Quote for the Week..

"Why are the country’s political leaders quick to act on amending the Constitution to change nationalistic provisions for the benefit of foreigners or to extend their terms of office but are allergic to amending the Constitution to address the people’s aspirations for self-determination?" - Marvic Leonen,Dean of the UP College of Law, in a keynote address delivered at the 1st International Solidarity Conference on Mindanao; March 16-18, 2009 in Davao City, Philippines.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Manila stockpiles arms ahead of Malaysian withdrawal

MANILA, April 28 (Reuters) - The Philippines' military wants to boost its artillery in case violence breaks out when Malaysian peacekeepers start withdrawing next month from the southern region of Mindanao, classified documents showed on Monday.

In a letter to the defence department, seen by Reuters, Brigadier-General Jerry Jalandoni, the military's logistics chief, said he wanted an "emergency procurement" for nearly 1.6 billion pesos ($38 million) worth of artillery and explosives "in view of the crisis situation that may develop in Mindanao".

Malaysia will start withdrawing in stages the 41 unarmed soldiers it has deployed in the southern Philippines since 2004 amid complaints from Kuala Lumpur that long-running peace talks between Manila and Muslim insurgents are stuck in stalemate. Twenty-one Malaysian troops will be pulled out next month.

Contacted by Reuters, military chief General Hermogenes Esperon said the procurement of nearly 1,500 rockets used by helicopters, more than 16,000 rounds for 105mm howitzers and 70,000 rounds of 81mm and 60mm mortars was routine. "There's no crisis," Esperon said. "The procurement is part of our regular build-up. The armed forces must always be prepared for any contingency."

In his letter, Jalandoni asked the defence department to scrap the usually drawn-out bidding procedure for thousands of howitzer and mortar rounds, rockets and grenades in favour of an "emergency procurement" through negotiation. The Philippines has already promised not to break a 2003 truce with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Philippines' largest Muslim rebel group, but both sides have said the withdrawal of the Malaysians could jeopardise an uneasy peace. Based on government data, the number of skirmishes between soldiers and rebels had been reduced from nearly 700 incidents in 2002 to less than 20 after about 60 peace monitors from Malaysia, Brunei and Libya were deployed.

Analysts, however, believe that the ceasefire will likely hold because the Philippines has neither the finances nor the military capability to resume fully fledged operations against the 11,000-strong MILF. Some MILF field commanders have been telling comrades to abandon the peace process but by and large Muslims in the south appear unwilling to return to the cycle of violence that marred the region for nearly two generations before the 2003 ceasefire. The MILF has been in stop-start negotiations with the government for over a decade to end the near 40-year conflict, which has killed more than 120,000 people.

The most recent round of talks, brokered by Malaysia, has been stalled since December 2007 when the MILF accused the government of changing a number of consensus points in a proposed agreement on a Muslim homeland in the south of the mainly Catholic state. Although President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has repeatedly said she wants peace, hawks in her cabinet are opposed to giving large swathes of land to Muslims and politically powerful Christian clans in the south would certainly oppose a deal. (Reported by Manny Mogato)

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