, DECEMBER 4, 2007 (STAR) By Marvin Sy - President Arroyo kicked off her visit to Spain yesterday with a meeting with the Filipino community in Madrid during which she assured them that everything is back to normal in the Philippines after the Peninsula Hotel takeover by a handful of rebellious soldiers and their civilian supporters last Nov. 29.

Speaking at the Colegio Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas in Madrid, the President said authorities were able to end the Peninsula standoff swiftly and without bloodshed and arrested its leaders including former vice president Teofisto Guingona, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, and former Scout Rangers chief Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim.

“We saw the other day that the rule of law prevailed and I can assure that the transgressors will not hold our nation hostage with impunity,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

“They will be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Justice shall be served and the interests of the people upheld,” she added.

She emphasized that democratic institutions and civil society remain strong and stable and that the government would continue to protect itself and the people against destabilization attempts.

Security forces smoked out the mutinous soldiers and their civilian supporters from the ritzy hotel using tear gas, warning shots, and an armored personnel carrier that was used as a battering ram.

The arrests of the rebellious officers and some civilians, including members of the media, were followed by the declaration of curfew for Metro Manila and nearby provinces, raising fears of a major crackdown.

“The curfew was just for one night. The people have returned to their normal lives. The situation in Makati and the entire country have returned to normal,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

She said the real heroes in the Peninsula incident were the peace-loving and hardworking Filipinos who turned their backs on destabilizers.

She also thanked the Filipino community for contributing to the growth of the economy through their remittances.

“But we’re working towards the day when Filipinos no longer need to go abroad for a job. We’re working for the day that overseas work will be just another career option and not the only choice a hardworking Filipino has to earn a living,” the President said.

Mrs. Arroyo expressed confidence that her administration’s ambitious economic reforms would help keep the Filipinos in the Philippines.

Apart from the real estate market, of which 40 percent represents overseas Filipinos, other investments particularly in financial instruments and stocks hold promise for OFWs.

The President, who speaks Spanish at home and gets to practice the language during her visit here, brought along Philippine Stock Exchange president Francis Lim to present to the Filipino community in Spain the benefits of investing in the bourse.

Mrs. Arroyo pointed out that the PSE is now one of the best performing stock markets in the world today. She also encouraged the OFWs to venture into small and medium enterprises.

There are over 50,000 Filipinos living or working in Spain, which is considered a preferred country of OFW deployment because of its good labor laws and attractive salary structures.

Foreign workers in Spain enjoy 14th month bonus, paid vacation leaves and yearly pay increases.

In the President’s previous visit last June, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the two governments, paving the way for the entry into Spain of highly-skilled Filipino workers and other professionals, including doctors, nurses and engineers.

Prior to the signing of the MOU, Spain allowed the entry of only a limited number of foreign workers from countries with whom Madrid had no bilateral agreements on labor.

In the case of the Philippines, Spain used to accept Filipino domestic workers under individual arrangements with their employers.

Because of the absence of a labor agreement between the two countries, entry of Filipinos to Spain was limited.

The signing of the MOU ended a three-year campaign launched by then Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas to convince Spain to welcome more Filipino workers.

State honors

Mrs. Arroyo received state honors yesterday as she and her husband Juan Miguel Arroyo met with King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia at El Pardo Palace, the place of residence for visiting dignitaries, outside Madrid.

It was the first of four meetings with the Spanish royal couple. Mrs. Arroyo was also set to have lunch at the Zarsuela Palace on Madrid’s outskirts and then attend a gala dinner at the Royal Palace in the center of the Spanish capital.

Spain’s royal couple will also see her off when she leaves Spain on Wednesday. – With AP

Sandigan justice in Erap conviction named to SC By Marvin Sy and Sandy Araneta Tuesday, December 4, 2007

One of the three Sandiganbayan justices who convicted deposed President Joseph Estrada of plunder has been appointed to fill the remaining vacancy in the 15-member Supreme Court (SC).

President Arroyo has appointed Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro as SC associate justice, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said in a text message from Spain.

“She was appointed. Released the appointment to the Supreme Court already,” Bunye declared.

De Castro replaces former associate justice Cancio Garcia who retired last Oct. 20.

The Supreme Court reported that De Castro’s appointment took effect last Dec. 1 and that she would take her oath before Chief Justice Reynato Puno today.

Prior to the announcement of the appointment, there was speculation that De Castro would get the SC post in light of the Estrada verdict.

De Castro, 59, became the center of attention last Sept. 12 when the three-member special division where she belonged handed down the guilty verdict on Estrada.

The two other justices of the special division are Diosdado Peralta and Francisco Villaruz Jr.

Of the three, it was De Castro who sat through the entire trial which started in 2001.

De Castro was appointed as associate justice to the Sandiganbayan during the Ramos administration.

It was in December 2004 that De Castro assumed the post of presiding justice of the anti-graft court.

A graduate of the University of the Philippines, De Castro took up law also at UP where she was awarded a certificate of merit for academic excellence, being among the top four graduates.

She was Vice Chancellor of the College’s honor society, the Order of the Purple Feather, from 1969 to 1972, and staff member of the Philippine Law Journal.

De Castro is now on her 34th year in government service with two decades spent at the Office of Chief State Counsel at the Department of Justice.

She has also been working in the judiciary for about ten years in various capacities.

De Castro, married to Eduardo de Castro, a businessman, started her career as a lawyer working for the Supreme Court, first as a law clerk until she became a judicial assistant.

After her stint at the Supreme Court, De Castro worked as a state counsel for the then Ministry of Justice for 19 years, ending her stint there as assistant chief state counsel.

At the Department of Justice, De Castro was a member of the 1988 government peace panel reviewing the military bases agreement with the United States.

She also became the legal adviser to the 1997 peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF) and the Moro National Liberation Front.

In 1998, when De Castro had already transferred to the judiciary, she was bestowed an award - the Presidential Medal of Merit - by then President Fidel Ramos.

The award was for “exceptionally meritorious and valuable service rendered and remarkable accomplishments that have served the interest of peace, unity and progress in Southern Philippines, earning her the gratitude and admiration of the Filipino people.”

Sandiganbayan spokesman and executive clerk of court, Atty. Renato Bocar, said the appointment of De Castro to the Supreme Court will not affect the government’s forfeiture case against Estrada’s assets cited in the plunder conviction ruling.

“Everything is just procedural,” Bocar said.

Estrada’s controversial Boracay mansion will be auctioned on Dec. 7.

Bocar denied speculations that De Castro’s appointment to the Supreme Court was a prize for Estrada’s conviction in the plunder case.

He recalled that prior to De Castro’s latest assignment to the High Court, she had always been short-listed in the candidates for the Supreme Court associate justice post.

But on several occasions, Bocar said De Castro had to turn down the nominations as she wanted to concentrate on trying former President Estrada’s plunder case.

“So it’s about time she (De Castro) gets her well-deserved promotion,” Bocar said.

Bocar also announced that Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Edilberto Sandoval, second division chairman, will temporarily sit as acting presiding justice being the most senior among the remaining associate justices.

There is an internal rule that the most senior will be the acting presiding justice in case of vacancy while awaiting the appointment which will come from the President.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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