President Aquino pledges justice for families of 44 commandos killed by Muslim rebels during botched raid.
Philippine government and Muslim rebel negotiators have issued a joint plea for the country to stick to a landmark peace accord that is in peril after 44 police officers were killed while trying to arrest a suspect last week.
Government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels which are holding a two-day meet in Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, appealed on Saturday for renewed efforts to keep the process on track.
The government signed a landmark peace agreement with the country’s biggest Muslim rebel group, MILF, last year in a bid to end the five deacdes of violence. The agreement called for the creation of an autonomous region for the Muslim minority in the south. But many splinter rebel groups stayed away from the pact.
“The only way to deal with this, other armed groups, is to show that this path to peace is viable, that it can accomplish things that has not been accomplished,” chief government negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said.
Both sides vowed to continue implementing the accord which will see the rebels voluntarily surrender some of their weapons.
A spokesperson from MILF rebel group said they were not involved in the killings – which took place on Sunday in Maguindanao’s Mamasapano township as police searched for suspected bomb-maker Zulkifli Bin Hir, also known as Marwan.
During the operation, police commandos were quickly surrounded by a growing number of fighters and suffered heavy casualties, officials said.
Although Philippine forces have battled Muslim rebels for decades, the commandos’ deaths have caused public outrage and tested the government’s peace deal with MILF.
Coronel-Ferrer warned of dire consequences if the peace process were allowed to crumble.
“The other alternative is simply unthinkable,” she said on Saturday. “It will bring chaos and bring about the rise of other groups [and] even more extremists with very radical ideologies.”
The rebels’ chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal also said the MILF was fully committed to the peace process.
The MILF signed a protocol agreement on Thursday for disarmament, and both parties said they would go ahead with the symbolic handover next month of 75 high-powered guerrilla firearms. They also vowed to strengthen existing ceasefire mechanisms to avoid future clashes.
But President Benigno Aquino, who must convince Congress to approve the deal, is under mounting pressure to strike back at the rebels. He has urged legislators not to abandon the peace plan to end the violence that has killed 120,000 people.
Coronel-Ferrer said the government would engage with Philippine lawmakers to keep the peace process on track.
“That is our message [to lawmakers]. Please stay the course with us,” she said.