MANILA, Philippines (AP) – The Philippine president has warned that the collapse of a peace deal with the country’s largest Muslim rebel group would abet terrorism and fresh violence after criticism of the accord followed the killing of 44 police commandos in what authorities said was an accidental clash with the guerrillas.
President Benigno Aquino III called Wednesday for continued support for the pact with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, but added he also expected the insurgent group to help authorities identify the rebels who killed the elite police commandos and recover their firearms and belongings.
The Muslim autonomy deal signed last March stands to be one of the legacies of Aquino, whose six-year term ends next year. He was treading on delicate grounds when he spoke about the police killings – the government’s biggest single-day combat loss in recent memory – in a nationally televised address late Wednesday.
“If the peace process were derailed, how many more graves would we have to dig?” Aquino asked.
He cited a decision by at least two senators to withdraw support for a proposal in the peace deal to establish a more powerful autonomous region for minority Muslims in the south of the predominantly Roman Catholic nation. The Moro rebels have agreed to embrace autonomy instead of a separate Muslim homeland after years of Malaysian-brokered peace talks.
“If this law is kept from being passed at the soonest possible time, the peace process will be derailed,” Aquino warned.
“If that happens, we cannot hope for anything but the same results: Citizens who take to the mountains after losing hope. … It would be as if we helped Marwan and Usman to reach their goals,” he said, referring to the top Malaysian and Filipino terror suspects who were targeted in Sunday’s police raid.
The fierce fighting that ensued in southern Mamasapano town ended in the deaths of 44 police commandos and the wounding of 13 others.
The flag-draped coffins bearing the bodies of 42 of the 44 policemen were flown Thursday to Manila, where top government, police and military officials stood in mourning. Close family members, including children, wept, as pallbearers carried the coffins.