[PHOTO AT LEFT - Queen Elizabeth II receives President Arroyo and her husband Jose Miguel at Buckingham Palace in London yesterday. Photo By AP]

MANILA, VIA (MALACAÑANG) DECEMBER 8, 2007 (STAR) By Marvin Sy - President Arroyo will fly to Kuwait tomorrow to seek clemency for a Filipina maid sentenced to death for killing her employer.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye told reporters that the President, who is winding up a European tour, is scheduled to call on the emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad Al Sabah, tomorrow to plead for the life of overseas Filipino worker Marilou Ranario.

Bunye disclosed that the President would arrive in Kuwait at around 11 a.m. (4 p.m. Manila time). She will return to Manila later in the day.

Mrs. Arroyo will have lunch with the emir during which she is expected to make the appeal for clemency on behalf of Ranario, who was found guilty of murdering her 46-year-old Kuwaiti employer and was sentenced to death by hanging in 2005.

The ruling was upheld by the High Court of Kuwait last Nov. 27, leaving appeals to the emir as the last resort.

Ranario, 33, is a teacher by profession but worked in Kuwait as a domestic helper.

Malacañang and the Department of Foreign Affairs have been trying to set up a dialogue between the two leaders since the Kuwaiti high court upheld the sentence.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita previously said that more than one attempt was made to get in touch with the emir before the President left for her state visit to Spain but the efforts failed.

During Mrs. Arroyo’s visits to Spain and the United Kingdom, a side trip to Kuwait was being set up before her return to Manila.

Initially, Bunye said that the planned trip would no longer push through because the emir was supposedly not in Kuwait during the time of the scheduled visit of the President.

However, last Thursday night, Bunye announced that Mrs. Arroyo’s trip to Kuwait will proceed and a meeting with the emir has been arranged.

Ermita declined to speculate on the chances of the President in securing a pardon for Ranario, but he was hopeful that the efforts of the DFA to work for her salvation would bear fruit.

“Before the President proceeds to Kuwait, an advance party is already there and arrangements are being made by the DFA. I don’t want to speculate on what will happen but suffice it to say that every effort has been made,” Ermita said.

The President is back in Spain for a private visit to Sevilla, Almonte and Cordoba and Granada.

In the city of Sevilla, the President is set to have lunch with the president of Andalucia, Manuel Chaves Gonzalez, and the mayor of Sevilla, Alfredo Sanchez Monteseirin.

In Almonte, the President will meet with municipal officials, lay a wreath for the heroes of Baler and attend the inauguration of the Spanish-Philippine Cultural Center of Almonte Building, which is a replica of the Philippines’ Baler Church.

Meantime, President Arroyo met with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair during her recent visit to the United Kingdom, where she sought advice regarding the Philippine government’s peace efforts in Mindanao.

The Philippine government is in the thick of negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for a lasting peace agreement.

In a statement issued from London, the President said that her meeting with Blair was “to discuss our ongoing efforts at peace and reconciliation in the Muslim areas of Mindanao, in the far south of the Philippines.”

The MILF and the government panels have started conducting exploratory talks again after the discussions were suspended for more than a year because of disagreements over the issue of ancestral domain.

The two sides are expected to meet in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia by the middle of the month for another round of exploratory talks.

“We are on the cusp of a peace deal and I am seeking the best advice from Mr. Blair on his success in Northern Ireland and how we can apply these valuable insights to increase our chances for long term peace and stability in Mindanao,” the President said.

Blair, who spent 10 years as British Prime Minister, resigned as leader of the Labor Party and as Prime Minister last June.

Based on the biography of Blair on the website of Number 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the Prime Minister, early into his term, Blair led the UK government’s team that negotiated the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland.

Keep your focus

While abroad, President Arroyo continued to issue orders to her Cabinet “to ensure the government remains focused on its vital efforts for the nation and the economy.”

She appealed to lawmakers to maintain their focus on pending priority bills as the Senate is set to conduct new investigations, including that of the failed rebellion of Sen. Antonio Trillanes last week.

Among the pending bills that Congress needs to immediately act on according to her are the proposed P1.227-trillion national budget for 2008, the Cheap Medicine Bill, the amendments to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act and the proposed amnesty to communist rebels.

Mrs. Arroyo also presided over the Cabinet security cluster meeting via video conferencing at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel, where she ordered the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces to intensify pursuit operations against Trillanes’ cohorts.

She reminded the Cabinet to fast track the implementation of anti-poverty measures since the poor are hardest hit by Trillanes’ latest attempt to destabilize the government.

These include measures to mitigate the effects of rising oil prices in the world market and providing affordable rice to the masses. - With Paolo Romero, AP

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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