MALACANANG vowed that military operations against the killers of the 19 soldiers in Basilan will continue stressing, clarifying however that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is not being targeted as an entity and the offensive will only target lawless elements. “The pursuit of the lawless elements will continue. The President is very categorical, ‘you cooperate or you stand aside.’ Dahil we are trying to make the distinction kung sino talaga ang gusto talaga ay kapayapaan at kung sino po yung nakikihalubilo lang at nagkukubli,” Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a press briefing in Malacanang on Tuesday. Going after the bandit groups is a different thing from the peace talks with the MILF, Valte said, adding that security forces know how to handle the offensive.
With regards to the population being displaced by the military operations, Valte said the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is on the ground and Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman was given instructions to help civilians affected by the military operations. Reacting to reports that the MILF is providing sanctuary to criminal groups, Valte said it is prohibited in the ceasefire agreement with the government for the MILF to provide safe haven to lawless elements in its jurisdiction. President Benigno S. Aquino III assured the nation on Monday that the government was exerting all necessary efforts to arrest the killers of the 19 soldiers in Basilan last week calling the offensive “all-out justice.” In his message during a press briefing in Malacanang, President Aquino vowed to put the killers to justice and continuously attend to the needs of those people that may be affected by the operations. He likewise noted that while there will be some who will use the incident to gain political leverage and further agitate the public, rash decisions fuelled by a thirst for vengeance can only serve to dishonor the memory of the 19 soldiers who died in the Basilan clash. (pcoo)