Basilan Island, June 8, 2001 - Malacañang is studying whether to allow civilians in Sulu and Basilan to carry arms to defend themselves from Abu Sayyaf bandits.
This developed as President Arroyo awarded P1 million yesterday to the widow of retired Army Lt. Col. Fernando Bajet, who was killed last Saturday while helping government troops drive out Abu Sayyaf rebels from the Jose Torres Memorial Hospital in Lamitan, Basilan.
In ceremonies at Malacañang, Bajetís widow Edna and their children were presented to Mrs. Arroyo by Social Welfare and Development Secretary Dinky Soliman, Armed Forces chief Gen. Diomedio Villanueva and Army commander Lt. Gen. Jaime de los Santos.
The P1 million was Bajetís reward for killing Abu Sayyaf commander Yusop Jalal. Bajet, 55, won as councilor of Lamitan town in the May 14 elections.
Earlier, Mrs. Arroyo offered P5 million for anyone who can give information that would lead to the capture of an Abu Sayyaf leader, and P1 million for each member of the bandit group.
National Security Adviser Roilo Golez told reporters yesterday Malacañang will refer to the Armed Forces the request of Basilan and Sulu residents to bear arms in self-defense.
"We will study (arming civilians) but we will seriously consider any proposal coming from the AFP because the military knows better the situation on the ground," he said. "They are the ones who know best how we can fight the Abu Sayyaf. But of course, we will consider the other implications."
However, Golez said Malacañang has not yet received any official or formal request from people in Basilan and Sulu that they be allowed to carry arms.
"It has not reached official discussion yet but we will take it up in the Cabinet Cluster E (on national security and defense) the moment it is formally submitted," he said.
Presidential Spokesman Rigoberto Tiglao, for his part, said any proposal to arm civilians in Basilan and Sulu to fight the Abu Sayyaf may trigger charges that the Arroyo administration is encouraging vigilantism.
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
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