State of emergency an option in Basilan
- James Mananghaya () - December 16, 2009 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales yesterday ruled out the imposition of martial law to address violence in Basilan, but said that a state of emergency is a viable option.

He emphasized that a thorough review of the security situation in Basilan should be made before implementing a state of emergency in the island-province.

According to Gonzales, he met with Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad who earlier recommended the imposition of martial law in the province following the kidnapping of a school official and the mass jailbreak at the provincial jail over the weekend that left two people dead.

“I have talked with the bishop and I told him that martial law is something that we would be using sparingly. It’s a very serious tool of government that as much as possible we should not be using it too often and if we can avoid it at all,” Gonzales said.

He said Jumoad is now supporting a state of emergency in the province.

Gonzales refused to comment on whether he would support Jumoad’s recommendation.

“Basilan is a very unique place so that maybe we can just continue with the efforts that we are already doing in the area,” he said.

Gonzales explained a state of emergency in Basilan would mean the military is given direct orders to deal with the security problem in the province.

“The situation in Basilan is really very alarming and it has always been very alarming, so what I’m looking at now is the moment we say state of emergency or martial (law), that means focusing the burden of correcting the (security) problem in Basilan to purely military terms,” he said.

Gonzales stressed the situation in Basilan is different from that in Maguindanao that necessitated the imposition of martial law in the province.

He said the martial law enabled security forces to move against the primary suspects in the massacre of 57 people in the province last Nov. 23 as well as to contain the rebellion staged by militant forces supporting the Ampatuan family blamed for the carnage.

Gonzales though lamented that the government is soft in its approach to the kidnapping scourge in Basilan and Sulu.

He said authorities are using the procedures spelled out in the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in dealing with criminal groups such as the Abu Sayyaf.

“Unfortunately we unconsciously are encouraging kidnapping in some areas because we are actually using the technique of the peace process in dealing with kidnappers,” he said.

Gonzales said negotiations with kidnappers such as the Abu Sayyaf should be dealt with differently.

“Negotiating with them should be made in a different approach. You are dealing with criminals,” he said.

Gonzales urged the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process to have separate negotiation methods for criminals, which should be different from the approach of negotiating with rebel groups such as the MILF.

“When you are dealing with criminals, (you must bear in mind they are) hardened killers… and probably unconsciously we are actually feeding the kidnapping business by assuming this kind of method,” he said.

Show good faith

Malacañang, on the other hand, urged the MILF to show goodwill in the peace process by helping the government recapture the fugitives who broke out from the Basilan provincial jail last Sunday.

The fugitives included five MILF members and 14 Abu Sayyaf extremists.

MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu denied their involvement in the jailbreak but offered to help the government in its investigation of the incident.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said the MILF should take custody of the inmates and bring them back to the authorities.

“The MILF has vehemently denied involvement in this incident. We give them the benefit of the doubt and unless there’s overwhelming evidence that this was really an MILF-sanctioned activity, then the peace process will have to continue. We give the peace process a chance,” Remonde said.

Kabalu had admitted that one of the escapees, Dan Asnawi, is an MILF commander and the latter’s nephew reportedly led the rebels in springing the inmates.

Asnawi is facing murder charges for the beheading of 14 Marines in Al-Barka town in Basilan last year.

The military has accused the MILF of violating the peace truce when it attacked the Basilan jail and freed Asnawi.

Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Ben Dolorfino said their initial investigation revealed the attack was carried out by Long Malat Sulayman and Abu Sayyaf leader Puruji Indama.

“We have reliable intelligence information to prove our charges that the MILF rebels were responsible for the attack at the Basilan provincial jail to free their leader,” Dolorfino said.

Dolorfino also announced a bounty for each of the remaining 29 escapees amounting to a total of P10 million.

Dolorfino said they would also file a complaint before the joint ceasefire committee and order the MILF to turn over the fugitives.

He said the attack was a clear violation of the ceasefire agreement since a government installation was the subject of the attack.

“It was also a violation of the recent joint statement of the GRP-MILF panel that they will cooperate in ensuring the peace in affected areas,” Dolorfino said.

But Dolorfino stressed the incident would not affect the ongoing peace negotiations with the MILF. –With Marvin Sy, Roel Pareño

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