PALACE TO PIMENTEL: NO POLITICS IN GMA TRIP

Manila, May 26, 2003 -- Malacaņang yesterday said President Arroyo's trip 
to Mindanao aims to ensure implementation of development programs in the 
region, and is not meant to woo Mindanaoans for her supposed plan to seek 
the presidency in 2004.

Arroyo is going to Lanao del Sur and Cagayan de Oro today and stay 
overnight in Davao City. From June 10 to 17, she will be in key cities in 
Mindanao.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel has said he had a "sneaking suspicion" that Arroyo 
was going to Mindanao to appease residents who have been adversely affected 
by the punitive operations she ordered against the Moro Islamic Liberation 
Front before she left for the US.

Noting reports that up to 318,000 persons from Zamboanga del Norte, Lanao 
and Cotabato provinces have been displaced from their homes by the fresh 
military attacks, Pimentel said "there is a lot of resentment now in 
Mindanao ... this would be bad for the political plans of the President 
next year."

Jesus Dureza, presidential assistant for Mindanao affairs, said the 
Mindanao trip was set before Arroyo left for her US state visit.

"She really wants to highlight the development aspects of the new framework 
of the Mindanao Natin project. Walang political motives. She wants to take 
full charge especially in the development thrust and also to look at the 
situation after the punitive actions undertaken against those who attacked 
Maigo (Lanao del Norte) and Siocon (Zamboanga del Norte)," he said.

Rigoberto Tiglao, presidential chief of staff, said Arroyo wants to see for 
herself the situation in Mindanao.

"Paano niya mapatutulak ang mga development programs? It's quite sad for a 
Mindanaoan like the good senator Pimentel to impute such motives for a 
President who is very concerned about Mindanao now," he said.

He said not even possible threats posed by the reported presence of 
suspected Indonesian and Pakistani terrorists in Mindanao would stop Arroyo 
from pushing through with the visit.

The intelligence community is verifying reports that the foreigners, 
suspected to be members of the Jemaah Islamiah, are on a suicide mission in 
Mindanao.

"She's taking seriously her role as commander-in-chief and the commander 
cannot shirk from any risks. But we are confident that our security and 
intelligence forces will be able to secure the President," Tiglao said.

He also said that while the AFP has insufficient funds, "they have been 
able to go after terrorists ... we should salute them."

Tiglao said the selective, punitive and preventive actions against 
terrorists in Mindanao have been "essentially successful" and resulted in 
the deaths of at least 77 terrorists, and degrading of areas "where these 
embedded cells are located, where they massed and where they replenish 
their supply."

He said government has received several surrender feelers and the AFP is 
evaluating them. He added there is a possibility of buying loose firearms 
in Mindanao as an attempt to disarm and demobilize rebels.

Tiglao downplayed Pimentel's claim, saying their official report showed 
only 3,500 people were affected. He said Pimentel must have been "totally 
misinformed, completely misinformed." (By JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR, Malaya)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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