RP readies welcome for De la Cruz

THE PHILIPPINES on Wednesday prepared to welcome home a hostage freed by Iraqi militants as the government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo sought to repair the damage from her capitulation to the kidnappers.

Arroyo's spokesman Ignacio Bunye said that the President would personally meet truck driver Angelo De la Cruz when he flies back here and would escort him to a religious shrine in Pangasinan province, north of Manila, where she had earlier prayed for his freedom.

The exact time and details of De la Cruz's return have not yet been confirmed, Bunye told reporters.

De la Cruz will be picked up from Baghdad on Wednesday by a special plane from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which will fly him to Abu Dhabi for a medical checkup.

He will later be reunited with his wife who has been staying in Jordan, awaiting his release, Bunye said, hinting that Arroyo would not be bringing him to her annual address to Congress next week as some newspapers had reported.

Iraqi militants who seized him earlier this month and threatened to behead him unless Arroyo pulled out a 51-man Filipino military contingent serving with coalition forces there freed De la Cruz in Baghdad on Tuesday.

Arroyo, apparently fearful of the domestic backlash if De la Cruz was killed, gave in to the kidnappers' demands and the last of the Philippine contingent left Iraq for Kuwait on Monday.

Her capitulation was bitterly criticized by close allies, the United States and Australia who said Arroyo's actions encouraged further attacks and would not buy the safety of the 3,000 Filipino civilian workers still in Iraq.

The United States said Tuesday it was pleased with the release of De la Cruz but reiterated that Manila's decision to give in to the kidnappers' demands was wrong.

"It's good to see that he's safe," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "Our policy on how this came about has certainly not changed." Analysts have said that Arroyo had no choice but to recall the troops or risk threats of massive protests that could topple her government after winning a fresh six-year mandate in the bitterly disputed May 10 election.

Eight million Filipino workers are scattered around the world and their remittances back home are a major source of foreign exchange to this cash-strapped nation.

They and their families are a formidable political constituency and Arroyo repeatedly cited the need to protect them as one of the reasons for breaking her commitments to foreign allies.

Reacting to the US criticism of Arroyo, Bunye said that "the President does not regret her decision but we still consider the United States as our big brother in the security arena.

"Our long-standing and mature relations will survive this crisis," he said, adding, "We maintain our strong stand against terrorism in the face of this isolated event."

The Philippines had previously been a staunch supporter of both the US-led campaign against terrorism and the US-led invasion of Iraq.

In return, the United States has provided military training and assistance in helping Arroyo battle local Muslim guerrillas reportedly linked to the Al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah networks.

21/07/2004

Bron : Inq7.net

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