MANILA - Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. on Monday urged the Philippine government to tap Filipino boxing champ Manny Pacquiao as a peace negotiator in the wake of the recent conflict in Basilan.
Pimentel said Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels look up to Pacquiao and would listen to his suggestions to bring peace to Mindanao. Malacañang recently appointed the Filipino boxing icon as presidential envoy for peace and understanding
"He is the only one who can do this with immediate effect, immediate impact," he told ABS-CBN News. He said the boxing hero would not be in any danger.
Sen. Francis Escudero, meanwhile, said he sees nothing wrong with the proposal especially if it helps the peace process. He added that it is still up to Pacquiao if he will accept the offer.
Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, however, said he doubts that Pacquiao could make a significant impact in the talks. "What does Manny Pacquiao have that can surpass the efforts of the government?" he told reporters.
He said he will also file a resolution "to express the sense of the Senate that there must be suspension of resumption of peace talks until there's a re-examination of policy by the government."
Biazon questioned the government's policy of coordinating with the MILF everytime it has a military operation in Mindanao. He said the same information was used by some MILF rebels to track down and fight government troops in MILF-controlled areas.
He said he also received reports from soldiers who complained of not getting intel funds, air support, armor and artillery during the fight against the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan last August 12.
Escudero, meanwhile, urged the MILF leadership to turn against rogue elements of the group in Basilan.
Twenty-three soldiers and 20 Abu Sayyaf fighters were killed when the military overran an Abu Sayyaf training camp in Ungkaya Pukan town in Basilan last Wednesday.
Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro said the military suffered heavy casualties after MILF fighters from a nearby town ambushed a group of soldiers who were retrieving their wounded.
"Even if they call themselves MILF, they have different chiefs, different groups...What the MILF should do is admit that they have no control over these groups because it just destroys their name. [These fighters] are MILF for convenience but Abu Sayyaf in disguise," he said.
President Arroyo has ordered the complete annihilation of the Abu Sayyaf after the killings of 23 soldiers in Basilan. "The war against terror must be pursued. The annihilation of the Abu Sayyaf must be done," Teodoro quoted Arroyo as saying.
Mrs. Arroyo warned that MILF fighers who joined in the slaughter of the soldiers would be hunted down despite a ceasefire with the rebel group.
Teodoro warned that the government also knew which MILF groups had aided the Abu Sayyaf in the fighting and warned that the government would go after them.
"There are cases we have already filed against them and we have filed protests" with the international group monitoring the government's ceasefire with the MILF, Teodoro told reporters.