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GMA shakes off criticisms over Manero handshake

President Arroyo refused yesterday to wash her hands of her controversial meeting with convicted priest-killer Norberto Manero Jr.

And to prove that she believes she did nothing wrong, the President declared yesterday she was also ready to shake the hand of Abu Sabaya, the official spokesman for the Abu Sayyaf bandits.

"I will shake hands with Abu Sabaya if he surrenders. But if he won’t surrender, he will be killed," the President said at a press conference the other day at the Mansion House in Baguio City.

It was Sabaya who had announced that he would present the head of American hostage Jeffrey Craig Schilling to the President as a birthday gift last April 5. Schilling, held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf in the jungles of Sulu since August last year, was rescued by the military last Thursday. The Abu Sayyaf bandits were responsible for a spate of kidnappings and murders in Mindanao last year. The President has refused to negotiate with the group.

Schilling was flown to Baguio from Jolo, Sulu a day after his rescue.

Mrs. Arroyo denied charges that her three-month-old administration has "compartmentalized" the justice system by welcoming back Manero with a handshake and a greeting.

"Oh, it’s not compartmentalized," she snapped.

The President later clarified that by meeting Manero and ordering a review of the charges filed against him, she was not giving in to his "demands," but to his "wishes."

Mrs. Arroyo met with Manero on the 16th anniversary of the death of Italian missionary Tullio Favali, for whose killing Manero was convicted. Manero escaped from the Sarangani prison last month.

Anti-crime groups have expressed outrage over the President’s seemingly cordial meeting with Manero. – Marichu Villanueva

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