MANILA, DECEMBER 11, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - “We will not forget this act of generosity.”

This was President Arroyo’s message of thanks to Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah for sparing 34-year-old Marilou Ranario from execution by hanging.

In a statement from Kuwait where she extended her visit for a day upon the Emir’s invitation, Mrs. Arroyo said she was “deeply grateful for the compassion of the Emir in commuting the death sentence of Ranario.”

She said the Philippines and Kuwait “may be separated by many miles and different religions, but we are bound by a common sense of justice and compassion.”

Sheikh Sabah commuted on Sunday the death sentence of Ranario to life imprisonment after Mrs. Arroyo personally appealed her case.

Sheikh Sabah also promised to reduce Ranario’s jail term further if her family is able to secure two more tanazuls or letters of forgiveness.

The President expressed hope the commutation would bring some comfort to Ranario’s family.

Ranario was convicted in September 2005 of stabbing her female employer to death with a kitchen knife.

The President made an unscheduled six-hour visit to Kuwait from her eight-day state visit to Spain and official visit to London to intercede for Ranario. Her extended stay in Kuwait afforded her the time to meet members of the Filipino community.

The President informed the Filipino community about the commutation of Ranario’s sentence, which was greeted with a round of applause.

Mrs. Arroyo reiterated that the government is always looking out for the welfare of the OFWs, be it in their concerns over the rising peso or the legal problems they face such as that of Ranario.

According to the President, her administration worked for the hike in the standard minimum wage of domestic service workers from $200 a month to $400.

Since the countries hiring Filipino workers adopted the policy, the President noted that demand for Filipinos still increased and that maltreatment by employers has gone down.

She also disclosed directives to concerned agencies to institute a “rapid response mechanism” for distressed OFWs.

She said she ordered the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Labor and Employment to review and strengthen mechanisms and services for OFWs, including the setting up of toll-free hotlines and assistance groups.

Mrs. Arroyo also said that her visit to Kuwait strengthened relations between the two countries, adding the Kuwaiti government has been supportive of the peace process in Mindanao.

The President will return home today. Shortly after her arrival, she will lead a meeting of the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council to discuss pending priority legislations.

Meantime, DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Esteban Conejos Jr. said that from the very beginning, he has been ready to defend the record of the Department of Foreign Affairs on the case of Ranario.

After Ranario was spared from death, Conejos believed the DFA was “vindicated,” saying the government was never remiss in its obligation to OFWs and its nationals abroad, contrary to allegations by some groups that the assistance extended to Ranario was not enough.

Conejos’ statement was an obvious reference to Migrante that staged a protest rally outside the DFA on the day Kuwait’s High Court announced the death penalty and blamed the government for inaction on her case.

“This is one case I will defend in Plaza Miranda. In every stage of judicial proceedings she was defended by a legal team hired by the government and these are five top-caliber Kuwaiti lawyers,” Conejos said.

“The President cut short her official visit to London and Spain to go to Kuwait. What more can people ask from this government?” Conejos said

Vice President Noli de Castro also affirmed that the government had exhausted all means to save Ranario.

In a statement, Special Envoy to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Amable Aguiluz V also thanked the Prime Minister of Bahrain, Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa, who helped in setting up the meeting of President Arroyo with Kuwait’s Emir last Sunday. – With Marvin Sy, Pia Lee-Brago, AP

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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