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[PHOTO AT LEFT - President Arroyo talks with Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt of Belgium as he guides her on their way to a receiving room the other night at his official residence in Brussels. Closely behind them is Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago.]

BRUSSELS, SEPTEMBER 14, 2006 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - The European Union (EU) has recognized the efforts of the Philippine government to put an end to the spate of political killings that has hit the country in recent years.

European Commission (EC) President Jose Manuel Barroso welcomed the move of President Arroyo to set the Melo Commission tasked to investigate the extra-judicial killings, mostly of left-leaning militants and journalists.

After meeting with the President, Barroso "welcomed the formation of a panel for investigation" of the killings, which he said were "of course a matter of concern."

"We believe this is a first step to find the truth," Barroso told journalists here.

Leftist groups in the Philippines have accused the government of being behind a string of killings and disappearances, saying at least 104 activists have been killed since Mrs. Arroyo came to power in 2001.

"This is of course a matter of concern and we will leave this as a first step towards finding the truth," Barroso said in referring to the commission headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo.

"I believe doing so would further enhance the Philippines’ standing as serious on human rights," he said.

Earlier, Spain and Finland made commitments by sending representatives from human rights organizations to the country to monitor the progress of the investigation.

Barroso said the EU understands that the Philippine government has the inherent right to fight terrorism and insurgency but it should be done without disregarding human rights.

"Our position on that matter is that we have to fight terrorism while respecting the values of democracy," he said.

Barroso also said that the EU’s executive commission and member states would "look at the best ways to support the government of the Philippines," and especially how to strengthen the judiciary.

Barroso said the assistance could come in the form of grants for programs for the judiciary.

The EC is also expected to allocate 25 million euros ($32 million) to help support the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) during the 2006-2007 period.

The commission has already earmarked a total of 90 million euros for past talks, which have been off-and-on since 2001.

Barroso also took the opportunity to praise Mrs. Arroyo for exercising her political will in abolishing the death penalty.

He noted it was Mrs. Arroyo’s first official visit to EC and the first time that a Philippine president has visited the European body.

In the joint news conference, Mrs. Arroyo announced the Philippines and the EU have agreed in principle to forge a broad partnership and cooperation to formalize and strengthen political, economic and cultural relations.

Barroso said the emerging bilateral pact with the Philippines is "a partnership and cooperation agreement that is a very broad instrument for developing our relations in economic political, social and cultural relations."

He disclosed the negotiations will start next month. "So very, very soon, so this is something we will build together with the Philippines."

Mrs. Arroyo, for her part, expressed appreciation for the "formalization and enhancement of our bilateral agreement."

"I look forward to the beginning discussions on the agreement in October," she said.

Both leaders have agreed to bring the EU and Asean closer for a full integration by 2020.

Barroso said the EU supports a wider integration in East Asia.

Mrs. Arroyo said Asean is finalizing a draft constitution and would appreciate any inputs from the EU for a possible integration.

She also asked EU to increase the level of investment and trade in the Philippines, particularly in the areas of energy, mining and business process outsourcing. - With AFP

Cabuay is deputy NSA — Palace By Aurea Calica The Philippine Star 09/14/2006

It’s final.

Malacañang announced yesterday that it would be retired Army Lt. Gen. Pedro Cabuay Jr., and not controversial retired Army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, who would be the next deputy national security adviser for counter-insurgency.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, however, said this does not mean that the Palace has seriously considered the allegations and criticisms against Palparan by various groups.

Communists and other groups have pointed to Palparan as the man behind the extra-judicial killings of militants, which they said was "his style" of eradicating insurgency in the country.

They also assailed his possible appointment to a new position in government to combat insurgency.

Ermita said there was only a misunderstanding on the disclosure of Palparan’s appointment by presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor. But the people considered for the position were Cabuay and former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Arturo Lomibao, who was appointed head of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA).

Before his retirement, Cabuay was commanding general of the Southern Luzon Command. As an Army officer, he was said to have an impressive record in fighting the communists.

Ermita said they were looking for a position for Palparan to make use of his talents, especially in fighting insurgency.

"We will see to it that his future is well taken care of," Ermita said, noting that Palparan would go on vacation for a month, which would give the administration enough time to see where he could be assigned.

In response to criticisms that the Palace has been appointing former military officials to government positions without portfolio, Ermita said this was the President’s prerogative.

Defensor said earlier that Palparan was willing to accept any position in government, although he had expressed interest in counter-insurgency.

"So whether he gets appointed at the Department of National Defense or a presidential task force under the executive secretary… it will be related to anti-insurgency. It is because we have to maximize his potential, where he is good at," he said.

Defensor disclosed that Mrs. Arroyo herself agreed that Palparan must be given a position where his talents would be utilized best.

"But her concern now is the protection of Palparan, especially when he goes on vacation. The President said he should have ample security. But General Palparan said he would be okay," Defensor said.

The communists dubbed Palparan as a "dead man walking" after his retirement, saying he would be neutralized.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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