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Palace says P-Noy gave P5 million to MILF

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang confirmed yesterday that President Aquino had authorized the release of a P5-million “donation” to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) during his meeting with the group’s leader in Japan last month. 

The rebel group was asked to liquidate the amount.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda, who earlier in the day denied demanding an explanation from MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ibrahim on how the money was spent, revealed that the P5 million was a “commitment” of the previous Arroyo administration to which Secretary Ging Deles had also served as adviser for the peace process.

“This is an institution-building capacity measure, which we found worth pursuing,” Lacierda told radio station dzBB.

The spokesman said the money was for the establishment of a Bangsamoro Management and Leadership Institute (BMLI), where the Muslim rebel group plans to train future leaders.

Lacierda backtracked later when interviewed by radio station dzMM and said that the government wanted an accounting of the money.

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“The government, through (chief government negotiator) Marvic Leonen, is asking for accountability. We will be expecting some report on the outcome of the P5 million, where it went,” he said.

Lacierda said the President had described as “malicious” the text messages going around that the government released a total of P5 billion – not P5 million as they stated – to the Muslim rebel group.

He lamented that such text messages are aimed at agitating the soldiers on the ground.

“The President believes that those who protect the state, those who defend the state, must be given the advance and the benefits that are due to them,” he said, brushing aside criticisms the P5 million could have helped buy soldiers’ ammunition and feed the poor.

Leonen said he handed the P5-million check to Murad during their formal exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur on Aug. 22-23, and this was even announced during the press conference.

He said the establishment of BLMI was discussed during negotiations at the 10th Formal Exploratory Talks in February 2006.

It was finalized and formally agreed upon during the 14th formal exploratory talks held on Nov. 14-15, 2007, with funding commitment from the Philippine government to jumpstart the institute’s operations.

It was registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission, enabling it to receive assistance from donor institutions such as the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

JICA gave funds for the construction of the building that will house the institute. In 2000, Asia Foundation provided support for a series of workshops to draw up the vision and organizational structure of the BLMI.

Leonen said President Aquino approved the appropriation for the BLMI during the consultation with the panel early this year.

“During his one-on-one meeting with MILF chair Murad in Tokyo last Aug. 5, the President again expressed his support to the BLMI. He then instructed the peace panel to hand the check to the Moro group,” he said.

Leonen said the government will remain steadfast in finding a peaceful solution to the armed conflict.

“We will not let false reports undermine the peace process. I urge the public to stay heedful of what is happening and analytical of the information that they receive,” he said.

MILF: We’re using the money

In a separate radio interview with dzRH, MILF political affairs chief Ghadzali Jaafar confirmed that they received money in Japan but this remains “intact” in a bank where they “deposited” the full amount.

Jaafar also confirmed that the money was for the construction of a building for the BMLI in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, which is now being implemented.

Jun Mantawil, chief secretariat of the MILF’s peace panel, said the P5-million check from Leonen was a stalled commitment by the previous administration and was fulfilled by the Aquino government.

Mantawil said they are amazed at stories circulating that the MILF received P5 billion from President Aquino when they met in Japan.

“Apparently that’s a very malicious disinformation campaign,” he said.

Mantawil and Jaafar both refuted insinuations that their central committee could have spent the P5 million for the firearms and ammunition that their members used in recent encounters with government forces in Basilan, Zamboanga peninsula and Lanao del Norte.

“This malicious disinformation campaign is being done by those who want to sabotage the ongoing (Mindanao) peace process and the negotiations between the government and the MILF,” Mantawil said.

Civilians all accounted for

Meanwhile, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) deployed truckloads of relief goods for civilians who evacuated in several areas in Zamboanga Sibugay due to the ongoing military operations against the MILF rogue rebels.

Elizabeth Dy, chief operation officer of the Zamboanga DSWD regional office, said the relief assistance will also be deployed for the rest of the evacuees in four other towns adjacent to Payao where the military operation has been ongoing against wanted rebel leader Waning Abdusalam.

The towns affected are Alicia, in the mainland; Talusan, Mabuhay and Olutanga in Olutanga Island off Zamboanga Sibugay.

DSWD reported that it has already recorded close to 20,000 civilians who evacuated – 11,593 evacuees in Zamboanga Sibugay areas and 7,888 in Basilan province.

Based on DSWD reports, at least 21 barangays were affected in at least the five most affected towns in Zamboanga Sibugay while nine villages, all in Al-Barka town, were affected by the hostilities.

The evacuees are sheltered in evacuation centers like schools, churches and day care centers in the five affected towns of the province, while those affected in Al-Barka were housed in the evacuation center in nearby Tipo-Tipo town in Basilan.

Zamboanga Sibugay Gov. Rommel Jalosjos said the civilians affected by the air strikes in the province have all been accounted for and taken care of by the local government.

Japanese Ambassador Toshinao Urabe expressed serious concern over the armed clashes in Mindanao and extended condolences to the families of those who lost their lives.

“The recent firefights are a source of serious concern for me because it is jeopardizing the peace process,” Urabe said.

Japan is a member of the International Monitoring Team in Mindanao and has been supporting the peace talks for over a decade.

“It is my sincere wish that all parties respect the ceasefire and call upon the government of the Philippines and the MILF to continue their efforts to advance the peace talks for the peace and prosperity of the whole community,” he said. – John Unson, Rodel Clapano, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Helen Flores, Pia Lee-Brago

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