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Group taking advantage of calls for all-out war, says Valte

Abigail Valte INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

A group is taking advantage of the crisis sparked by the killing of 19 soldiers by Moro rebels in Al-Barka, Basilan, last week, President Benigno Aquino III’s deputy spokesperson said Tuesday.

Abigail Valte said that the group, which she did not want to name, was “spreading misinformation” and “trying to arouse the emotions” of the people, including the military, and that Malacañang was “aware” of its efforts.

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“What we can confirm is that there are people who are trying to take advantage of the situation. To what end, we don’t know,” Valte said at a press briefing in reply to a question on whether the Palace had heard of a destabilization plot against the administration.

“I wouldn’t go as far as calling it destabilization because it’s not at that level. It’s really more of taking advantage,” she said, adding that “what we’re sure of is there is nothing more than political means.”

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Danilo Lim, a former brigadier general and now deputy customs commissioner for intelligence, went so far as to say that forces loyal to former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo were using calls for Mr. Aquino to escalate hostilities in Mindanao against Moro rebels to destabilize his administration.

Aquino’s statement

Lim, who had mounted coup attempts in the 1980s against the administration of Mr. Aquino’s mother, President Corazon Aquino, said intelligence information pointed to Arroyo loyalists as riding on the demand for all-out war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Valte told reporters that President Aquino raised the matter in a statement he read the other day, where he spelled out his administration’s position on the Basilan crisis.

She said the President mentioned this in his statement because Malacañang had received information on the purported group’s intent to agitate the people.

“Let me remind everyone that there are those who will try to use [the killing of the soldiers] to gain political leverage and further agitate the public,” Mr. Aquino said on Monday. “Rash decisions fueled by a thirst for vengeance can only serve to dishonor the memory of the 19 brave souls who died last week, and the many others lost in our efforts to win the peace,” he said.

Mr. Aquino made the statement in the course of making clear that he was declaring, not all-out war against the MILF, but “all-out justice” for the 19 soldiers killed in Basilan.

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He also said the ongoing military operations in Zamboanga Sibugay were directed at members of the Abu Sayyaf bandit group, which the government was hunting for the murder of the soldiers.

Not a threat

He added that the government was not after the MILF, and that the rebel group was in fact helping the government in hunting down the 10 wanted Abu Sayyaf members now contained in Zamboanga Sibugay.

At the briefing, Valte was asked whether the moves of the group to “take advantage” of the situation was sufficiently threatening for the administration.

She said she “did not get that sense.”

Asked whether the government would monitor the group, she said the matter would be left to the intelligence community “to determine.”

But Lim, who had also been jailed for mounting a coup attempt against the Arroyo administration, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer: “The forces of GMA (Arroyo) are egging soldiers [to support an all-out war declaration].

“They are agitating for an all-out war. They’re telling the soldiers: ‘Look at our President now. What kind of a Commander in Chief is he?’”

Lim said this was the offshoot of the string of criminal cases that the Aquino administration had filed and would file against Arroyo, her husband and son, and key allies.

“They won’t take it sitting down,” he said.

Lim named two men who, he said, were on the radar of intelligence men as being involved in the campaign to use the military debacles in Mindanao as a tool to project Mr. Aquino as a weak Commander in Chief.

He said other prominent persons known to be loyal to Arroyo were also involved, but that he would not name them as yet.

“Let’s just put it this way: We know what they’re doing,” he said. “They’re on a campaign to agitate the soldiers.”

Clear mandate

Lim said he saw no reason today to mount a coup against the Aquino administration because “it has a clear mandate.”

He said he joined a movement to unseat Arroyo in the past “because it was an illegitimate government, in the first place.”

He also said the solution to the violence in Mindanao lay not in an all-out war but in “law enforcement.”

“All we need to do is enforce the law,” Lim said. “Seize illegal firearms, raid criminal hideouts wherever they are.”

In another interview, Lim reiterated that the military should focus on bringing to justice those behind the massacre of the soldiers.

“Let’s just implement the law in this case. Whoever did this should be arrested,” he said.

He reiterated that “some quarters” with links to the Arroyo administration were behind the coup talks within the military.

“These are some quarters associated with the previous administration,” Lim said when asked who he was warning against in his statement on Monday urging soldiers to ignore coup plots.

“I stand by the President and we should support him,” he added. With reports from Tony S. Bergonia and Philip C. Tubeza

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TAGS: Abigail Valte, Attacks, Benigno Aquino III, Government, Military, Mindanao
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