Aquino defends embattled Philippine peace process

ZAMBOANGA City – The president of the Philippines Wednesday issued a plea not to abandon the peace process in the country’s restive south following clashes that left dozens of police commandos dead, local media reported.

In a televised address, President Benigno Aquino III said the fighting should not be allowed to derail the peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, GMA News said.

Sunday’s fighting broke out when police moved into the township of Mamasapano, in Maguindanao province on the island of Mindanao, and were engaged by fighters from the Front, known as the MILF, and a rebel group opposed to the peace process. During an 11-hour firefight, 44 police commandos were killed in one of the worst incidents for the security forces in years.

The incident has threatened the peace deal signed last March by the MILF. The treaty aims to end a decades-long insurgency and establish a new autonomous region in the majority-Muslim provinces of the south under the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

“We have already come such a long way in our quest to realize the peace that we have long desired for Muslim Mindanao,” Aquino said. “All sides exhibited great trust to reach this point. The incident in Mampasano has already given rise to those who want to take advantage of this tragedy to undermine that trust; they wish to derail the peace process.”

Two senators withdrew their support for the Bangsamoro Basic Law following the violence and others have questioned the MILF’s commitment to the peace process.

“The success of the entire peace process is contingent on this law,” Aquino said. “If this law is kept from being passed at the soonest possible time, the peace process will be derailed; the status quo will remain.”

He added: “If the peace process were derailed, how many more graves would we have to dig?”

The president told viewers the authority established by the legislation, which had been passing through Congress but was suspended Monday, would correct a “political system where a few benefit to the detriment of the majority.”

Aquino, whose six-year term ends next year, announced a national day of mourning to honor the dead police.

He also defended his own role in the operation, which has been severely criticized for a failure to coordination with the MILF, as required under the peace deal, or with local military units.

Aquino said his “repeated reminders about the necessity of coordination” had been agreed by the commander of the Philippine National Police’s Special Action Force.

He added: “If my order to ensure sufficient coordination had been complied with, then perhaps it was pushed to the limit, resulting in very minimum compliance.”

On Tuesday, the head of the Special Action Force, Getulio Pascua Napenas, was dismissed.

Aquino concluded: “In the face of our grief, in the face of the desire of some to exact revenge, in the face of the threats to destroy the trust we have forged over such a long period of time, today, our ability to show compassion to our fellowmen faces a great test.”

Copyright © 2015 Anadolu Agency