SULU GOVERNOR NOT CONSULTED ON BALIKATAN

Zamboanga City, April 13, 2003   Sulu Gov. Yusop Jikiri said yesterday he 
was not again consulted when President Arroyo, for the second time, 
announced that his province would be the site of a wider Balikatan military 
exercise.

However, Jikiri said he would reserve his comment on Mrs. Arroyo's 
pronouncement until he has talked to his constituents.

"It's still not the time to talk about that," he said. "I still have to 
hear and consult the people so they will not accuse me of deciding 
unilaterally."

Jikiri said that when Mrs. Arroyo announced that Sulu would be the site of 
this year's Balikatan, he was in Libya with Secretary Eduardo Ermita, 
presidential adviser on the peace process, for talks with the Organization 
of Islamic Conference (OIC).

Jikiri said "proper consultation" is needed because many of his 
constituents are apprehensive over the backlash of any deployment of US 
combat troops in Sulu.

"The people's decision is my decision," he said.

Armed Forces chief Gen. Narciso Abaya said Sulu residents should not worry 
since it is not yet clear whether US troops would be deployed in the province.

"We may not do that," he said. "(US military experts on anti-terrorism) can 
(conduct the training) without even sending US troops to the area," he said.

Abaya said defense department and Armed Forces officials are still 
finalizing the terms of reference for Balikatan 03-1.

"It still has to pass approval from the higher level of policy-makers," he 
said.

"More or less, there has been preliminary approval" for the Balikatan to be 
held in Western Mindanao, the Sulu archipelago, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi, he 
added.  (By Roel Pareņo, Star)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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