Sunday, October 23, 2011

P-Noy vows justice for slain soldiers

MANILA, Philippines - While maintaining that an all-out war with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) would cost too much “in blood,” President Aquino vowed on Friday to give justice to the 19 soldiers who were killed by MILF rebels in Basilan last Tuesday.

Aquino made the commitment as he condoled with the families and relatives of the slain soldiers on Friday.

“For all those who were responsible for the death of these soldiers, I warn you the government will not let this pass, we will hunt you down and give justice to the victims,” Aquino told reporters at the Libingan ng mga Bayani late Friday.

“I am not promising anything, it is not my style to impose deadlines of 24 or 48 hours, but I guarantee that the state will hunt them down to attain justice,” he said.

Aquino visited the wake of the 15 slain soldiers whose bodies were flown in from Mindanao.

The 15 caskets arrived late Friday after the cargo plane brought the remains of some of the slain soldiers to Davao and Cagayan de Oro City. Arriving in Fort Bonifacio, the bodies were given full military honors.

Aquino’s two sisters Ballsy and Viel joined in condoling with the grieving families.

“I expressed my sincerest condolences on behalf of the people. I also expressed to them my deepest appreciation of the heroism and sacrifice they have shown in answering the call of duty. I made a promise to them that I would give them justice,” Aquino said.

Aquino noted the calls of the grieving relatives to launch an all-out war with the MILF.

Aquino virtually rejected such calls, saying the government is only going after the lawless elements.

“Now if we are going to pursue them, we must be clear as to who we are pursuing. We cannot follow what others are suggesting that we attack everyone, what kind of a decision is that when you attack everyone including those who are keeping their peace,” Aquino said.

“So maybe a good headline would be, how much would the price of those proposals (for an all-out war) be in blood? I think we all have the responsibility to think about things properly and make a decision calmly,” he added.

Aquino maintained an all-out war with the MILF would cost too high a price “in blood,” even as he ordered targeted strikes against rebels behind the attacks.

Aquino said an investigation is ongoing and the results are expected next week.

He said the government would not just go after those behind the attack but also sanction erring military officials who will be proven to be negligent.

Aquino also warned that those who would try to help the lawless elements would taste the government’s wrath and no one would be spared.

The MILF had owned up to the attacks in Basilan last Tuesday, claiming the soldiers encroached into their territory in violation of the ceasefire agreement.

The MILF also accused the government of attacking rebel positions in Zamboanga Sibugay that triggered the retaliatory attack on Friday that killed eight soldiers and policemen.

MILF spokesman Von Al-Haq claimed the military launched air and ground offensives on rebel positions at Sitio Taib, Barangay Labatan in Payao town in Zamboanga Sibugay, in total disregard of the ceasefire.

He claimed the military launched howitzer attacks while MILF forces were praying in their shelters.

He said government troops crawled near rebel enclaves after the bombardment and engaged guerillas in a firefight.

“Civilians were forced to evacuate to safer areas,” Al-Haq said.

Al-Haq said yesterday’s artillery and ground offensives were preceded by Friday’s air bombing of the area.

Al-Haq said the MILF is holding on to Malacañang’s announcement that there will be no military retaliations for the deaths of the soldiers in Basilan last week.

“The Armed Forces (of the Philippines) is doing the opposite,” he said.

Al-Haq said members of the International Monitoring Team and the joint ceasefire committee are now investigating the Basilan encounter.

The MILF also urged the military and police to allow law enforcement and peacekeeping mechanisms under the ceasefire agreement to address the issue.

Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF vice chairman for military affairs, said government officials who are not in any way involved in resolving the security problems in Mindanao should stop issuing provocative and inflammatory statements that could inflame the situation.

Jaafar said it would be best to allow the Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, which is comprised of representatives of the MILF, the military and the Philippine National Police (PNP), to work out measures than can stave off any escalation of hostilities in the area.

“The government and MILF peace panels also have the Ad-Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) which is to look into crimes permeating in areas covered by the ceasefire,” Jaafar said.

The PNP, for its part, said it would conduct a parallel investigation into the killing of the 19 soldiers in Basilan.

The PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) led by Chief Superintendent Samuel Pagdilao will coordinate the investigation with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the government peace panel.

Pagdilao said the CIDG investigation would focus on gathering evidence and building up the case against the suspects.

Demoralized?

On the other hand, troops in Basilan have been ordered to stand down following the pronouncement of President Aquino dismissing calls for the suspension of the ceasefire and an all-out war against the MILF.

Thousands of villagers were forced to leave their homes on fears of military retaliation against the rebels.

Wounded soldiers and some ground military forces, however, expressed dismay on the military leadership for blaming them for supposed “operational lapses” that led to the killing of the 19 soldiers.

“We have offered and sacrificed our lives and this is what we got. They should be blamed because they have been advised of the ground situation,” one soldier lamented.

Other soldiers were also disgusted over the relief of their commanders, taking note of the relief of Army spokesman Col. Antonio Parlade who earlier expressed his opinion that the government should temporarily suspend the ceasefire agreement with the MILF and go after the rebels responsible for the carnage of the soldiers in Basilan.

A group of policemen, the PNP Badge of Honor Foundation, expressed their support for the soldiers.

“Our mutual losses and experience deserve to be acknowledged or remembered with dignity, honor and respect even as we regroup to move forward... Let not our fallen heroes die in vain! Let us support our soldiers!” the group said in a statement.

Asked whether the soldiers were demoralized, Aquino said nobody would be happy over the incident and everyone was saddened.

“We are not going to stop going after lawless elements, not only here but in other areas. There are actually ongoing operations in Zamboanga Sibugay as we talk, these will not stop,” Aquino said.

“I want to convey that the state is ready to defend our countrymen anywhere and everywhere in the Philippines and areas that we are in control of, that are part of our territory,” he said.

Aquino said the ceasefire has been in effect for a long time now but there were other forces, like the Abu Sayyaf bandits, who are being hunted down.

“But I think it would be better if in the next operations, they are more ready and the presence of the government forces would be much felt,” Aquino said.

The better option is peace

The President said he has been doing everything to find peace in Mindanao and that an investigation must be completed first before pursuing those involved, even if the MILF had admitted that its members carried out the attacks.

“We cannot deal with speculations here. If we attack all of the MILF, they will be obliged to fight. When they fight, I believe that even those who are quiet, those who are respecting the ceasefire, will be guaranteed to fight and the battles will be continuous and a lot of civilians will be affected again,” Aquino said.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the “better option is still peace” and “we are not letting the lives, the sacrifices of our soldiers go to waste.”

Valte said there were existing mechanisms under the ceasefire agreement that could be used to resolve the matter.

“The military will be filing charges. Let us repeat, we are seeking justice at the right place, at the right time. We are not putting their sacrifices in vain. That was the farthest thing from the truth. We are seeking justice at the right place and at the right time,” Valte said.

Valte said they could understand the anger of the public, including ordinary citizens, but people must realize that “the human cost of war will be too great.”

“Believe us, we understand your feelings and sentiments. We are also part of the Filipino people, we are not different from you. But like what the President is saying, we need to think calmly so that we can lay down what we need to do. We cannot act haphazardly because if we do that, a lot of lives will be lost,” she said.

“So we need to be calm despite the rush of emotions to decide on our next steps,” Valte said. - Aie Balagtas See, John Unson, Roel Pareño, Perseus Echeminada - By Aurea Calica (Philstar News Service, www.philstar.com)

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PhilStar

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