Manila, March 31, 2003 -- Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary 
Angelo Reyes yesterday said military operations against the Moro Islamic 
Liberation Front (MILF) will continue despite the government peace 
initiative with the group.

This, as the exploratory talks between the government and the secessionist 
rebels was declared a success also yesterday and expected to give way to 
the resumption of the formal peace talks.

But in an ambush interview in Camp Aguinaldo, Reyes said the defense and 
military establishments could not renege on their commitment to protect the 
civilians and communities from the MILF.

"The Armed Forces of the Philippines had been directed by the President to 
be on active defense posture, meaning to say that No. 1, we would continue 
to protect the people and communities," he noted.

"We (AFP and DND leadership) cannot renege on that responsibility, we 
cannot abdicate that responsibility. We have to perform that mandate," the 
secretary also said.

"Should civilian populations and communities or vital civilian 
establishments be threatened or actually attacked...then the Armed Forces 
of the Philippines would conduct hot pursuit operations," he added.

Reyes, nevertheless, justified the government's desire to forge a peace 
agreement with the secessionist group, saying pure military operations 
would not result in lasting peace.

"We know we cannot have lasting peace through a pure military approach to 
this problem. There are political and socio-economic components or solution 
to this problem, so while we continue with the military aspect or military 
portion of the campaign, the President has directed that we keep the door 
open to the peace talks," he added.

Reyes reiterated the MILF cannot mass its troops or coddle criminal 
elements, similar to what the rebels did prior to the capture of Buliok 
Complex in Pikit, North Cotabato.

For his part, Presidential Adviser on Mindanao Affairs Jesus Dureza said 
both parties have agreed to initiate steps that will pave the way for the 
resumption of the formal peace negotiations. The two camps, he said, 
expressed commitment to various peace policies.

Dureza, along with the other GRP panel members namely Presidential Adviser 
on Special Concerns Norberto Gonzales, Social Welfare and Development 
Secretary Corazon Soliman and Defense Undersecretary Antonio Santos arrived 
in Manila the other day after the two-day exploratory talks held in Kuala 

The MILF peace panel, on the other hand, was composed of lawyers Lanang 
Ali, Musib Buat Michael Matura and Mohajarin Ali. (By Sherwin C. Olaes and 
Mario J. Mallari, Tribune)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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