(STAR) By James Mananghaya - Armed Forces chief Gen. Alexander Yano said the military has slain its toughest enemy – politics.

Yano made the pronouncement in a speech during ceremonies marking the 73rd anniversary of the AFP at Camp Aguinaldo. President Arroyo attended the event.

“Madame President, I am proud to say that this enemy within the AFP has already been slain. Continuing efforts by some quarters that do not want to leave the Filipino soldier alone to do his sacred tasks and who continue to entice him with the lure of political power have lost their attraction,” he said.

He asked “merchants of political wares” to leave the AFP alone and let it do its sworn duty as protector of the people.

He said politics had “enticed the ambitious to interfere in the realm of pure politics while still clad in the soldier’s uniform and while still bearing arms.”

“I refer to the enemy called politics and political ambition which in the past have led some men in uniform to abandon the centuries-old tradition of the Filipino soldier,” he said.

He said soldiers who shun politics also display courage and deserve praise.

“It takes bravery and heroism, too, for our Filipino soldiers to say no to the allure of political power. It also takes passion and obsession for peace and freedom to do so,” he said.

He said today’s soldiers observe professionalism and are more aware of their responsibilities.

“The Filipino soldier lives up to the tenets of professionalism and therefore serves the cause of peace and freedom alone. He does not lust for military glory; so, neither would the dangling of political perks lead him to abandon his sworn sacred duty to God, country and people,” he said.

Thankful Mrs. Arroyo

President Arroyo was heartened by Yano’s speech and maintained that her administration is focused on its pro-poor agenda and on shielding the country from the effects of the global economic crisis.

“Congratulations for that,” Mrs. Arroyo told Yano in a speech.

“We always support efforts to strengthen democracy but we are not focused on the politics,” she said. “Our priority is implementing the pro-poor and economic reform agendas that have given our country the strongest and most resilient economy in decades.”

She said the national leadership’s attention is on uplifting the poor “with our soldiers taking care of security in the background.”

“Fortunately, through a mix of careful planning, economic reforms and the hard work of many people, we have thus far prevented the global crisis from becoming a Philippine crisis,” she said.

She pointed out that amid recession in many parts of the globe, the Philippine economy remains resilient.

“This Christmas, let us all count our blessings and look at the future with bigger hope, confidence and optimism,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

The military is still trying to repair its image, tainted badly by long years of martial law and by corruption in the political leadership.

In February 1986, reformist officers in the military joined a civilian-led people power revolt that eventually led to the ouster of Marcos.

The military also figured in the second people power uprising that catapulted Mrs. Arroyo to power in 2001.

Junior officers led by then Navy officer now Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV tried but failed to oust Mrs. Arroyo by laying siege to two hotels in 2003 and 2007.

Yano clueless?

A middle-grade officer said Yano’s observation showed the military leadership was clueless about the real situation in the AFP.

“Whoever drafted that speech does know what is happening within the organization. Doesn’t he know that the military is highly-politicized?”

He said that under the current set up, only officers close to the powers that be are given juicy positions.

He cited as example the posturing of senior officers with political backers for the soon to be vacated key positions in Central Command based in Cebu, Western Mindanao Command in Zambaonga City, and Eastern Mindanao Command based in Panacan, Davao City.

He also said the AFP leadership has failed or never bothered to address perceived flaws in the reassignments of officers belonging to the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Classes of 1977 and 1978. He said members of Class 78 appear to be getting more promotions than their seniors in Class 77.

“Those in’78 are going up but their seniors in ’77 are just staying put,” he said. – With Jaime Laude, Paolo Romero

GMA gives go-signal to resumption of MILF peace talks By Paolo Romero Updated December 23, 2008 12:00 AM

President Arroyo ordered government peace negotiators yesterday to revive the suspended peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that have been stalled since last August.

Mrs. Arroyo issued the statement as three soldiers were wounded in fresh fighting between government forces and MILF rebels in Lanao del Norte last Sunday. This was the first time she spoke in public on the resumption of negotiations with the MILF.

In her speech at the 73rd founding anniversary celebration of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Arroyo said details on the resumption of the talks with the MILF will be finalized during the command conference with the military on Jan. 8.

“The peace process must proceed, the peace process must start again in a way that upholds our commitment to peace, the strong sentiment of the communities and the rule of law,” she said.

“We are committed to peace and restarting the peace process. Peace is the only path for Mindanao and the nation.”

She said the key to resolving peace in Mindanao is for all sides to be committed to peace, progress and prosperity.

“This includes reaching out to all sides and hearing the voices in the communities,” the President said.

She welcomed the statement of AFP chief Gen. Alexander Yano during the celebrations that soldiers are not really fond of fighting and they want to have peace because war is never the final answer.

She said the government is counting on the military to bring stability to southern Philippines and bring the rogue MILF rebels to justice.

The talks collapsed after radical MILF rebels attacked villages in some provinces in Mindanao last August after both sides failed to sign the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain that was later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

The attacks in Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, North Cotabato, Saranggani and other provinces in Central Mindanao left over 66 people dead and millions of pesos worth of property destroyed. Hundreds of families remain displaced due to the sporadic fighting between government troops and MILF rebels.

The government responded by dissolving its negotiating panel and shifted the talks to dialogues with affected communities and stakeholders. The government also said it would only resume talks if disarmament, demobilization and reintegration would be on the agenda.

The appointment of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ambassador Rafael Seguis last month as chief of the government negotiating panel signaled the shift in the stance of the Arroyo administration.

Palace officials expressed optimism over the revival of peace talks and moves to reinforce the participation of the multi-national International Monitoring Team in Mindanao.

Mrs. Arroyo is expected to announce the members of the new negotiating panel.

The Palace earlier announced that it is forming a multi-sectoral and independent council of advisers that would help guide the government in negotiating with the MILF.

AFP continues hunt for Bravo

The military said MILF commander Abdurahman Macapaar alias Commander Bravo is still hiding in Lanao del Norte.

Lt. Gen. Nelson Allaga, Western Mindanao Command chief, said the recent encounters in the province with Bravo’s group indicates that the rebel commander who led the attacks on civilian communities in Lanao del Norte last August was still in the area.

He said the police is also investigating whether Bravo’s group was involved in the two bombings in Iligan City last Thursday that killed three people and wounded several others.

The military said the Iligan City bombings could be indications that Bravo’s supporters are trying to divert the pursuit operations being conducted by government troops against the MILF rebels.

Initial findings of the military and police explosive ordnance and disposal units disclosed that the bombs were made of mortar ammunition and were detonated by remote control.

This developed as the Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) ordered the 114 local mayors to initiate peace dialogues among all sectors in their towns to prevent any outbreak of hostilities during the Christmas holidays.

ARMM Executive Secretary Oscar Sampulna said the mayors and the six provincial governors in the region have also been directed to reach out to both the military and the MILF commanders to maximize their peace efforts.

“This will be a continuing effort, a low-level effort aimed at complementing the ceasefire,” said Sampulna, speaking on behalf of the ARMM’s chief executive, Datu Zaldy Ampatuan.

Mayors in the ARMM actively initiated backdoor dialogues with MILF commanders in their towns during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to prevent the spread of hostilities in Maguindanao between the military and members of the rebel’s 105th Base Command.

“The ARMM governor believes there is nothing impossible in community-level dialogues. We can achieve peace through low-level dialogues, while the government and the MILF are engaged in peace talks,” Sampulna said.

Ibrahim Ibay, acting governor of Shariff Kabunsuan, said he has been in touch with his relatives in the MILF and have prodded them to let the provincial government iron out peaceful solutions to local security problems.

“The Shariff Kabunsuan provincial government has been very neutral in addressing local security concerns,” Ibay said. – With Roel Pareño, John Unson

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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