous crimes, bringing swift emotional and moral relief to the third largest Catholic nation in the world.

The President has made no secret that the abolition of the capital punishment would add new meaning to her meeting with Catholicismís

No. 1 defender of the sanctity of human life.

When she trained her guns on the death penalty, the end of the 1994 law came swiftly. On April 16, Easter Sunday, the President ordered the commutation of the capital punishment of death row convicts to life, unleashing a train of events that ended in the repeal of the controversial 1994 law.

When she signed the new law on eve of her departure for Rome, the President said: "In signing the abolition of the death penalty, we celebrate life in its most meaningful way, by gathering our institutions together to repeal the Death Penalty Law.

For those worried that the abolition of capital punishment would open the "flood gates" to heinous crimes, the President said such fears were unfounded.

"I allay the concerns of those who think the abolition of the death penalty opens the floodgates to heinous crimes," she said, adding that the government would funnel more resources into crime prevention and control.

The Chief Executive who arrived in this Italian capital at 6 p.m. Sunday (12 midnight, Manila time), is scheduled to have a private audience with Pope Benedict XVI at noon today (Italian time).

Showing none the worse for wear after a 36-hour confinement at the St. Lukeís Medical Center in Quezon City for acute diarrhea infection, which was broken only by 24 hours before jetlag from a 14-hour flight from Manila to Rome, the President started the second day with of visit her private audience with Pope Benedict XVI and a series of meeting with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and Prime Minister Romano Prodi.

Two hours after her arrival in the Italian capital, the President was the special guest at a luncheon hosted by Philippine Ambassador to the Vatican Leonida de Vera and Philippine Ambassador to Italy Philippe Lhullier. AFP, Christina Mendez

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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