US TROOPS TO JOLO NO MATTER WHAT PICHAY  

Zamboanga City, March 1, 2003 -- Rep. Prospero Pichay (Surigao del Sur), chairman of the House committee on defense, says the joint RP-US military operations in Sulu will push through in April with or without the approval of the province's political leaders and despite a threat against the American troops.

“It will definitely push through. It is just a matter of time,” he said in an interview after the chief of the AFP’s Southern Command briefed him and his committee members on the situation in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao.

Malacañang and its military officials had sealed their lips on the issue after reports that natives on Sulu island might exact revenge for the death of their forefathers who were allegedly massacred by American soldiers in 1906. The military, however, downplayed the threat, saying there is no cause for alarm.

Lt. Gen. Abaya said the reported threat has no negative impact on the holding of the joint military exercises.

“The operations are not aimed at them (Sulu natives) but at the Abu Sayyaf rebels,” Abaya told reporters in Zamboanga City.

Rep. Rozano Rufino Biazon (Muntinlupa City), member of the defense committee, said local leaders in Sulu will be formally consulted.

“It does not mean that if the local leaders will not give their thumbs up to the holding of the Balikatan in Sulu, the exercises will not go on.

“Yes, they will be consulted on the matter but it does not mean we have to get their approval,” Biazon said.

It is not clear how many American soldiers will be deployed to Sulu to train their Filipino counterparts.

Pichay, who headed a congressional on-the-spot probe of the military-MILF clash in Pikit, North Cotabato, also said the TOR of Balikatan 03-1 will not be different from the Balikatan in Basilan.

"We in the Congress don’t see any problem in the conduct of a RP-US military exercise in Sulu, look what happened in Basilan, relatively the terrorism the Abu Sayyaf have done has not affected the said activity, instead, both the soldiers and local residents benefited much from the programs and assistance rendered by the American forces who participated in the said military exercise," he said.

He went on to slam critics of the Balikatan 03-1 as "pseudo nationalistic politicians."


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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