RP Not Sending Troops to Iraq, Palace Assures

Article excerpt

Amid renewed threats of more attacks against occupation forces in Iraq led by the United States, Malacanang reiterated yesterday it was not keen on dispatching Filipino soldiers to Baghdad, saying the decision is needed to protect the national interest.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said sending another humanitarian contingent to Iraq may endanger Filipinos, particularly those already working there.

This position hews closely to the policy enunciated during the negotiations to secure the release of captured Filipino driver Angelo de la Cruz from Iraq rebel fighters battling the US-supported government forces in that country.

"Right now there is no plan to send troops in Iraq. We are still reviewing any plan to deploy overseas Filipino workers to Iraq," he said in a news briefing.

The Palace decision came after Jemaah Islamiyah, a militant Muslim network linked to al-Qaeda, purportedly claimed responsibility for the bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia. The group warned of more attacks unless Australia withdraws its forces from Iraq.

A senior al-Qaeda member also released a video yesterday warning that the US "will bleed to death" if it stays in Iraq.

Government is monitoring the volatile situation in Iraq and would exercise prudence before allowing Filipino soldiers or civilian workers to be deployed there, Bunye added.

"Sending our troops is not in the horizon," he said.

Asked if the bombing in Jakarta somehow influenced the Palace decision, Bunye insisted that the safety of the Filipinos particularly those already in Iraq is the primary concern of President Arroyo.

"That is foremost in our foreign policy. We are just being consistent with our foreign policy," he added.

The President pulled out the Filipino troops from Iraq to save the life Angelo de la Cruz, who was threatened with decapitation by his Iraqi captors.

Her decision has strained relations with the US and other countries but drew wide support back home.

The Palace earlier defended the Presidents decision to join the Coalition of the Willing, saying it was made to serve the national interest.

Arroyo did not obtain congressional concurrence to the dispatch of Filipino troops to Iraq and critics said her action was unconstitutional. Bunye invoked the "moral obligation" of the President to protect Filipinos from the threat of terrorism as a basis for her action.

Last Thursday, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago said the Constitution requires Senate concurrence for any international agreement.

The senator said the Philippine humanitarian contingent in Iraq incurred expenses that were not authorized by Congress. Under the law, only Congress can approve appropriations, and therefore, no public funds should be used for the Filipino troops in the war-torn country, she added. (Genalyn D. Kabiling)

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