Arroyo Jolo trip called off
, Julie Alipala
, Philippine Daily Inquirer
ZAMBOANGA CITY/MANILA, Philippines—(UPDATE) President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo cancelled her trip to Jolo Island in the southern province of Sulu Thursday due to poor weather, the chief of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) said.
“The trip was cancelled due to poor weather en route to Jolo,” Brigadier General Celedonio Boquiren told INQUIRER.net in a text message.
Arroyo was supposed to attend the Bishops-Ulama conference in Jolo as part of government’s efforts to end the Moro insurgency in the south.
Shortly before the President’s expected arrival, the military announced that it recovered and detonated a powerful bomb in Jolo.
Colonel Eugenio Clemen, commander of the 3rd Marine Brigade, said the bomb was recovered and detonated four days ago near an area being occupied by workers of the Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM).
GEM is a US-funded program implementing infrastructure and social works in the island-province, which is known for being the hotbed of the Abu Sayyaf and the Moro insurgency.
It was not known if Arroyo was also slated to visit the GEM area, as she did in the past.
“We were able to detonate the bomb, it’s an improvised one, quite big and could generate great impact and destruction if it was not recovered,” Clemen told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, parent company of INQUIRER.net.
He said a mechanical robot was wrecked when it was used to detonate the bomb, the make of which, he did not specify.
But Clemen said the bomb was not intended for the President.
“We are confident President Arroyo’s visit is safe because we also apprehended a suspected bomber responsible for the planting of the said bomb over the weekend,” Clemen said, referring to Almid Jundam.
Jundam was arrested while trying to withdraw money from a bank on Tuesday.
The Inquirer learned that on Monday, a group of Filipino and US troops was ambushed by a still unidentified armed group in Indanan town. No casualty was reported in the attack.
Asked if the trip was cancelled due to security reasons, Boquiren replied: “The President’s party was all set to fly using helicopters. Weather situation report showed poor visibility and rain.”
For days now, rains have been battering many parts of Mindanao.
Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan also cited the weather condition as the main reason why Arroyo failed to come.
“It’s just very unfortunate that our President failed to make it because of very bad weather,” he said.
Tan said there was no threat against the President from armed groups but coming to Sulu despite the bad weather might threaten her safety.
“The safety of our President is very important compared to what we have prepared here. We can prepare everyday for her and she can cancel her trip everyday, it’s okay for us, for as long as she is safe,” he said.
“For us, it’s enough that the President tried her best to come over here. In fact, Sulu is included in her trips before leaving for Peru tomorrow (Friday),” Tan added.
Despite the President’s absence, Catholic and Protestant Bishops as well as Muslim clerics pushed through with the assembly.
Father Sebastiano D’ Ambra of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) and president of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement said they understood her absence because the weather was really bad.
“We missed President Arroyo. We have been expecting her but it seems the weather is not good, so we were informed she is not coming down here,” he said.
National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales was quoted as saying what was important was that another step towards peace in Mindanao took place.
In a speech during the start of the conference, Gonzales reportedly told the participants — who included Davao Archbishop Fernando Capalla — that “we wanted to appeal to you to lead in asking the Mindanaoans what they really think the solution for Mindanao is.”
“We want you to ask the people of Mindanao to walk towards peace,” Gonzales said stressing that their presence in Sulu was “not simply for photo opportunity.”
Presidential Peace Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said the government was expecting the Bishops-Ulama Conference to come up with “a final mechanism, a final tool to be used for the resumption of peace talks with the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front).”
The peace talks hit a snag over the issue of territory.
View article as posted on INQUIRER.net