PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte visited another command headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Thursday, to explain anew his pursuit of peace with the long-standing communist rebellion.
Mr. Duterte on Thursday stopped by Camp Guillermo Nakar, headquarters of the AFP's Southern Luzon Command in Lucena, Quezon province, and addressed government troops there, who were together with members of the Philippine National Police.
On Tuesday, Mr. Duterte was in Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija province to also explain his peace initiatives with the rebels. This followed Monday's State of the Nation Address (SONA) when he declared a unilateral cease-fire "effective immediately," although he has yet to set the terms for the cease-fire.
In response, the Communist Party of the Philippines issued a statement welcoming this move by Mr. Duterte and said its forces in the New People's Army were now on "active defense mode," despite reports of encounters that followed that Mr. Duterte himself acknowledged at Camp Guillermo Nakar.
He told his audience of soldiers and policemen: "I know that [you are] resistant... to accept it (the cease-fire) because of the historical sakit (pain). Maraming namatay sa inyo, pero marami rin namatay sa mga komunista (Many among you have died, but also many among the communists have died)."
"But as President, I have to seek peace for our country, not only [with regards to] the communist insurgency but [also the] Muslim insurgency," he also said amid reports that afternoon of a clash in Maguindanao.
"I'll be your commander-in-chief," Mr. Duterte said. "Do not feel aggrieved... Your li[ves] [are] not something I can just throw away."
"I will answer for you personally and officially," he added.
Mr. Duterte in his address cited another reported ambush involving Cafgu militia casualties.
"If you do not honor and you kill a single soldier or a Cafgu, which is also a soldier of the Republic, ay sabi ko kalimutan na natin to. Fight na lang. (Let's just forget it. Let's just fight)."
"I am demanding an explanation from the Communist Party of the Philippines, and just like us, kung nagkasala kami dito (if we commit an offense), we punish our men and women in the service, I expect the same, and I demand an answer... Otherwise, wala tayong pinag-usapan (we have nothing to talk about) -- that is my deal with them.
As in Fort Magsaysay, Mr. Duterte reiterated his assurance of an incremental increase in soldiers' pay beginning August.
He also mentioned millions of dollars in assistance assured by visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry, "for your police and for security [against] drugs and threats of terrorism," Mr. Duterte said.
"The ideal equipment, you will have it. The best armaments to fight the enemy."
Mr. Duterte, in what may as well qualify as a commander-in-chief's briefing to his troops, also updated them about a wide range of topics from China, to the war on drugs, to mining.
"Where's the big fish? Gusto mo? Punta ka ng China. Doon hanapin ninyo (You want them? Go to China. You find them there)," he said, amid criticisms that the anti-drug campaign has thus far only targeted suspected drug traffickers among the poor.
Regarding China, Mr. Duterte said: "How do I fight the what?... We cannot just go... declare war."
He said handling the maritime dispute with China was not a matter of "takot [fear]" but of making "the correct move."
"Magpasok sila ibang istorya iyan (Should they enter, that's another story)," he said, in contrast to the current dispute over "just a body of water."
"Let Ramos navigate [the talks with China]," Mr. Duterte said, referring to former president Fidel V. Ramos whom Mr. Duterte has appointed as his envoy to Beijing on this matter.
He also disclosed the inputs of his other predecessors who attended Wednesday's National Security Council meeting at MalacaAang.
"President [Gloria Macapagal-] Arroyo said, caution, President [Joseph E.] Estrada said, restraint, Si President [Benigno S. C.] Aquino [III], ganun naman (the same). But he won for us the case, so kaya ko sinabi maraming salamat po (that's why I said thank you very much) for giving us the ace card. It was he who filed, it was upon his instructions," Mr. Duterte said of the arbitral case filed by the Aquino administration that led to the July 12 Hague ruling on the maritime dispute in the Philippines' favor.
Mr. Duterte said "there are many [other] tasks, mandates" for his troops, pending his pursuit of peace with the rebels.
"Criminality, mining. The rich people are abusing the generosity of the Filipino. Multinationals [and even the] oligarchs -- they go there and destroy the land."
"Kaya gagamitin ko kayo (That's why I need you) to put a stop [to this]," he said in part to the troops.
Source: Business World Online