No military pullout, Teodoro maintains

MANILA, Philippines—Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. on Monday ruled out the total withdrawal of military troops in Jolo, Sulu as demanded by Senator Richard Gordon in exchange for the release of the two foreign International Committee of the Red Cross workers.

In what appears to be a continuing word war between the two officials, Teodoro said there will be no pullout of troops from Jolo Island as the military presence in the region has proven effective in convincing the Abu Sayyaf kidnappers to release Filipino hostage Mary Jean Lacaba on Thursday night.

“The local crisis management committee said so because that’s the right the decision,” Teodoro, who was in Honolulu, Hawaii to represent the government in the Pacifico Ad Memorial, said in a phone interview over DZMM yesterday.

A copy of the interview was provided to reporters by the Department of National Defense’s media office.

“A pullout is different from repositioning. A pullout means our troops would have to leave military camps which we did not allow when Senator Gordon requested it earlier,” he continued.

In an earlier interview with reporters, Teodoro pointed out that Lacaba was released when the military “reapplied pressure” encircling again the Abu Sayyaf’s camp and not because it pulled back.

“They released the hostage after the deadline … but then again this is not something that we can say will be replicated so we should let the crisis management committee and the military commanders on the ground to do what they need to do,” he added.

Teodoro also said he did not want to fight with the senator pointing out that their families were friends.

After having been reserved in dealing with Gordon, Teodoro broke his silence following the senator’s statements holding President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo accountable should the kidnappers carry out their threat to behead the Swiss Andreas Notter and Italian Eugenio Vagni.

The problem with Gordon, he pointed out, was that instead of him bringing the kidnappers’ demands to the crisis management committee, he was airing it to the media.

“The last straw was that his statement saying that the fate of the two hostages is now up to the President,” he said.

“This attempt to chain the President to this issue to secure a military pullout is not correct, that’s why I reacted,” he added.

If Gordon wanted to maintain its communication with the kidnappers, it was fine with him, Teodoro said, as long as the senator would bring the demands to the committee and let it make the decisions.

Lieutenant Colonel Edgard Arevalo, Jolo-based military spokesman on the hostage crisis, also said soldiers would not pull out from its currently held positions as it was tantamount to abandoning the people there.

“Aside from the tactical and strategic gains that it now has earned after several days of cautious and deliberate re-positionings and re-takings of formerly occupied position, they have the local civilians we cannot simply abandon because the bandits so demand that we withdraw,” Arevalo told reporters Monday.

“We cannot in conscience afford to provide the bandits a safe haven for future incidents of kidnapping and piracy like the Sipadan and Dos Palmas incidents. Neither should we allow the same to happen or spill in the nearby island provinces,” he added.

In a related development, Teodoro refuses to communicate directly to the Moro extremists holding the two remaining ICRC members captive unless there is a “valid and strong reason.”

He said that he will have to talk to Sulu Governor Sakur Tan, who earlier broke the news that the kidnappers requested to communicate with Teodoro and Secretary for Local and Interior Government Ronaldo Puno.

“Why should I talk with the enemies of the country especially that I’m the secretary of national defense. There should be a strong and valid reason presented for me to agree to talk with the Abu Sayyaf,” the secretary said in Filipino.

However, Teodoro said Tan has not contacted him regarding the request of the Abu Sayyaf.
Tan heads the Task Force ICRC, the multi-agency group tasked to facilitate the release of the three ICRC victims abducted by the Abu Sayyaf last January 15 in Jolo, Sulu after overseeing a water treatment project for the local prison.

Engineer Mary Jean Lacaba was released last Thursday night and authorities insisted that no ransom was paid.

Meanwhile, Swiss Andreas Notter and Italian Eugenio Vagni still remain with their captors in Sulu.

The Abu Sayyaf group has insisted that government troops pull-out from the province before negotiations can begin.

At the same time, Teodoro said that he cannot tell whether a full-blown military rescue operation will be seen in the next few days.

“I would not want to substitute my judgment, substitute my decision or my policy for that of the crisis management committee, the discretion of the ground commanders in the area… [The] initiative of the ground commander will be given priority, they know the situation on the ground,” he said.

Philippine National Red Cross director Senator Richard Gordon has constantly urged the military to withdraw troops after the Abu Sayyaf bandits threatened to behead one hostage last Tuesday.

Jocelyn Uy, Philippine Daily Inquirer
Katherine Evangelista,

Published in: on April 6, 2009 at 9:37 pm  Comments Off on No military pullout, Teodoro maintains  
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