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Gloria forays into bandits’stronghold,

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 Gloria forays into bandits’stronghold,

Posted:10:27 PM (Manila Time) | June 18, 2001 

By Alexander M. Young and Julie Alipala-Inot
Inquirer News Service 

ZAMBOANGA CITY--Defying the advice of her officials, President Macapagal-Arroyo yesterday flew to the Abu Sayyaf heartland and announced that the government would not ease up on its pursuit of the bandit group. 

She visited Lamitan in Basilan, site of the bandit attack on June 2, to inspect the damage done to the St. Peter’s Parish Church and the Dr. Jose Maria Torres Foundation Hospital. 

Welcomed by a throng of residents, she distributed scholarship grants, medicines, equipment and financial help amounting to some P50 million. 

She hugged a weeping Tarsila Malonzo, mother of a nurse kidnapped from the hospital, and said the government was doing everything possible to get Malonzo’s daughter back alive. 

"I know we are not capable of immediately bringing back the atmosphere of peace and calm that has been shattered here," she told residents during the two-hour visit. "I ask for sacrifice and apologize." 

Later, speaking before reporters at the Mansion House of the Armed Forces’ Southern Command in this city, the President summed up the "effectiveness of the unceasing military operations and the no-ransom policy of the government." 

She said key population centers in Basilan--Lamitan, Tuburan, Tipo-Tipo, Lantawan and Maluso--had been secured and the positions of the Abu Sayyaf pinpointed despite the vast terrain. 

"We shall keep the strategy of continuous pressure," she declared. "We shall not surrender the combat initiative to the enemy." 

Ms Macapagal said the position of the government could not be compromised despite attempts of the Abu Sayyaf to negotiate by promising the release of more hostages. 

She was referring to a letter delivered to her Saturday by freed hostage Francis Ganzon, the contents of which Abu Sayyaf spokesperson Abu Sabaya reiterated in another call to Radio Mindanao Network yesterday afternoon. 

"We shall not relax our guard," Ms Macapagal said, adding that the government had the support of the international community. 

"I have to do what I have to do, and operations must continue," she said. 

She noted that negotiations for ransom would only bring about "the Sipadan syndrome"--a reference to last year’s hostage crisis wherein the Abu Sayyaf received hundreds of millions of pesos in exchange for the release of mostly European tourists abducted from a Malaysian island. 

The President later flew to Puerto Princesa City, where she said the May 27 kidnappings at the Dos Palmas resort underscored the need for the modernization of the Armed Forces. 

"One reason the bandits were not caught immediately after the abductions is the ships of the Philippine Navy are already old. If the bandits have a boat that runs 40 knots, our boats run only 18 knots. Do you know that those vessels (date back to) the term of my father (President Diosdado Macapagal)?" 



Earlier, the President visited the Southcom hospital to meet with soldiers and civilian volunteers wounded during the military operations in Basilan and Sulu. 

She distributed medals and citations to the soldiers who occupied two wards of the hospital, including the intensive care unit. 

There was a fiesta-like atmosphere in Lamitan, where the President, accompanied by First Gentleman Mike Arroyo and officials including Interior Secretary Joey Lina, National Security Adviser Roilo Golez and Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes, was welcomed by Basilan Gov. Wahab Akbar and Mayor Inocente Ramos. 

She met with local officials and military and police commanders, and handed a P2-million check to parish priest Fr. Cirilo Nacorda for the rehabilitation of the bullet-riddled church. 

Ms Macapagal then proceeded to the Lamitan Claret Elementary School to present scholarship grants and financial help to victims of the siege and their relatives. 

In a speech, she extolled the bravery of the soldiers and civilians of Lamitan, promised justice for all the victims of the siege, and said the government would not stop in its efforts to rehabilitate the town and the whole of Basilan. 

The President then had a closed-door meeting with the Basilan Crisis Management Committee headed by Akbar. 

No ransom

In Zamboanga, the President denied that ransom was paid for the release of hostages Ganzon and Kimberly Jao Uy. 

She said she had not received reports that the hostages’ relatives were secretly negotiating with the bandits. 

"We don’t know that for a fact. We discourage them, and we’ll not support their efforts," she said. 

She dismissed reports that the military "allowed" the Abu Sayyaf bandits to escape the military cordon in Lamitan, and denied that the military withdrew the troops instead of engaging the bandits in battle. 

"These are rumors," she said, adding that the military would investigate the matter. 

"As in any operation, there is a post-mortem assessment of what happened. Of course they will look into it," she said. 

The President said she had directed AFP Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Diomedio Villanueva to relentlessly pursue the bandit group. 

Villanueva himself said the military had an "an adequate force to combat the extremists." 

Ms Macapagal also said the government had sufficient funds for the war effort in Basilan and Sulu. But she refused to give figures. 

In Puerto Princesa, the President said it was time to implement the AFP’s modernization program, "so that things like this do not happen again." 

She met with the families of Armando Bayona and Sonny Dacquer, security guard and cook at Dos Palmas, whom the bandits had killed. 

She also made sure that Dos Palmas would employ Jovelyn, Dacquer’s pregnant wife, as part of the resort’s help to the families of the victims. 

In a speech before more than 1,000 residents, Ms Macapagal 
noted that "it is not only the people that the Abu Sayyaf has taken hostage, but Palawan’s tourism as well." 


In his call to RMN, Sabaya asked for Justice Secretary Hernando Perez to serve as a negotiator and for the government to call off the military operations. 

The proposal was apparently included in the letter that Ganzon delivered to Ms Macapagal, but her spokesperson Rigoberto Tiglao said the letter included other names. 

"We agree to renegotiate the release of the hostages," Sabaya told RMN in Taglish. "Perhaps it’s not too late. There are still many lives that the government has to save." 

He added: "If Nani Perez joins the talks--of course, with the stopping of the military operations, for after all, how can Nani Perez enter with the military there?--we promise to release some of the hostages." 

Perez told RMN that he would consult with Ms Macapagal and that he did not know why Sabaya specified him. 

"I was really surprised by the request," he said. "I don’t know whether the President will agree." 

Asked if he was ready to negotiate, Perez said: "Yes, with permission from the President." But he said he wanted to speak with the Abu Sayyaf personally, and not by phone. --With reports from Geraldford P. Ticke; AP 
©2001 all rights reserved


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