, NOVEMBER 29, 2007 (STAR) Saying that the rule of law must prevail, President Arroyo defended her decision to pardon former M/Sgt. Pablo Martinez, one of the convicted assassins of former senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr.

In her speech at the San Beda University Law Alumni Association Homecoming at the One Esplanade in Pasay City Tuesday night, Mrs. Arroyo said she pardoned Martinez in accordance with Memorandum Circular 155 she issued on Nov. 17, 2004.

The memorandum directed the Bureau of Corrections, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, and the Board of Pardons and Parole to submit to the Office of the President records of inmates who are 70 years old and above for the purpose of extending executive clemency.

She issued the statement as the Aquino family celebrated the former senator’s 75th birth anniversary, where former President Corazon Aquino called on the soldiers convicted for the murder of her husband to tell the truth not only for the sake of her family but also for the country.

Mrs. Arroyo said she recalled Aquino’s birthday in her introspection and recalled her move to pardon Martinez. She sent a wreath of white orchids to the tomb of the late senator at the Manila Memorial Park in Parañaque.

She said one of the reasons why she made it a policy to give clemency to inmates who are 70 years old and above was because some bishops ministering to prisoners and prisons officials raised alarm over the severe congestion of jails and they recommended that those who would not be a menace to society anymore and are seriously ill be granted clemency.

She said the same policy formed the basis for granting executive clemency to former President Joseph Estrada.

“Both a soldier and a former president were convicted according to the rule of law and pardoned according to the rule of law,” Mrs. Arroyo said. “The rule of law has prevailed and proved that no person is above the law.”

“And no person is below it either because if you are going to give that privilege to one then you give it to all similarly situated,” she said.

She said it was time for the nation to move on and focus on issues that are important to the Filipinos’ future, including creating more jobs, maintaining stable prices and providing affordable housing and education.

Upon his release, Martinez asked for Mrs. Aquino’s forgiveness. But the former president said she could not understand this as the soldiers maintain that they had nothing to do with Ninoy’s murder. – Paolo Romero

40 congressmen joining GMA in Europe By Jess Diaz Thursday, November 29, 2007

 As the charms of Spain and England beckon, serious legislative work can definitely wait for some lawmakers.

A group of more than 40 lawmakers is joining President Arroyo in her trip to London and Spain this weekend.

“This is a big delegation, we are more than 40,” a congressman, who declined to be named, told The STAR yesterday.

Five other congressmen confirmed they are going to London and Spain, but on their own and that they would just link up with Mrs. Arroyo’s entourage.

To The STAR’s knowledge, no member of the opposition or minority bloc is joining the delegation to Europe.

“This is clearly a junket. But unlike previous vacations abroad, this is taking place while Congress is in session and the House is in the middle of deliberations on the cheap medicine bill, which is supposed to be a priority administration measure,” an opposition congressman said. He said the group is “by far the biggest delegation of House junketeers.”

He noted that in the past, “a group of 15 was already big, and junkets took place when Congress was not in session.”

He said he could not understand why more than 40 of his colleagues opted to join Mrs. Arroyo on her second trip to London and Spain in one and a half years.

Many lawmakers in the President’s entourage are members of her own party, the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi) whose leaders want to oust Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. for his son’s damning allegations against the President and her husband regarding the aborted national broadband network deal with ZTE Corp. of China.

The last time the President was in Europe was in June last year. It was in Spain where the Arroyos and several House allies celebrated the birthday of First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo.

A few months later, Mrs. Arroyo flew to London, where officials of British American Tobacco treated her to dinner.

The company wants to expand its operations in the Philippines if it succeeds in fending off attempts by the Bureau of Internal Revenue to slap a higher excise tax on its Pall Mall brand.

After her nine-day European trip, the President plans to convene the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac) to discuss her priority bills with leaders of Congress.

She announced the plan following criticism from the Makati Business Club that she was not doing enough to ensure the passage of her pet legislative proposals.

One such measure is the cheap medicine bill, which is still languishing in the House. The Senate already approved on third and final reading its own version of the bill.

Palawan Rep. Antonio Alvarez, principal sponsor of the bill, said he could not understand what’s taking his colleagues in the majority so long to approve the measure.

Another priority measure that’s in the doldrums is the proposal to exempt millions of minimum wage earners from paying income tax. Up to now, no one from either the administration or its allies has revived the bill, which the Senate killed in the previous Congress.

The House passed the measure, but senators sat on it until the 13th Congress ended last June 30.

Mrs. Arroyo promised tax exemption to workers on May 1, 2006, which was Labor Day, repeated it on May 1 this year, and again in her State of the Nation Address before Congress last July 24.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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