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Palace defers to AFP questions on MILF's areas of temporary stay

Malacañang will defer to the Armed Forces of the Philippines the task of threshing out the claim of Army chief Lt. Gen. Arturo Ortiz that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front's so-called Areas of Temporary Stay (ATS) no longer exist.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the Palace is leaving it to the AFP and Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) on how to observe the ceasefire with the MILF.

“(From a) broader perspective, with respect to ATS and dealings with the MILF and lawless elements, we leave it with the AFP and the CCCH to operationalize those details. We will defer to the AFP," Lacierda said on government-run dzRB radio.

Besides, he said these issues will be discussed between the government and MILF peace panels in Malaysia.

Lacierda also said it is important that the government speak with only one voice on the matter to avoid any confusion.

“Since it’s an operation that requires the expertise of the AFP in conjunction with the CCCH in recognition of ceasefire agreement... mas maayos kung sila ang mag-uusap diyan," he added.

Earlier, Ortiz was quoted as saying the ATS no longer exists, even as he instructed troops in Basilan to continue pursuit operations especially against the lawless elements behind the murder of 19 soldiers in Basilan's Al-Barka town last October.

Ortiz said the ATS was established in 2007 as a result of the encounter in Basilan that resulted in the death of 14 Marines, 10 of whom were beheaded.

Because the 2007 operations had ended, he said the ATS should also have been terminated as well.

MILF should be frank

Lacierda also said the Palace expects the MILF to be “frank and forthright" with the government panel on the issue.

“We expect them to be at arm’s length with us in the peace panel negotiations. We’ve been very forthright and frank with them just as we expect them to be frank and forthright. We are hoping to move to more substantive issues of peace talks and that’s something we are looking forward to," he said.

Meanwhile, Lacierda said President Benigno Aquino III has yet to issue instructions to convene the National Security Council (NSC) to address the peace-and-order situation in Mindanao, as suggested by Vice President Jejomar Binay.

“We have no word yet on the NSC meeting. that’s being worked on. But the security cluster is already meeting on it. And the president has called for a meeting of some military and Cabinet officials. We look at this as a law enforcement measure," he said.

“I’m not sure if the president is set to convene the NSC. The security cluster is doing its job and the president is giving instructions to the appropriate security agencies," he added.

When asked if the Palace sees no need for the NSC meet at this time, he said, “right now the president has not made mention of any instruction to that effect." — LBG, GMA News
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