[PHOTO AT LEFT - President Arroyo is accompanied by Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi in reviewing the honor guards on her arrival at the Palazzo Chigi in Italy.]

ROME (VIA PLDT), June 27, 2006 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - The meeting between President Arroyo and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi Monday night was delayed for half an hour because Prodi was busy joining his countrymen in cheering for the Italian team during a knockout match against Australia in the World Cup, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said yesterday.

"It was good the Italians won. So it was a very jubilant meeting (between the President and Prodi)," Bunye said of the match won by Italy, 1-0, on a penalty kick near the end of injury time.

Italians celebrated on the streets and honked their car horns here to celebrate their teamís victory over Australia. Bunye noted that the Italians "were in a very festive mood."

During the meeting, Mrs. Arroyo sought more relaxed immigration rules for Filipinos here. Prodi, according to Bunye, assured her "everything is in the pipeline," which would be good news for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Italy.

"It looks like itís a done deal when it comes to our request to relax rules for our migrants," Bunye said. "The President thanked him for the good treatment of OFWs and their policies."

Mrs. Arroyo wrapped up her visit here with separate talks with Prodi and earlier with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, whom she also thanked for the good treatment of OFWs in different parts of Italy.

Mrs. Arroyo earlier said she would no longer seek amnesty for undocumented Filipinos but would push for more privileges and benefits for them. She said the amnesty program Italy launched in 2002 was still going on.

"We are number four among overseas workers but we are number one among their preference," she said.

Bunye said aside from providing easier entry and stay requirements for OFWs, Mrs. Arroyo also pushed for the automatic recognition of Philippine driverís licenses in Italy so Filipinos would be able to get more driving jobs without the need to take examinations in Italian.

"Even if they are not going to work as drivers, this is very beneficial for professionals who need to drive their own cars here in Italy," Mrs. Arroyo said in an earlier interview aired over government-run television station NBN Channel 4.

Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo also proposed that the social security benefits of Filipino workers be extended in Italy.

"If you are an SSS (Social Security System) member in the Philippines, the payments you made will also be credited if you go to Italy," he said. "That is the proposal and Mr. Prodi said they would seriously look into it."

In Italy, Filipinos rank fourth in the population register of migrant communities, after the Moroccans, North Americans and Tunisians. There are said to be 175,000 to 200,000 Filipinos, including unauthorized workers, in Italy making it the biggest concentration of Filipino migrants in the whole of Europe.

But as of 2004, the Department of Foreign Affairs recorded only 87,000 Filipinos legally staying in Italy while more than 8,000 were undocumented workers.

Mrs. Arroyo left for Spain Monday night to spend private time with her family before starting her official visit in Madrid on June 29.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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