SEPTEMBER 17, 2006 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - Notwithstanding its apparent legal victory in the efforts to extradite Charlie "Atong" Ang from the US, Malacañang expressed no interest over the developments.

"Let’s just allow the legal and judicial processes to take its course," Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said as he denied Malacañang’s reported involvement in the extradition of Ang.

Bunye, accompanying President Arroyo at the conclusion of her five-nation trip to Europe here, said it was the first time that they heard of reports that Ang is about to be extradited.

He refused to comment when asked by reporters for Malacañang’s reaction over Ang’s impending return to the country.

A US district court has ordered the extradition of Ang to face the plunder charges filed against him in the Philippines.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez announced the decision of Judge Lawrence Leavitt of the US District Court in Nevada which ordered the extradition of Ang before the end of the year.

Ang is one of the accused in the plunder and perjury trial of former President Joseph Estrada in the Sandiganbayan.

The US court ruled there is probable cause in the plunder case against Ang, which necessitates extradition.

Estrada’s camp, however, downplayed the reported extradition of Ang in the country saying his presence would not adversely affect the plunder case against the disgraced leader.

Former senator Rene Saguisag, lead counsel of Estrada in the plunder case, said the extradition of Ang could have no effect in the case since it "would not alter the acquittal of Estrada."

"We are not worried because Mr. Ang has consistently and credibly denied any involvement in the plunder charge filed against him and President Estrada who is likewise innocent," Saguisag declared.

He said Ang has debunked all the accusations hurled by Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis "Chavit" Singson, the government’s primary witness, during his testimony before the Blue Ribbon investigation of the Senate in 2000.

Saguisag said Ang’s testimony are all on record, which specifically denied all the accusations made by Singson.

Ang said Singson’s accusations against Estrada had been motivated by vengeance after the Estrada administration neutralized the jueteng operations in Ilocos Sur by replacing it with the Bingo-2 Ball.

Ang also denied Singson’s allegations that P130 million consisting of the proceeds of the tobacco excise taxes was delivered to Estrada in his house on Polk street in Greenhills, San Juan.

"We have no reason whatsoever to doubt that he (Ang) will deviate from his earlier testimony before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, justice committee and the committee on human rights, on this matter," Saguisag said.

He said the defense is now finalizing its offer of evidence and they are now more convinced that the 80 defense witnesses and pieces of evidence presented has demolished the prosecution’s case against Estrada.

Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, one of the co-accused in the plunder trial with his father, earlier said his family is unfazed by reports that Ang is about to be extradited.

Estrada believes the return of Ang to the country was orchestrated by the administration with the help of Singson.

Estrada pointed out the prosecution has already rested its case and the special prosecutor is apparently not too keen on pursuing the case any further. — With Jose Rodel Clapano

GMA meets Raul Castro in Havana By Paolo Romero The Philippine Star 09/17/2006

HAVANA — President Arroyo met here on Friday Cuban First Vice President Raul Castro, the brother of the ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and again unanimously elected as one of the vice chairpersons of the 118-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye also said Mrs. Arroyo also met with Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi at the sidelines of the 14TH NAM summit where they discussed the ongoing peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

She stayed here for two days since arriving on Thursday to attend the opening of the NAM summit where strongly pushed for migrant worker’s welfare, interfaith dialogue, and disaster-mitigation among other economic and security concerns.

Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo met for a few minutes with Castro and also inquired about his elder brother’s health.

"The President wished him (Fidel Castro) well because according to reports Fidel Castro is recovering fast," he said.

Prior to her arrival, there were efforts to arrange a meeting between the two leaders, Bunye said.

Castro, now 80, remains in sick bed after undergoing intestinal surgery on July 31 and has since temporarily ceded power to his brother Raul for the first time since leading the Cuban Revolution in 1959.

He said Mrs. Arroyo was unanimously reelected in the opening session as vice chairwoman of NAM, being the chairwoman of the Asean.

"The President also sought out various friends, especially (Malaysian) Prime Minister (Abdullah) Badawi, who is so helpful in the peace process in Mindanao.

Mrs. Arroyo also laid a wreath at a small monument of national hero Jose Rizal here. The Spanish inscription read: "Jose Rizal 1861-1896. Filipino patriot, doctor and sculptor. Born in Calamba, Laguna in the Philippines in June 19, 1861. Author of the books Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. Jailed and tried for activities against Spanish authorities. Died in Dec. 30, 1896 by musketry in Manila. He is the Philippine national hero." Apart from Bunye, accompanying Mrs. Arroyo were Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, and Press Undersecretaries Milton Alingod and Jose Capadocia.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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