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Rejection of all-out war divides senators

By: - Reporter / @KatyYam
/ 02:31 AM October 24, 2011

Senators are split over whether President Benigno Aquino III is right in rejecting an all-out war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), but all agree the government’s response to the rebel attacks should be swift.

“Nobody said it would be easy,” said Sen. Gregorio Honasan, himself a former rebel leader, describing Mr. Aquino’s decision to pursue peace.

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Honasan said in a phone interview the government’s response should be to draft a comprehensive and long-term peace policy similar to that carried out in the Ramos administration.

The former Army colonel also proposed the creation of a joint monitoring and policing mechanism or task force with the MILF that would anticipate ceasefire violations, including those by splinter groups, and prevent misencounters.

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“During the time of President (Fidel) Ramos, we enjoyed uninterrupted political stability due to the competence of peace negotiators like Haydee Yorac. We spent P12 million to come up with the National Unification Commission,” Honasan said.

He said the commission had issued recommendations to guide peace negotiators. While he said that Malacañang reported that the recommendations were being used as reference, he did not see them being applied.

“There should be a formula for an automatic response and there should be no hesitation in applying this. All these are but part of the more important aspect of the peace process,” he explained.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said rogue members and breakaway groups of the MILF comprised the single biggest obstacle in talking peace.

Vicious cycle

“What actually justifies an all-out war is the annoying common experience of our troops in not being able to distinguish the real MILF fighters involved in the peace talks from those they conveniently refer to as renegades and rogues simply because they are one and the same,” Lacson said in a text message.

“This is the main reason why our soldiers are losing many battles against the MILF,” he fumed, recalling his own field experience in Mindanao as then director general of the Philippine National Police.

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“It has become a vicious cycle—the rogues conduct atrocities, kidnap civilians or attack and ambush our troops, then seek refuge within the confines of the MILF encampment or ‘territories,’” said Lacson, chair of the Senate defense committee.

“How can we have real and lasting peace when we allow an organized group to bear arms and worse, unofficially allow their belligerency status,” he asked.

“Renewed peace negotiations have become an arena for posturing by the MILF … Our peace negotiators should now wake up to that reality,” Lacson said.

Frustration

“Imagine the frustration of the Army Special Forces in not being able to rescue and save the lives of their six captured men only because they were not supposed to encroach into an off-limits zone,” Lacson said.

“The MILF admitted they killed the soldiers. It’s about time the government decides to wage an all-out war,” Senate Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada said. “Unless we do so, we could lose more soldiers, possibly every month.”

“And why would we allow the MILF to make demands at this point? They even insist on talks outside the country. Why?  I don’t think they still have the right to make demands,” said the senator, whose father, former President Joseph Estrada waged an all-out war against the MILF in 1999.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan said in a text message that peace talks could continue even as government forces “show no mercy for the murderous lost commands.”

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III cautioned that civilians would count among most of the casualties in an all-out war.

Pimentel suggested “the surgical operations approach” similar to those used by the British government against Irish Republican Army rebels in Ireland.

“The government should not allow the so-called MILF territory to be used as a sanctuary for criminals. The government must show that it is capable of enforcing our laws over every inch of the territory,” he stressed.

Coup rumors

In the House of Representatives, San Juan Rep. JV Ejercito urged the President to address the falling morale of the military amid talk of a coup d’etat because of his “tepid” reaction to the massacre of 19 soldiers last week.

“The speculations about a coup plot should not be set aside. The President must address the seeming demoralization in the military because other forces may use the incident to launch destabilization plot,” Ejercito said.

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone dismissed such suggestions, saying Mr. Aquino’s high popularity rating would dissuade soldiers from mounting a power grab.

Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello said the President should send a strong message against groups toying with the peace process.

“He should show that he is in command of the AFP and make sure that peace process would not be sabotaged,” Bello said.

In a statement, Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño called on officers with little regard for their Commander in Chief to resign.

Treachery

Retired Navy Commodore Rex Robles wondered why Malacañang and the Department of National Defense had not condemned the MILF attack.

“It’s very clear that treachery was involved,” Robles said in a phone interview. “You captured people and murdered them in cold blood. That’s against the Geneva Convention.”

“There are things that the President does not allow to go unchallenged,” said Robles, a member of the commission that looked into the 2003 Oakwood mutiny. “He should not have let go of this unchallenged to show that his instincts as Commander in Chief are in the right place.”

Also Sunday morning, hundreds of Christians and Muslims walked barefoot at Quezon City Memorial Circle in support of Mr. Aquino’s peace policy.

“Emotions should not rule over reason in unjustly declaring all-out war against the MILF until the brains behind the murder are positively identified,” said Mujiv Hataman, who is aspiring to become officer in charge of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. With reports from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., TJ Burgonio and Nancy C. Carvajal

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TAGS: all-out-war, MILF renegades, MILF rouges, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Moro rebel attacks, peace process, President Benigno Aquino III, Sen. Gregorio Honasan, Senators’ reaction to MILF attacks
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