By Joel Guinto
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. bucked anew calls for an all-out war with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), saying it could lead to "irreversible" damage.
But Teodoro and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Alexander Yano said military offensives in Central Mindanao will not cease unless the MILF surrenders its commanders who have been blamed for attacks in the provinces of Lanao Del Norte and North Cotabato.
Teodoro said the government would remain on "higher moral ground" and would not stoop to the level of MILF Commander Adbullah Macapaar alias Commander Bravo, who reportedly challenged security forces to an all-out war.
The military is running after Macapaar, who was blamed for attacks on civilian communities in Lanao Del Norte province last August 19, and MILF commander Ameril Umbra Kato, who was tagged in attacks on 15 villages in North Cotabato earlier this month.
"If we do what Bravo is doing what makes us different from Bravo?" Teodoro told a news conference in Camp Aguinaldo. "What higher moral ground [can we] claim if we do the same thing that he doing?"
Teodoro said an all-out war would mean "unleashing the full force" of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
If this is done, the defense chief warned: "The repercussions on the relations between people in the area may be irreversible. It may slide into a conflict we could never recover from because people will start hating each other not because they are part of the MILF or part of the government but because of what they believe [in]."
Earlier this week, former President Joseph Estrada has called for an all-out war with the MILF, like he did during his term in 2000.
But the government has insisted that the ongoing offensives targeted only Macapaar and Kato as it reiterated its commitment to peace negotiations.
Three days of ground and air bombardments against the forces of MILF commander Kato in Maguindanao province have left four soldiers killed and 20 others wounded and a "substantial" number of casualties on the side of the MILF, Yano said.
"They [MILF] can do several things to stop the offensives, number one, they can surrender their commanders, number two, they can promise to rein in their people to make sure that they cannot do criminal activities or atrocities," Teodoro said.