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Palace: No AFP demoralization

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang maintained yesterday that contrary to persistent reports, there is no massive demoralization in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) despite the deaths of 19 soldiers in Al Barka town in Basilan.

“We have not received any reports like that. We have no word from the AFP on the alleged demoralization. We have not heard of any reports to that end,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte clarified.

“We are all saddened by what happened. We are all affected by the loss of our 19 soldiers. And from the way we look at it, our soldiers also take this that we will continue to honor the memories of the fallen by moving forward and by pursuing peace,” Valte said over government-run radio dzRB.

She also disclosed that the government has already extended assistance, through the Presidential Management Staff, to the families of the slain 19 soldiers.

She said the Department of Budget and Management is scheduled to release P10 billion for the AFP modernization program, which will be done through special allotment release orders (SARO).

“We will charge it, again, on the 2010 and 2011 appropriations at P5 billion each,” said the Palace official.

Valte also clarified that the government is not blaming the soldiers for the Basilan encounter, following sentiments from the AFP that the government should not be too trusting on the Muslim rebels or the MILF, which has not complied with ceasefire agreements.

The P10-billion AFP modernization fund, according to her, would include procurement of armored personnel carriers for the Philippine Army (PA), radios and upgrade of other military equipment.

The Philippine Navy (PN) wanted to purchase a sealift vessel while the Philippine Air Force (PAF) plans to acquire one special mission aircraft and two light-lift aircraft amounting to P1.6 billion.

The PA also wants to purchase 32 five-ton bomb trucks and 55 special purpose vehicles.

The PAF, on the other hand, seeks to buy two search and rescue helicopters, 30 special purpose vehicles and 15 amphibian vehicles.

Valte clarified, however, that the release of the funds has nothing to do with the Basilan attacks, and have only been a matter of coincidence.

She said it was up to the AFP leadership to decide how to go after the Muslim rebels.

Speaking at the 113th Foundation Day of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) on Saturday, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa said President Aquino still envisions “a continued fight for peace” in Mindanao.

Ochoa pledged that the Aquino administration will properly equip, arm and train soldiers and future fighters so that their sacrifices will not be in vain.

“I know many of you knew the two brave heroes who gave their lives in Basilan, and it is only right that we mourn those who have passed on,” Ochoa, said, referring to 2nd Lt. Jose Delfin Keh and 1st Lt. Vladimir Maninang, who along with members of the Army’s Special Forces, died in Basilan.

He said the government’s goal has always been peace “because history has taught us no country has ever benefited from long drawn-out internal conflicts"

AFP behind P-Noy’s peace initiative

Hurt but unfazed by the latest development, the military defended President Aquino’s decision to stick to the peace talks with the MILF, saying armed offensives could result in more bloodshed and displacement of civilians

AFP spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr. said that while they grieve for their comrades who died during the recent clashes, they cannot allow their emotions to overwhelm them.

“We know that people are commiserating with members of the AFP. Their emotions are high. On our part, we feel that way, we are also humans but the answer is not through offensive, that we have to use the barrel of the gun to solve this,” Burgos told dzBB.

“We have to think of this carefully and we have persons in authority who know this better,” he added.

Burgos said launching attacks to avenge the death of soldiers could put the lives of innocent civilians in danger.

“If you want retaliation, we can retaliate but let’s see the casualties not only on the part of the armed forces and the other side but also to the Filipino people. The civilians in the area, the people who will be displaced, we have to study that, we have to consider those factors,” he said, stressing that the military continues to support peaceful ways to resolve the conflict with the MILF.

“War is not the answer. We know that the answer is through peace talks, we will continue to support all avenues leading to peaceful settlement of this conflict,” he said, emphasizing that an all-out war would only aggravate the situation.

CBCP urges P-Noy to boost soldiers’ morale

Meanwhile, an official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) urged President Aquino to boost the morale of soldiers deployed in war-torn Mindanao by showing his support for the troops.

Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, vice chairman of the CBCP’s Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, said the Aquino administration must protect the soldiers instead of staging an all-out war against the MILF.

“I think our soldiers now have low morale because they see that they don’t get the backing of the Chief Executive and they don’t feel that they are being protected by higher ups,” Arguelles said in an interview.

“There is no need to declare an all-out war but they (government leaders) should stop these killings. We will try to avoid war but of course they (soldiers) have to defend themselves,” the prelate added.

Arguelles agreed that the government should continue to work for a peace agreement with the MILF.

“We must try to achieve it (peace) by all means… we need to pursue the peace process even if there is an ongoing war, because there is no substitute for peace we must work for it,” he said. –Paolo Romero, Alexis Romero, Helen Flores, Rainier Allan Ronda, Christina Mendez, Artemio Dumlao

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By Delon Porcalla (The Philippine Star) Updated October 24, 2011 12:00 AM

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