, JUNE 7, 2007 (STAR) By Katherine Adraneda - President Arroyo yesterday certified as urgent the passage of the human rights compensation bill in an attempt to guarantee the measure’s approval before the termination of the 13th Congress.

The announcement for the certification of the human rights compensation bill came after the National Security Council (NSC) allegedly tried to block its ratification by the House of Representatives.

In a press conference, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said that the President’s certification on the proposed measure should give no more reason for legislators to halt its possible approval.

“It behooves upon both Houses of Congress to ratify it where it is. I hope there is no impression that (the bill) is being blocked (by) Malacañang,” Ermita said.

On Monday, re-electionist Sen. Joker Arroyo criticized the NSC and the military for its belated attempt to stop the proposed measure.

Arroyo even said that such a move “demeans and mocks the legislative process” as it indicates that the “military can throw a monkey wrench even at the tail-end of congressional work.”

The known human rights defender also reminded that the delay in the passage of the bill could fortify ideas that the Philippines “is a transgressor of human rights.”

Arroyo further said that the immediate ratification of the bicameral conference report might ease local and international criticisms of the government regarding the country’s alarming human rights record.

The proposed measure, formally titled Human Rights Victims Compensation Act, seeks to provide P10 billion to human rights victims from the Sept. 21, 1972 declaration of martial law to the Feb. 25, 1986 EDSA Revolution that overthrew the Marcos distatorship.

More than 10, 000 victims of human rights violations committed by soldiers and policemen during the period are expected to benefit from the bill if approved into law.

“There were three stages where they had all the opportunities to present their misgivings,” Arroyo had stressed, saying that during the committee hearings on the bill, no one from the NSC or the military commented or posed any objection to the measure.

The chairman of the Senate human rights committee added that defense and security officials did not show up either when the measure was discussed in plenary sessions and in the bicameral conference.

“After the Senate ratified the bicam report that is now before the House, the National Security Council sends word that they are uncomfortable with the bill for security reasons, that most of the monies would go to communists and subversives,” he said.

He described the concerns of the NSC, headed by Norberto Gonzales, as “misplaced and incorrect” because the violations were committed between 1972 and 1986.

“They were committed by the martial law military, not the army of today,” Arroyo said.

The re-elected senator said that the award process provided for in the bill would make the money available late next year.

“Pass the bill and the incoming 14th Congress would be open to modifying the bill that would address the military’s concern,” he appealed to House members.

The Senate passed the original rights compensation bill in the 12th Congress but the House failed to act on it. The bill was re-filed in the present Congress and was ratified by the Senate before the legislators went on a three-month recess prior to the May 14 elections. Again, the House failed to ratify the measure on Feb. 9, the last session day before the recess.

In the last days of the 13th Congress, the House has been unable to muster a quorum, leaving such bills as the rights compensation and one that would make medicine more affordable on the docket.

Arroyo pushes trade ties with China Thursday, June 7, 2007

BEIJING – President Arroyo began a two-day visit to southwestern China yesterday in an effort to strengthen trade and tourism ties between the two countries.

The President spent the day visiting local officials in Chengdu before traveling to Chongqing, the first time a Filipino leader has visited this part of China, Jaime Victor Ledda from the Philippine embassy in Beijing told AFP.

“This really is a pioneering visit. There is already Philippine investment in the area, but we are hoping this visit will open new doors,” Ledda said, adding the visit also aimed to attract more Chinese tourism and investment into the Philippines.

The President also addressed businessmen of Sichuan Province in a forum where she was guest speaker.

She urged the top business leaders to expand their investments, in particular, to consider the Philippines to provide its third country logistics services.

The President noted that China requires third country logistics services as it needs to source and import many of its raw materials.

The trip was originally scheduled in April, but had to be put off because the President’s husband needed heart surgery.

Mrs. Arroyo is scheduled to leave for Manila today. Before China, she visited the Vatican and Portugal. – AFP, Marvin Sy

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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