Manila, March 13, 2003 -- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo today said that personally, she would not mind holding the Balikatan exercises in North Cotabato, saying the war exercise can be held in any other place "where it is wanted, where it is invited."

The President revealed that all offers for the holding of the exercises in various areas are being considered but that it will be just an operational decision on the part of the Department of Defense on whether to transfer the Balikatan 03-1 from Jolo, Sulu to another venue.

"I gave Secretary (Angelo) Reyes the instruction that if they are not wanted in Sulu, the exercises can be put in any other place where they are wanted, where they are invited," she said. "And actually, there are many provinces that have already invited us to put the exercises there," the President added.

North Cotabato cropped up as an alternate venue for the joint Philippines-US military exercises when its Governor, Emmanuel Pinol, appealed to the President and Reyes to consider the province for the exercises, saying the provincial board had already passed a resolution affirming his request.

Pinol was quoted to have said that the development projects undertaken in Basilan during last year's Balikatan could be replicated in his province.

For his part, Reyes said he had asked Defense and AFP officials to study Pinol's proposal, saying it is encouraging that governors like Pinol are volunteering to host the Balikatan 03-1.

Thwarting attempts to link the holding of the exercises in places where there are armed enemy groups, the President said: "You know we have exercises going on in Zamboanga and there are no enemies in Zamboanga. We have been conducting exercises in Nueva Ecija, in Cavite and there are no armed groups there. So we don't have to tie up putting the exercises where there are armed enemy groups."

She also cleared the notion that the military is on an all-out offensive against the enemies in the South, saying the instructions to them are clear to run after lawless elements and enforce the law.

"So the position of active defense is something that is understandable to them. It's different from all-out war and its different from just parrying off those who try to attack their positions," the President said. (Malacanang news release)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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