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C. Mindanao pols, traders clamor anew for war games

COTABATO CITY — Central Mindanao’s political and business communities are clamoring anew for the conduct in the region of a joint Philippine-US military exercise to improve security and boost the area’s economy.


President Arroyo’s visit to Central Mindanao last Wednesday has fueled speculations that Malacañang is planning to host a Philippine-US war exercise in the region. Accompanying her were US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone and Admiral Tomas Fargo, commander-in-chief of the US Armed Forces in the Pacific.


"We might as well let the President know again, just as a reminder, that we are for the conduct of a war exercise in the region. We are in favor," said businessman Antonio Santos, vice president for Mindanao of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.


Santos said a military exercise involving US and local security forces would improve the capability of the government to curb the activities of terrorists and notorious kidnapping syndicates preying on Central Mindanao businessmen.


"Security problems and kidnapping threats have been stunting the economic growth of Central Mindanao," Santos said.


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In a random survey, 12 out of 14 Maguindanao mayors said they are in favor of the holding of a joint Philippine-US military exercise in the province.


"Cold water seemed to have been poured on us when President Arroyo said in a press conference at Maguindanao’s Awang airport last Wednesday that Ambassador Ricciardone and Admiral Fargo were with her entourage only to see for themselves development pro-jects in Central Mindanao, and not to plan a joint war exercise," said engineer Norie Unas, Maguindanao’s provincial administrator.


Unas, spokesman of Maguindanao Gov. Datu Andal Am—patuan who chairs the provincial peace and order council, said the provincial government is ready to host a joint war exercise in the province.


"We need to improve the peacekeeping capability of police and military forces in Maguindanao," he said.


The Mindanao Cross, a weekly newspaper published here by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate congregation, quoted North Cotabato Gov. Emmanuel Piñol yesterday as saying that he plans to convince Malacañang and the US embassy again to hold a joint military exercise in his province.


"North Cotabato is very much willing to host such a security venture between the US and Philippine governments," he said.

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