[PHOTO AT LEFT - President Arroyo greets members of the Filipino community in Helsinki, Finland after attending Mass at the St. Henry’s Cathedral yesterday. To the President’s right is Fr. Melvin Llabanes.]

HELSINKI, FINLAND, SEPTEMBER 10, 2006 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo began yesterday seeking the help of the European Union member nations in resolving and putting an end to the alarming spate of political killings in the Philippines.

National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, as part of the Philippine delegation here, said Mrs. Arroyo had already raised the issue of political killings during her bilateral meeting with Finland President Tarja Halonen on Saturday.

Gonzales said the President is exerting all efforts to convince European leaders that her administration has nothing to do with the wave of killings.

Mrs. Arroyo, accompanied by First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and a delegation of Cabinet members and lawmakers, arrived here on Saturday to attend the two-day 6th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) that began yesterday to tackle common pressing economic, security and environmental issues affecting the two continents.

"What we’re going to tell them is that we are open, that the Philippine government is not running away from its responsibility to stop these extrajudicial killings, and at the same time stress it is not our policy to engage in this kind of activities," Gonzales told reporters.

He said they are going to make an appeal before European governments and independent non-government organizations based in the continent "to see and monitor how we are solving these and maybe even help us."

Gonzales said the Philippine government is planning to invite representatives from the EU to monitor the investigation over the killings.

"But we stand by our assertion that nearly all of the killings are part of a communist purge of their ranks," he said.

During their bilateral meeting, Mrs. Arroyo apprised Halonen of the government efforts in dealing with the killings.

Mrs. Arroyo has created a six-member special probe team headed by retired Supreme Court justice Jose Melo to investigate the killings.

Halonen, however, assured Mrs. Arroyo that Finland was not imposing its standards on the Philippines, according to Gonzales.

He said another meeting is being arranged with Finland Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen with the same issue to be discussed, among other matters.

Gonzales said Mrs. Arroyo would also be meeting other European leaders at the sidelines of the ASEM and make similar statements.

The President will also hold separate meetings with Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barosso before flying to Brussels on Wednesday.

Mrs. Arroyo made the initiative to meet the EU leaders in the apparent attempt to preempt criticisms over the unabated killings.

Philippine Ambassador to Sweden Victoria Bataclan earlier revealed the concerns of the EU leaders over the spate of killings in the country.

Bataclan said Mrs. Arroyo might face the scrutiny of European leaders over the killings in attending the ASEM.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said the Philippines is ready to defend its human rights record in any forum should the issue crop during Mrs. Arroyo’s nine-day trip to Europe.

"We take note that these cases have been a cause of concern before the eyes of the international community," Bunye said.

He said the government is determined to put an end to the killings that placed the Philippines in a bad light abroad.

Bunye pointed out the authorities are "working 24 hours a day, seven days a week," to bring the perpetrators to justice.

He said the President had created the Melo Commission to get to the bottom of the issue and put an end to the killings.

Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo has repeatedly condemned the extra-judicial killings and pointed out the Melo Commission would be the sole voice on the issue.

Bunye assured there will be "no untouchables" in the campaign "and the ax will definitely fall on those culpable, as we can plainly see in the cases that have been resolved."

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved