NO COMBAT FOR U.S. STROOPS IN JOLO -- PALACE  

Manila, Feb. 22, 2003 -- Malacanang restated today its firm position that American soldiers will not be allowed to engage in combat operations against the Abu Sayyaf bandits in Mindanao.

In an interview, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said that reports about the go-signal for American troops to join in the fight against the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu were based on a supposed interview with an unnamed source in the Pentagon.

Bunye said that this source, who obviously was misinformed, wanted to make it appear that he was knowledgeable, and that what he was saying was factual. Unfortunately, the CNN, the New York Times and other American media outlets picked up his claim without checking its veracity, he added.

"Kaya, nakuryente rin sila," Bunye said, meaning that they (media outlets) were burned out because they carried erroneous information.

He also bewailed the propensity of some of our officials to immediately comment on something that has not been verified. "Huwag na man sanang sakay ng sakay ang ating mga legislators (We wish that our legislators would not just ride on this wrong information)," Bunye said.

Bunye reiterated that the Balikatan 03-1, scheduled in Sulu and Zamboanga City, is a joint training activity by Philippine and American military forces, and is basically similar to Balikatan 02-1 which was held in Basilan last year.

Like in Basilan, the Sulu Balikatan will also have a development or civic action component. "This will be a peace and development initiative as much as a training exercise," Bunye said.

Bunye said that Balikatan 03-1 will be conducted in accordance with the Philippine Constitution and all existing laws, and since the Constitution and existing laws prohibit foreign forces from engaging in combat duties in the country, hence the American soldiers would not be allowed to join in the actual military operations against the Abu Sayyaf.

He also assured the nation that all US forces in the Balikatan would be under the direct supervision of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and all their operations and activities will be coordinated with the local officials in Sulu.

"The bottom line here is that there will be no aggressive combat role for American troops in Sulu," Bunye stressed. (Star)


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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