My job is to pursue peace – Digong
FORT MAGSAYSAY, Nueva Ecija – It’s his job as President to pursue peace with everybody, which was why he decided to call for the unilateral ceasefire with communist rebels.
President Duterte visited troops here on Tuesday to explain his decision to ask them to silence their arms against the communists whom they had been battling for years, a move he announced during his first State of the Nation Address on Monday.
Mr. Duterte also underscored his desire to pursue peace as well with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front, but said they must ensure they have no more ties with the Abu Sayyaf Group, or else the talks would be for naught.
According to the President, the unilateral ceasefire was not his decision alone, but was made with members of his Cabinet, including National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
“I am President that seeks peace with everyone. My job as President is not to look for fights, but to ensure there is no trouble in the country,” he said.
The military, for their part, are there to “guard the integrity of the Republic, to protect the people,” he said.
He also said that in the pursuit of peace, he would have to start with releasing leaders or giving them safe conduct passes, particularly to Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Ma. Sison and MNLF founder Nur Misuari, who is facing rebellion charges.
He said he wants talks with the communists and the Moro groups to be held simultaneously toward the end of the year.
Mr. Duterte also said he met with leftist leaders Monday night after his Sona, with military generals present, and asked them to call up Sison after laying his cards on the table.
“I’m waiting for his reply. We are in a wait and see situation,” he said.
Formal peace talks with communist leaders are slated to begin next month in Oslo, Norway. Before the talks, the government would work for the release of 11 detained communist leaders who would be joining the panel.
As for the MILF and MNLF, Mr. Duterte said he wants to hear from the group that they would have no more connection with the Abu Sayyaf Group.
According to him, the arms that the Abu Sayyaf have were from the Moro groups.
“If they are still connected with Abu Sayyaf, I do not think there will be a significant result,” he said.
If the peace talks fail, said Mr. Duterte, the military would be ready to take action.
“We will be ready. We will be ready for instant failure,” he said.
To much applause, the President also promised to give the soldiers the equipment they need as well as to increase their salary and eventually double it.
They would enjoy the increases incrementally, and it would start next month, he said.
He said he directed Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno to look for a way to get soldiers to get the increases, or else he would lose face.
He also reiterated his promise that none of them would go to jail for doing their jobs, a similar vow he had made to the police.
“I cannot make you happy, but I can guarantee you, remember this afternoon, I can make your lives comfortable,” he said.
Mr. Duterte’s Fort Magsaysay visit is the latest stop in his tour of military camps.
Last week, he visited camps in Basilan, Zamboanga, and in Maguindanao./ac
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