RP Hopes to Repair Relations with Australia

Article excerpt

Malacanang expressed confidence yesterday that the Philippine and Australian governments will continue to collaborate in various fields despite their diplomatic dispute following Manilas decision to pull out its 51-man contingent in Iraq.

Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said while the government will not take rebukes from top Australian officials on the pullout, it still believes that ties with Australia will remain strong as ever.

"On the whole, I think our good relationships with Australia will remain. Our countries will continue to cooperate with each other," he said in a radio interview, optimistic that the "misunderstanding" is only temporary and would never undermine the long-standing partnership between the Philippines and Australia.

Earlier on, the Philippine government has lodged a diplomatic protest expressing the countrys "objections and disappointment" over the statements made by some Australian officials against the governments decision to pull out the Filipino humanitarian contingent a month ahead of schedule.

The Arroyo administration was forced to recall the contingent in Iraq early in reaction to the threat of Iraqi militants to behead captured Filipino truck driver Angelo de la Cruz.

Its decision, however, earned rebukes from the United States and Australia, which has taken the cudgels for the US as far as the matter was concerned.

Australia charged that Manilas retreat from Iraq only weakened the international campaign against terrorism and emboldened the Iraqi fighters to abduct more foreigners working for US forces and the rehabilitation of the violencewracked country.

Yesterday, Arab satellite TV reported that two Pakistanis were beheaded by Iraqi fighters.

The rebuke over the governments pullout decision came from Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and was seconded by Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

A diplomatic protest was lodged with Australian Ambassador to the Philippine Ruth Pearce, who recently was conferred the prestigious Sikatuna Award.

Meanwhile, Bunye announced that the Saudi Arabian government has agreed with the proposal made by the Philippine government to "offload" Filipino truck drivers at the Saudi-Iraq border to avoid a repetition of the De la Cruz hostage crisis.

Time to move on

Administration lawmakers yesterday urged foreign governments to quit attacking the Arroyo government, arguing that it is time for everyone to move on after Philippines withdrew its contingent in Iraq and spared the life of truck driver Angelo de la Cruz. …