June 30, 2006 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - (via PLDT) After receiving praise from Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican in Rome, President Arroyo received another accolade here yesterday from the Spanish parliament for the Philippines’ repeal of the death penalty.

Mrs. Arroyo spoke in Spanish as she gratefully accepted the praise and addressed Spanish legislators led by Manuel Marin, the Speaker of the Spanish Congress.

Leaders of the various parliamentary groups and members of the foreign relations commission were present at the meeting held at the Congreso de los Diputados (House of the Deputies) here.

"We would like to publicly acknowledge the decision to abolish the death penalty in your country," Marin said.

He said it was an honor to be with a leader who could stand by her principles amid stiff opposition from some sectors against repealing the law.

Marin claimed he was "moved" by the moral resolve and commitment shown by Mrs. Arroyo as he stressed similar leaders "who are capable of keeping their word" should be greatly acknowledged.

For her part, Mrs. Arroyo thanked the Spanish government for keeping its doors open to Filipinos and asked Spain to make the Philippines its "gateway" to Asia.

She stressed her visit to Europe was focused on "life, solidarity and prosperity."

The President said her reason for signing the law abolishing the death penalty on June 24 was to uphold the dignity of life of all Filipinos.

She also cited solidarity as her visit here would strengthen the friendship between the two countries.

"Our relations are better than they’ve ever been," the President said in Spanish.

She said the Philippines "greatly values" support from Spain and she thanked it for investments in agrarian reform and the electricity sector.

Mrs. Arroyo said she would be meeting with Spanish businessmen to promote investment and trade in the Philippines.

The Philippines is now among the "most stable economies" in Asia after its tax reforms, she said.

Marin, for his part, handed Mrs. Arroyo a miniature replica of Spain’s 1812 Constitution, the first ever marking the birth of their democracy.

It was designed as a ladies’ compact powder and Marin asked Mrs. Arroyo to put it on her study table as a reminder of her trip to Spain.

RP-Spanish Friendship Day marked today in Baler, Spain By Manny Galvez The Philippine Star 06/30/2006

BALER, Aurora — The 4th Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day will be simultaneously observed today in this capital town and in Palencia, Spain.

Sen. Edgardo Angara, a native of this capital town, the birthplace of the late former President Manuel L. Quezon, said the celebration will be held for the first time in Palencia. He and his younger sister, Aurora Gov. Bellaflor Angara-Castillo, have been invited as guests.

The Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day was first observed in 2003.

Angara authored Republic Act 9187, enacted in February 2003, declaring June 30 Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day.

The event honors the day in 1898 when the Philippines, through a decree by then President Emilio Aguinaldo, extended the hand of friendship to besieged Spanish soldiers in the church of Baler for their loyalty and gallantry, instead of treating them as prisoners of war.

In an act of benevolence, the Spanish soldiers were granted safe passage to Spain.

Palencia is the home-province of Fr. Miguel de Benavides, founder of the University of Sto. Tomas (UST) whose 400th death anniversary will be celebrated in Palencia on July 1.

The Palencia celebration will be highlighted by the signing of a sisterhood agreement between the provincial governments of Palencia and Aurora and the showing of the documentary "Siege of Baler."

Angara will also visit Sevilla, Almonte in Huelva and Malaga to visit the descendants of three of the survivors of the Baler siege who are considered heroes in their hometowns.

In this town, located some 232 kilometers from Manila, Mayor Arthur Angara and the senator’s son, House Deputy Minority Leader Juan Edgardo Angara, will lead a similar celebration.

Christopher Gonzales, provincial tourism officer and one of the main organizers of the local celebration, said the event will be marked by a Mass and wreath-laying at the Church of Baler and opening of three photo exhibits at the Museo de Baler.

The theme of the local celebration is "Amistad Duradera (Enduring Friendship)."

In the Siege of Baler, 50 Spanish soldiers, led by one Lt. Martin Cerezo, holed up for 335 days from 1898 to 1899 inside the stone church of Baler to continue fighting Filipino revolutionaries under Aguinaldo.

Only 33 of the Spanish soldiers survived their ordeal inside the church and surrendered to Aguinaldo’s forces on June 2, 1899.

They gave themselves up only after they were told that the Spanish colonial government had surrendered to American forces following the victory of the American fleet under Admiral John Dewey over the Spanish armada in the Battle of Manila Bay in May 1898.

The surviving cazadores were cited for their "uncommon valor" by the Philippine revolutionary government, the first official gesture of reconciliation after a long and bitter war.

The Siege of Baler has been celebrated in films, books, photo exhibits and published articles and the regular exchange of visitors between Baler and the Spanish towns where the 50 survivors hailed from.

Details of the historic event were researched and documented for posterity by Filipino historian Esequiel Sabarillo and Jesus Valdebuena, a descendant of one of the Spanish defenders, in cooperation with Angara and the Philippine Embassy led by Ambassador Joseph Bernardo.

Last November, a 25-member Spanish delegation led by Defense Minister Jose Bono made a sentimental trip to this town to honor the memory of the 50 Spanish soldiers.

Angara said the event is now remembered as a story of friendship and shared values rather than of war and conflict.

"The Siege of Baler is now a towering monument to the innate goodness and nobility of men, shattering all the ugly stereotypes of wars and conflict," he said.

Gov. Angara said the Spanish government is becoming increasingly involved in the development of Aurora by granting assistance for coastal resource management and rural development projects.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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