[PHOTO AT LEFT - NEW ENVOYS: President Arroyo welcomes Nana Kwadwo Slinti, who presented his credentials as the new ambassador of Ghana during a ceremony at Malacañang yesterday. - Photo By WILLY PEREZ]

MANILA, JANUARY 31, 2007 (OFFICE OF THE PRESS SECRETARY, MALACAÑANG) President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo accepted today the credentials of seven new (non-resident) ambassadors to the Philippines in a series of presentation-of-credentials ceremonies at the Rizal Hall of Malacañang.

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Adnan Basaga of the Republic of Turkey was the first envoy received by the President at around 1:30 o’clock this afternoon.

He was followed by Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ibrahim Asad Oglu Hajiyev of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

The President then received the credentials of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Liliane Amrie Laure Boa of the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Mpumelelo Joseph Hlophe of the Kingdom of Swaziland;

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Nana Kwadwo Seinti of the Republic of Ghana, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Abdelaziz Abdelrahman Abuqutaish of the State of Palestine, and Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Richard Obrien of Ireland.

"Welcome to the Philippines. I accept your credentials and I look forward to the good and stronger bilateral relations between our countries during your tour of duty here in the Philippines," the President told the new envoys.

In turn, all seven ambassadors assured the President that they would work and devote their time for better bilateral relations between their respective countries and the Philippines.

Foreign Affairs Chief of Protocol Geryl Santos introduced the new envoys to the President.

Also on hand to welcome them were Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Erlinda Basilio and Ambassador Marciano Paynor.

PGMA fires off several directives to stop extrajudicial killings

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo fired off today several directives to various executive departments and other agencies to stop once and for all extrajudicial killings and other forms of political violence in the country.

The President issued the directives after she received this morning the report of the five-man fact-finding body, headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo, she created to investigate the slayings of several persons, including journalists and leftist elements.

At a media briefing this afternoon in Malacanang, Press Secretary Ignacio R. Bunye said among the President’s directives was for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to broaden and enhance the government’s witness protection program to cover all witnesses to unexplained killings of ideological/political nature.

Thanking the members of the Melo Commission for their "sincerity and civic spirit," the Chief Executive stressed that she deplored the "killings be they from left or right, against journalists or activities."

"We have a sorry history in our nation of political violence. I aim to stop it once and for all," she said, adding that was why she asked Melo to "examine the situation and make recommendations so that I can help move to break this cycle of violence once and for all."

The President also directed the Melo Commission to continue its work as she instructed other government agencies to join in the investigation and possible filing of cases against those responsible, and to finally put a stop to the issue of the unsolved extrajudicial killings.

"The retired justice mentioned general findings and recommendations and it is on that basis the President issued these instructions," Bunye said.

As a follow-up to the recommendations of the Melo Commission, the President issued the following orders:

-- The Department of National Defense (DND) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) shall come up as soon as possible with an updated document on Command Responsibility;

-- The Department of Justice (DOJ) and DND shall coordinate with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to constitute a Joint Fact-Finding body to delve deeper into the alleged involvement of military personnel in unexplained killings, file the corresponding charges against, and prosecute the culpable parties;

-- The DOJ shall broaden and enhance the Witness Protection Program (WPP) to cover all witnesses to unexplained killings of an ideological/political nature;

-- The Chief Presidential Legal Counsel is instructed to draft my letter to the Supreme Court (SC) seeking the creation of Special Courts for the trial of charges involving unexplained killings of a political/ideological nature; and

-- The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) shall submit a formal proposal to the European Union (EU), Spain, Finland, and Sweden to send investigators to assist the Commission.

Bunye said these European countries have expressed interest in helping the Commission with the ongoing investigations and it is just a matter of sending them formal invitations.

"I think these countries are aware of what value we took to the protection of human rights. So I think the work of European investigators will be facilitated," Bunye said.

While thanking the members of the Melo Commission for coming up with their report, the President said it was unfortunate that no militant organization participated in the hearings of the commission.

Saying that the Philippines is the most democratic country in the region, the President stressed that she has zero tolerance for "human rights violations, particularly the killings of journalists and activities."

She added: "Let me make several points clear: I have personally advanced the process of peace in Mindanao to a new level of engagement, focused on interfaith dialogue, economic development and mutual security."

This she did, the President said, "with the largest possible international involvement. Peace there is very much an issue of human rights, just as alleviating poverty is, which is my No. 1 issue."

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved