MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte reminded the entire Armed Forces of the Philippines that his job as the country’s new leader is to bring peace.
“The first job of the president is not to go to war but rather to bring peace in this country,” said Duterte on Friday, July 1, during the change of command ceremony of the AFP.
That day, acting AFP chief Lt General Glorioso Miranda relinquished his position to give way to new AFP chief Lt General Ricardo Visaya.
Duterte, who had taken his oath as president just the other day, said the peace process with different rebel groups would be among his administration’s priorities.
“My job is to bring peace. My job is to talk to the enemies of the state, to the Communist Party of the Philippines, to the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front), and to the men, and see if I could make a difference in our lives,” he said.
While efforts to resuscitate peace talks with the Left are already underway, Duterte said he may have to go to Jolo, Sulu at an unspecified time to talk to Moro rebels.
He has spoken with MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and plans to go to Jolo to talk to his “friend”, MNLF founder Nur Misuari.
Duterte said he is willing to give Moro rebel leaders a “safe conduct pass” to facilitate peace talks.
He will again speak to the MILF in the coming days.
“Next week, we are to talk to the MI[LF]…I’m willing to give them safe conduct passes, only the leaders,” he said.
Soldiers have come face to face with both NPA rebels and Moro rebels in violent encounters that have led to deaths on all sides.
But Duterte said such conflicts must end sooner than later.
“We cannot fight forever. We do not have the weapons, the armor, the bullets or the mortars. My job is to bring peace, but hand in hand, I must also bring order to my land,” he said in the presence of the military’s highest officials.
Abu Sayyaf, drugs
Duterte sounded less tolerant of the Abu Sayyaf, a terrorist group responsible for much of the violence in certain parts of Mindanao.
Though he said he is “not warning Abu Sayyaf,” he said, “There will always be a time for reckoning. We can only swallow so much. We cannot be the whipping boy of the few who wants nothing but maybe money and power in their hands.”
He also asked the military for their help in fighting the drug menace in the country.
One practice he wants stopped is the drug-dealing which, he claims, happens inside Philippine prisons. Such a practice was discovered in the New Bilibid prison.
“We will eliminate the druglords once and for all. Ako ay nasusuka na (I am so sick of it). You have to help me put a stop to this,” said Duterte.
The president warned druglords to count, not the days, but the hours until they are caught.
“Bitawan na niyo ngayon ‘yan o kainin ninyo ngayon ang supply ninyo,” he said to a cheering audience. (Let go of your trade now or eat your entire supply.)
New AFP chief Visaya, who spoke before Duterte, vowed to help the President achieve his goal of peace.
“We will support the peace process with rebel groups and participate in consensus-building so we can already proceed forward in unity and harmony with our fellow Filipino citizens,” he said.
He added, the AFP’s fight against the Abu Sayyaf would be “unrelenting.”
As to cracking down on drugs, Visaya said the military under his watch would help the police and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).
“We will also intensify our support to law enforcement agencies, particularly the PNP and PDEA in the mission to eliminate widespread criminality and the wanton destruction of lives brought about by the spread and use of illegal drugs,” said the AFP chief.
He and other army officials also plan to purge “scalawags” within their ranks – military men or women involved in the illegal drug trade. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.