Palace defends PNoy's meeting with Assad's adviser

By Alexis Romero, The Philippine Star

Posted at Feb 04 2013 08:47 AM | Updated as of Feb 04 2013 04:47 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang yesterday defended President Aquino’s meeting with a senior official of Syrian president Bashar Assad, saying it was meant to ensure the safety of Filipino migrant workers in the war-torn country.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the meeting was about the continuing concern of getting migrant workers out of the danger zone.

“We know our priorities and the President acts according to the interest of our OFWs who are there,” she said.

Valte made the statement after she was asked to comment to a report by The STAR that some diplomats were reacting negatively to Aquino’s recent meeting with Assad’s political and media adviser Bouthaina Shaaban.

“The Secretary of Foreign Affairs had already explained that the particular representative was very instrumental in helping the country get our Filipino workers out of Syria,” she said.

Diplomatic sources earlier said the President might have made a wrong move when he met with Shaaban, said to be the most influential in Assad’s circle.

“If we are a responsible member of the international community we will not do that,” a diplomat said referring to the high level welcome accorded to Shaaban.

Sources noted the United States (US) and the European Union (EU) have slapped sanctions on Assad’s government to pressure it to stop its violent crackdown on rebels.

“One aspect is the US and EU sanctions and it might be interpreted as defying the EU and the US. We can look at it that way,” said another diplomat.

Malacañang earlier clarified the government has not made any commitment to help Syria, and that it is merely concerned about the condition of the Filipino workers.

Last week, The STAR reported that Assad was seeking the Philippines’ help in crafting a political solution to the conflict in Syria.

Officials confirmed the report but denied that Assad was seeking political asylum or financial help.