MADRID -- Pilloried at home over extrajudicial killings and allegations of police harassment of the media, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo received an accolade from King Juan Carlos I of Spain for the Philippines? role as a human rights defender with its abolition of the death penalty.
The Spanish king spoke at a gala dinner in honor of Ms Arroyo and her husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, at the Palacio Real de Madrid (Royal Palace) on Monday.
He also credited the Philippines with ?opening the way to democracy in Asia.?
The king cited the Philippines for being at ?the forefront of liberties and the defense of human rights with the abolition of the death penalty, a gesture which gave us satisfaction? and which was ?applauded by the international community.?
A Spanish-Filipino national, Francisco Juan ?Paco? Larrańaga, was among the beneficiaries of the Philippine decision in 2006 to scrap capital punishment. He was convicted in 2004 of the kidnap-rape slay of the sisters Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong in Cebu City.
The Spanish king?s tribute to the Philippines contrasted with the Arroyo administration?s tarnished image among human rights groups at home and abroad as a result of continuing killings of political militants, which have remained largely unsolved.
The administration?s image further suffered last week when the Philippine police detained dozens of journalists who refused to obey their order to withdraw from the Peninsula Manila hotel during an assault on a group of rebel soldiers.
Model for Asians
Present during Monday?s dinner were Queen Sofia de Grecia, the crown prince and princess, select members of the Spanish royal court, Spanish government officials, and members of Ms Arroyo?s delegation, led by Senators Edgardo Angara, Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Juan Miguel Zubiri.
The Spanish monarch described the establishment of diplomatic relations between Spain and the Philippines 60 years ago as a ?model which other countries in the (Asian) region have fortunately adopted.?
Speaking in Spanish, the king said the model was based on justice, liberty and respect for human rights.
400 years of friendship
Referring to the problem of terrorism and insurgency, King Carlos said the Philippines, and Spain -- both victims of terror attacks -- were united against common threats which required both bilateral and multilateral action.
He talked about cooperation with the Philippines in the fight against terror, ?drawing on all the instruments of the rule of law.?
Ms Arroyo spoke in Spanish after the king?s remarks. At presstime, no translated copy had been given to Filipino reporters covering her state visit.
King Carlos cited the friendship between the countries ?which has lasted more than four centuries.?
?In fact, some of the beautiful pages of Spanish literature were written in the Philippines,? he said.
A second home
King Carlos also talked about Filipino national hero Jose Rizal, whose martyrdom triggered the Filipino uprising that eventually ended the 300-year Spanish colonization of the island archipelago.
He said the country that Rizal had described as the ?Pearl of the Orient? had been ?privileged by nature.?
Speaking at the Madrid City Hall, where she accepted the symbolic key to the city, Ms Arroyo talked of Spain as a second home to 50,000 Filipinos. She spoke of the ?deepness of the historical and cultural connection shared by Filipinos and Spanish people.?
Ms Arroyo noted that in the 19th century, Madrid had attracted talented Filipinos, such as Rizal.
She said it was in Madrid that Rizal started his novel, ?Noli Me Tangere,? which inspired the Philippine Revolution.
?It was also here in Madrid that our great artists, Juan Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, brought honor to the Filipino community, when they were still unknowns, during the celebration of the National Fine Arts Exposition,? Ms Arroyo said.
As a result, the Spanish Senate took care of the Luna masterpiece, ?Combate Naval de Lepanto,? which now adorns the halls of the Senate, alongside the masterpieces of great Spanish artists.
Ms Arroyo viewed the giant oil on canvass painting, completed in 1887, when she visited the Spanish Senate building on Monday.
Prior to the dinner, the Philippines and Spain signed agreements to increase cooperation in agriculture and fisheries, education, sports and culture, tourism and renewable energy such as solar and wind.
Trade Secretary Peter Favila said some deals involving port operations, a brewery and new hotels could be finalized before the end of the state visit.
Spain is the largest overseas development fund source in Europe for the Philippines, and ranks 31st on the country?s list of trading partners.